Thursday, December 11, 2008

IS Planning: Its Purpose and Challenges

Discuss the purpose of IS planning and identify its major challenges.

We have heard constantly about information systems plan but are we brave enough to say that we know the purpose of its conception? Humph. I think not. Even though we have already developed an information systems plan back in the first semester, we have not yet fully grasped the purpose of doing so. I could also say that we are sailing blind if we stay like this, navigating through a stormy sea without any knowledge of where we are going and why we are going there. Therefore, it is only necessary that we know exactly why an information systems plan is conceived- in simple terms, its purpose.

Information systems planning has become a major turning point in an organization’s life and, in many ways, holds the key to the organization’s success or failure. So why does information systems planning play such a critical role in the business operation? To be honest, I also had a difficult time looking for the answers to this question. The ones I found were very broad and generalized and it is hard to pinpoint the exact idea behind them. Fortunately though, I found some ideas on the Internet that I think lay down the purpose of information systems planning.

First of all, an information systems plan is like a strategic plan in management. Therefore, it is where objectives, priorities, and authorization for information systems projects need to be formalized. It serves the purpose of identifying specific projects slated for the future, priorities for each project and for resources, general procedures, and constraints for each application area. Information systems planning organizes the company’s prospects for the future concerning their information systems. IS planning is the point where the company’s core business operation is merged with technology to produce better output and boost performance. However, this view of IS planning is an already fading notion as this is no longer true nowadays.

Back then, IS planning is treated only as a back-room operation that supports an organization’s everyday tasks. But in modern corporations, IS planning is a very integral and critical part of the organization because it serves a very important purpose. The IS plan is no longer constrained within the company’s technology-oriented operations but it now also encompasses decision making, knowledge support, as well as management. So you see, IS planning is no longer a so-called “support” but it is now the central part of an organization. The modern view of IS planning is that it is not only a means of reducing cost but it is a means of adding value. The information systems plan must cater to the strategic demands of organizations, for example, serving the business, pursuing opportunities, and as well as meeting their data processing needs.

Another purpose of the IS plan could be strategic or competitive advantage. Since large-scale and small-scale corporations alike are constantly competing with each other, they would only want to have a certain advantage over the others. In most cases, the IS plan holds the key to that advantage. Assuming that in a company that has an under-developed or no IS plan at all, it is projected to complete a certain transaction in four working days. Now, in a company with a well-developed IS plan it takes only one or two days to complete the same transaction. Naturally, clients would prefer the company with the shorter processing time than the one that takes longer. Coupled with this, the company with the well-developed IS plan has faster turnover than the under-developed one. This means more business and profit in a shorter time span. In the business world, this is considered as a significant gain over the others.

According to Gorman, a quality information systems plan must exhibit five distinct characteristics before it could serve its purpose in the organization. These are: (1) timely, (2) usable, (3) maintainable, (4) quality, and (5) reproducible. A timely IS plan means that it can be conceived in a significantly shorter time than actually doing the work that needs to be done. There is no point in creating an IS plan if the problem to be addressed is long over. The second quality, usable, means that an IS plan can exist in sections that can be distributed to project managers so that each section can be started. In my understanding, this means that the IS plan must be modularized or broken down into more manageable pieces so that more work can be done in a span of time. An IS plan must also be maintainable, which means that the IS plan is able to accommodate any changes or modifications conveniently. I think this is a very important quality that an IS plan must possess because it is not practical to remodel and rework the whole system just to accommodate a few modifications. Such an approach would probably cost the company millions and thus it is not a cost-effective development of the IS plan. An IS plan must also be of good quality. No IS plan is perfect in the first try, however, it should still be of adequate efficiency and still be useable in the organization. The last quality that Gorman listed is reproducible. Reproducible means that the output of the IS plan should still be the same no matter who the user of the system will be. In short, it should be consistent. It is only after these characteristics of the IS plan are secured will the IS plan actually be able to serve its purpose in the company.

In any case, an information systems plan not only serves as a support to a company but it also serves as a guide or an outline of the company’s projected activities and more specifically, for their information environment. To ensure the success of the organization, the IS plan must work closely with the organization’s business plan. It should have the same goals and objectives as the business plan because success cannot be achieved if efforts are not united towards a common goal.

Now that we have learned about the purpose of the Information systems plan, can we say that it’s going to be a smooth journey towards its fulfillment? If your answer is yes, then think again. Sure, developing an Information systems plan for a company sounds easy enough. But there is definitely no clear path towards achieving a well-developed information systems plan.

Developing an IS plan pose the biggest and most serious challenge to IT or IS managers all over the world. It requires knowledge and skills that will make sure that the organization’s vision, mission, and goals will be reflected in the plan. Managers need to see to it that the IS plan they develop will be of good use to the company and bring the company’s business forward. Many IT or IS managers make mistakes along the way and these mistakes often lead to inefficiency and cost the company millions. While expenses cannot be avoided when developing an IS plan, additional and unnecessary expenses can be minimized, if not totally eliminated.

The first major challenge in developing an IS plan is management. There are several aspects of management that pose a challenge to IT/IS managers. The first one is integration. This involves managing the enterprise’s resources and connecting the different organizational levels. It is a challenge to properly manage the enterprise’s resources. This requires a lot of decision-making skills. IT/IS managers need to know how to allocate the company’s resources properly so that there will be minimal or no loss at all. The company’s resources include everything from the workers to the management to the hardware or equipment and etc. When developing an IS plan, all of these resources need to be considered because it is only if they are used properly will the IS plan work harmoniously in the company. IT/IS managers has to know how to weigh certain decisions regarding resource management so that it will not result in excessive or disproportionate resource allocation. The second aspect of management that also poses a challenge to managers is connecting the different organizational levels. Organizations are not flat or one-dimensional. All organizations are hierarchical, from the executives to the ordinary workers. You can envision it as a pyramid of increasing order. The challenge here now is how to interconnect the top-most level with the lower levels and the lower levels to the top-most levels. Each level must be involved in the IS plan in one way or another and it depends on the plan how much these levels are involved in it. No level must be left out because every one of them comprises the whole the organization. It is a challenge to be able to interconnect these different organizational levels so that they can work together as a firm and stable structure to keep the business going. Connecting the organizational levels is also costly since it requires a lot of resources. This is related to managing the company’s resources.

Another aspect of management that poses a challenge to IT/IS managers is sustaining the competitive advantage. Like I mentioned earlier, to gain competitive advantage is one of the purposes of the IS plan. It may be a bit easier to see to that for a definite period of time but it is definitely challenging to keep up the advantage for the whole life of the company. IT/IS managers need to make sure that the IS plan is able to evolve or is flexible to ensure long-term profits.

The things I mentioned above are the challenges in management of the IS plan. However, there are also challenges present during the actual implementation of the plan in the company. To have full implementation of the system, I found four areas that need to be conceptualized. The first one is the challenge of making sure that the budget allocation is enough to sustain innovations and future plans. Of course, an IS plan must evolve with the company and should be able to accommodate changes or modifications. But, the major concern here is that, is the budget enough to ensure that the IS plan can evolve? This is a challenge to IT/IS managers since allocating budget for the IS plan requires that one knows what possible modifications or innovations could happen and how much of the company’s financial resources should be allocated for them. Another area that is a challenge to be faced is the increasing demand if IT experts are needed to perform their duties and responsibilities. I think that this means that if more IT experts will be needed, then they would require additional orientation and training. There is also the matter of finding IT experts that can be trusted because the system might contain vital information about the company. The next challenge is getting the assurance from the top management of their support towards sustainability. Naturally, since the top-level executives are the ones with the highest authority over the company, then it is only right that IT/IS managers get their support to sustain the IS. This is also a challenging task for the IS team because getting the full support of the top management is not very easy. They have to be convinced that the IS will be of benefit to them and bring them more gains than what will be lost during the IS’s implementation. The last challenge under implementation is going beyond what is expected whenever there is room for improvement. As I mentioned earlier, no IS plan or system is perfect the first time. Some may call this imperfection but to me, this is an opportunity to improve the IS. Thus, whenever this opportunity comes into play, IT/IS managers also face the challenge of exceeding the expectations of the management in the IS. In my point of view, this is an even greater challenge than building one from scratch because there is already an established image of the system. This image allows the users or the management to explore more and expect higher than the already existing IS because they already know what the system looks like and how it functions. It is only natural for them to expect more, not less, if the system is going to be improved. Therefore, the IT/IS managers need to go beyond what is expected.

Okay, so now we know the purpose of the IS plan and the major challenges behind them. I’m going to say this again- no information system plan is perfect the first try. It is our task to improve them and make sure that the IS plan is working towards the same goal as the organization’s business plan. To overcome the challenges that we may face, we have to be equipped with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills. If we can overcome them, then we can come up with a well-developed IS plan that will serve its purpose in the company for a long time.

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