The Importance of Information Technology

By: Kh Atiar Rahman

The importance of Information Technology

In the world of globalization, Information system is such where data are collected, classified and put into process interpreting the result thereon in order to provide an integrated series of information for further communicating and analyzing. In a progressively more spirited worldwide atmosphere, Information System plays the role as 'enabler and facilitator', which endows with tactical values to the officialdom and considerable step up to the excellence of administration. 'An Information System is a particular type of work system that uses information technology to detain, put on the air, store, retrieve, manipulate or display information, thereby partisan one or more other work structure'. In totting up to taking sides assessment making, co-ordination and control, information systems may also help managers and workers investigate problems, envisage complex subjects and generate new merchandise or services.

Work systems and the information systems that support typically undergo at least four phases: a) initiation, the process of defining the need to change an existing work system b) development, the process of acquiring and configuring/installing the necessary hardware, software and other resources c) implementation, the process of making new system operational in the organisation, and d) Operation and maintenance, the process concerned with the operation of the system, correcting any problems that may arise and ensuring that the system is delivering the anticipating benefits. The management of these processes can be achieved and controlled using a series of techniques and management tools which, collectively, tend to be known as Structured Methodologies. Two important methodologies: ï?? PRINCE (Projects IN a Controlled Environment), and ï?? SSADM (Structured Systems Analysis and Design Methodology), developed by the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), are used widely in the UK public sector and in some Developing Countries, like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal etc. Prior to comment on the application of these methods in the Developing Countries, it would be pertinent to describe brief outlines of these methodologies.

PRINCE is a project management method; not system development, which covers the organisation, management and control of projects. Since its introduction in 1989, PRINCE has become widely used in both the public and private sectors and is now the UK's de facto standard for project management. Although PRINCE was originally developed for the needs of IT projects, the method has also been used on many non-IT projects. PRINCE requires a dedicated team to be established to manage and carry out each project. It therefore aims to provide a supporting framework between the current state of affairs and the planned future state. PRINCE focuses attention on end-products rather than activities, ensuring that the organisation actually gets what it wants out of the project. Quality is seen as a necessary and integral part of the project and the focus on end-products enables the criteria by which quality is to be judged to be specified at the outset of the project. It requires the development of a viable "business case" for the project at its outset and that the business case needs to be periodically reviewed.

In PRINCE a project is regarded as having the following characteristics:

�defined and unique set of technical products to meet the business needs
�corresponding set of activities to construct those products
�certain amount of resources
�finite lifespan
�organisational structure with defined responsibilities

Key elements of PRINCE is shown in the following Diagram:

Diagram - Key Elements of PRINCE

In PRINCE, an approach to planning based on products rather than activities and the use of this approach for the benefits. It also emphasises that projects needs to define the ' shape' or manageable phases of a project to promote sound business control. Stages are characterised by the production of specific products.

The PRINCE model for projects is based on two main principles:

ï?? The project is a joint responsibility between users, the developers and the organisation for whose benefit the end-product is being developed
ï?? In order for projects to succeed, a special structure is demanded to manage the project throughout its life - from conception through build to handover. This structure is distinct from normal line management.

Using these principles, the model defines three levels of activity:
ï?? Overall project management and major decision making
ï?? Day-to-day management
ï?? Production of end-products

These three levels of activity are assigned respectively to the Project Board, to the Project and Stage Managers, and to the Technical Teams.

2.2The latest version of the method, PRINCE 2, is a process-based approach for project management providing an easily tailored, and scaleable method for the management of all types of projects. Each process is defined with its key inputs and outputs together with the specific objectives to be achieved and activities to be carried out. In the following diagram, the process-based approach is shown:

Diagram - PRINCE 2 Process Model

2.3PRINCE 2 provides benefits to the organisation, as well as the managers and directors of the project, through the controllable use of resources and the ability to manage business and project risk more effectively. PRINCE enables projects to have:

ï‚? a controlled and organised start, middle and end;
ï‚? regular reviews of progress against plan and against Business Case;
ï‚? flexible decision points;
ï‚? automatic management control of any deviations from the plan;
ï‚? the involvement of management and stakeholders at the right time and place during the project;
ï‚? good communication channels between the project, project management, and the rest of the organisation.


3.1SSADM is a highly structured and rigorous method of systems development ,was originally developed by Learmonth and Burchett Management System (LBMS) following an investigation by the CCTA into adopting a standard Information System (IS) development method for use in UK government projects. It was launched in 1981 and by 1983 became mandatory for all the government IS developments. This gave SSADM a large toehold in the IS structured methods market.
It is a prerequisite for SSADM that user commitment and involvement are agreed right from the start. It provides a top-down approach, where a high level picture is drawn up and subsequently refined into lower levels of detail. One extremely important concept in SSADM is the distinction between logical and physical views of system components.

3.2Following are the aims of SSADM:

ï??Provide a sound platform for communications between analysts, designers and users;
ï??Reduce errors and gaps in the specification produced
ï??Improve the quality of software documentation and the productivity of analysts;
ï??Reduce potential risks by presenting analysts with a structural framework for the use of techniques, and a standard for documentation end-products;
ï??Provide techniques for checking completeness and accuracy;
ï??Improve the maintainability of the new systems;
ï??Reuse staff and skills on other projects;
ï??Protect investment in analysis and design, and to allow freedom in implementation techniques.
3.3SSADM consists of three main components:
ï‚?The structure or framework of an SSADM project
ï‚?A set of standard analysis and design techniques
ï‚?The products of each technique
3.4The structure of SSADM might appear a little complex at first, but will make more sense as we began to look at the method in more detail. Following diagram illustrates the breakdown of the life cycle into a hierarchy of modules, stages, steps and tasks.

Figure 1- SSADM Structure Breakdown

Each module represents a SSADM phase, and is made up of one or two stages. Where a module contains two stages, one will be an analysis or design and the other will be a project decision stage. Each stages is made up of between two to seven steps, which provide the framework for applying and controlling the development techniques. The tasks to be carried out within each step define how the techniques should be used, and specify the required standard of the products output from the step. Following diagram shows the breakdown of SSADM's modules and stages.

Figure 2 - The Stages of SSADM

3.5The major analysis techniques mainly used are as follows:

ï??Business Activity Modelling (BAM) - explicitly describes what goes on that part of the business under investigation. The activities are defined from purely a business rather than on IS perspective. Recommended approach to be used in the construction of a BAM may be Soft System Methodology (SSM), Functional Decomposition or Resource Flow Diagrams.
ï??Logical Data Modelling (LDM), representing system data, is applied throughout the life cycle to provide the foundation of the new system;
ï??Work Practice Model (WPM) maps business activities onto the organisation structure defining user roles to the underlying business activities.

3.6The key important thing is the end-product. Each step has number of tasks associated with it, most of which lead to the creation or enhancement of standard SSADM products. At the end of an SSADM project the new system will be described by the sum of these products. Products can be divided into three basic groups: Processing, Data and System-User (or Human-Computer) Interface.

4.0Application of PRINCE AND SSADM in Developing Countries- A few Comments

4.1Implementing Information System in developing countries is a complicated exercise, particularly in the public sector. With the growing needs in the information age, and by the pressure from the international donors , big and ambitious projects has been undertaken by the public sector in developing countries . But due to the lack of standard procedures and methodologies for IS development caused many projects to combat problems in the implementation stage. Many projects failed to attain their business needs, as they were too large and highly ambitious. Basic reasons for the project failure in the developing countries can be characterised as the following:

ï??Solving wrong problem;
ï??Technology led, not business;
ï??Lack of major stakeholder involvement;
ï??Experts lead, rather than facilitate;
ï??Lack of commitment and hidden agenda;
ï??Benefits not identified and quantified at outset.

Nowadays, the developing countries are applying both PRINCE AND SSADM methodologies, the project management development techniques, specially designed for IT projects, that are funded by the UK Department for International development (DFID).

4.2In Bangladesh , private sectors are advancing with IS development , but it is not the identical situation in the public sector. The reasons behind this may be the poor salary structure in the public service, which never give confidence to the prospective talents and system designers to join the public services. Most of the IT projects are donor funded; domestically financed IT projects rarely experience success like the donor projects.

4.3However, RIBEC (Reforms in Budgeting and Expenditure Control) project, funded by DFID, has been considered as the most successful project in Bangladesh.

At the early stage of RIBEC project (Phase 2), it was observed that, the project was design to develop and modernise the budgeting and accounting system of the government of Bangladesh. The experts mainly dominated that phase, including lots of things to cover. There was lack of stakeholders' involvement; problems were not recognised at the initial stage. Only a range of high-grade staff in the relevant field was given a general IT training. There was no follow up; no visible product was seen. Benefits were not identified. No system was developed to automate the budgeting and accounting system. So this phase 2 had experienced a massive failure.

Having awful experience, the following phase (2A and 2B), a downsized project with specific output targets came up with analysing user requirements. This phase focused on sustainability and proved successful with sustainable solutions especially in the software development for budgeting and accounting Substantive training had been offered to the users of the systems. Stakeholders have been involved in the software development process and the local vendors who will be easily available in the future, developed the systems.

Following PRINCE and SSADM as methods for project management and system development, RIBEC project is now considered as a model for other projects which implies the potential scope for applying these methodologies.

4.4Financial Management Project for HMG Nepal has been designed to establish a reliable database to ensure user friendly and reliable financial information and to computerise budgetary system. CCTA guidelines for IS strategy including PRINCE and SSADM were followed in developing the system.

4.5In Pakistan, Lahore WASA project experienced badly as the original proposal was too big and not phased project; no analysis of business needs, solution was technology led, benefits were not identified at outset, high risk strategy, questionable long-term sustainability, lack of training facilities and computing skill within organisation etc. So, 2 years' costs and effort were wasted.

Following the DFID approach of project management, Lahore WASA turn out to be successful and benefits are realised especially in the billing from bimonthly billing to daily billing and reduction in bill production cycle. The main project management approach in the new proposal includes: redefinition of purpose, identify business benefits, prioritise outputs, involvement of stakeholders, DIFID played the role as the facilitator not doer, ownership of solution by stakeholders, use of local consultant etc, phased development, distributed system.

'Information technology and Information systems for what they really are - powerful and valuable tools, but not magic. When applied thoughtfully, these tools can bring important benefits for individuals, organisations, and customers. When misapplied, they can waste tremendous amounts of time, effort, and money' (Alter 1999, p.23).

The UK, a developed country that is economically and technologically advanced, designed PRINCE AND SSADM, to meet their own requirements. It cannot be expected that these structured methodologies would equally suit the resource scarce developing countries. But the above discussions surmise that there is potential scope and rationale for applying PRINCE AND SSADM that would facilitate the developing countries for better project management and system development. But again, these methodologies should not be considered as the " solutions", rather these frameworks should be used thoughtfully, tailored to manage projects efficiently and to develop effective information systems to cope with the challenge of change.


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