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Example research essay topic: Project Management For Information Systems - 1,784 words

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Abstract Information systems (IS) projects are vulnerable to resource cutbacks and the increasing complexity of systems and advances in information technology make finding the right personnel difficult and the associated development costs high. Good project management is essential for success. Some alignment methodologies include IBM's business systems planning (BSP), Robert Holland's strategic systems planning, James Martin's (1989) information engineering and method/ 1 from Anderson Consulting. Critical success factors (Rockart, 1979) methodology focuses on identifying key information needs of senior executives and building information systems around those key needs. Williams, (1997) identified four steps to system planning. Earl (1989) proposed five alternate strategy frameworks which project managers should consider when deciding how the system will enhance the business function.

Standard business strategy methods are used to identify such opportunities by using: value chains, application searching and information analysis (Earl 1989). Project managers may decide that major changes to business processes may be required. Change management is important for project managers and business leaders, starting at the project phase and continuing throughout the entire life cycle. Employees need training to understand how the system will change business processes. Technology factors relate to the system software, support for legacy systems and the IT infrastructure on which the system will be put on. Information systems are powered by information technologies which need to last throughout the system development life cycle.

Introduction The responsibility for achieving success rests on the shoulders of the project manager, however increasingly there are limitations in the availability of man power, human capital and both equipment and financial resources. Information systems (IS) projects are often seen as being vulnerable to cutbacks in resources. Combined with the increasing complexity of system design and the rapid advances in information technology can make project management difficult due to the lack of experienced personnel and the associated high costs. These pressures force project managers to optimize the use of allocated resources to ensure that IS projects are delivered on time and on budget. IS has become integral to the core business and helps to facilitate management decisions allowing improved ability to anticipate, respond, and react to the growing demands of the marketplace. Now, more than ever, effective business strategy centers on aggressive, efficient use of information technology and the project manager plays a central role to ensure that IS projects facilitate this need (Sumner, M 1999).

Project Management Success requires excellent project management. The first step of any project plan is that scope should be established (Holland et al. , 1999) and controlled to prevent continuous changes in requirements referred to scope creep. The scope must be clearly defined and be limited to avoid additional expenses of time and money. This can be achieved by limiting the amount of systems implemented, involvement of business units, and amount of business process reengineering needed. Any proposed changes should be evaluated against business benefits and, as far as possible, implemented at a later phase (Sumner, 1999; Wee, 2000). The project must be formally defined in terms of its milestones (Holland et al. , 1999).

The critical paths of the project should be determined. Timeliness of the project and the forcing of timely decisions should be managed (Rosario, 2000). Deadlines should be met to help stay within the schedule and budget and to maintain credibility (Wee, 2000). Project management should be implemented with coordinated training and active human resource department involvement to help user acceptance (Falkowski et al. , 1998).

Additionally, there should be planning of well-defined tasks and accurate estimation of required effort. The escalation of issues and conflicts should be managed (Rosario, 2000). Delivering early measures of success is important to ensure management will have continued support for the system (Wee, 2000). Rapid, successive and contained deliverables are critical. A focus on results and constant tracking of schedules and budgets against targets are also important to ensure that the project stays on time and budget (Wee, 2000). For successful implementation of projects three basic requirements should be met: a clear business objective, understanding of the nature of change and understanding of the project risk (Bailey, 1998).

Information Systems Planning Models Project managers may choose to design and build systems using existing IS planning models / methodologies which are broadly classified into impact and alignment models. Impact models focus on the potential impact of IS on organizational tasks and processes and alignment models focus on aligning the IS technology plan with organizational strategy and business goals (Pant and Ravichandran, 2001). Popular impact methodologies include value chain analysis (Porter, 1984) and critical success factors (Rockart, 1979). The alignment methodologies include IBM's business systems planning (BSP), Robert Holland's strategic systems planning, James Martin's (1989) information engineering and method/ 1 from Anderson Consulting. Michael Porter's value chain analysis is by far the most widely used impact model. According to Porter, "every firm is a collection of activities that are performed to design, produce, market, deliver, and support its product." These activities can be represented using a value chain.

Value chain analysis helps in identifying key value-adding processes in the business which could be made more effective using information technology. As a planning methodology, value chain analysis is too abstract as it does not provide specific guidelines for designing an information architecture, nor does it provide guidelines for systems development and implementation (Porter and Millar, 1985). Critical success factors (Rockart, 1979) methodology focuses on identifying key information needs of senior executives and building information systems around those key needs. The emphasis on senior management's information requirements is based on an organizational control model of critical decisions being made by informed executives.

IBMs BSP combines top-down planning with bottom-up implementation and focuses on a firm's business processes to derive data needs and classes. Method/ 1 from Anderson Consulting is a layered approach, having methodology at the top layer, techniques in the middle layer, and tools supporting techniques at the bottom layer. The various techniques supported are DFD, matrix analysis, functional decomposition, focus groups and Delphi studies. This method is comprehensive and automated tools are supported. At the same time, it is expensive, too detailed, and time consuming (Raghunathan and Made, 1999). Experience from organizations suggests that these methodologies tend to be too detailed, time-consuming, and expensive.

The roots of these methodologies can be traced to systems development practices of the 1980 s. Since then new models such as component based development and object orientated have come into use. These models place less emphasis on building applications from scratch and take a factory approach of assembling pre-packaged off the shelf customizable application systems. Hence, organizations often find methodologies such as IBMs BSP too rigid and unsuitable for the fast paced development cycle times that prevail in todays business applications development (Raghunathan and Made, 1999).

Project managers therefore must choose whether to develop the system in house and which methodology to adopt or purchase an off the shelf system and customize it to fulfill business requirements. Four steps to Systems Planning Williams, (1997) identified four steps to systems planning. Project managers should follow these or similar steps. Firstly, planning the information systems which can be seen as concentrating on prioritizing the various possible systems, breaking them down into "sets" for detailed analysis with specific users and identify goals for each "set" (Williams 1997). Second, analysing information requirements, this analyses the information needs of the relevant areas of the organization to assess current data and future needs (Williams 1997). Third, resource allocation which involves the application of standard business techniques to allocate and control the financial and resource allocation.

Methods such as "charge out", "zero-base budgeting", "ends / means analysis" can be used for overall allocation and control as well as for individual projects (Williams 1997). Fourth, project planning, standard project planning is then applied to each individual project together with control of the final integration of the whole system. Normal project planning methods can use incorporating tools such as, "Gantt charts", "Milestone", "Critical Path Analysis", etc. (Williams 1997). Possible Strategy's Earl (1989) proposed five alternate strategy frameworks which project managers should consider when deciding how the system will enhance the business function. Awareness frameworks; identifies the market, where market growth rate is compared with market share. The most common version of this is the Boston Consulting Group's business segmentation grid.

From the outcome of this analysis, information systems planners can identify what levels of support they should develop. Thus, if the focus is to be operational strategies, such as increasing economic return, then the proposed information system should concentrate on efficiency measures such as sales analyses, material-flow control, customer service reports, etc. If the focus is to be on improving competitive position, the information system should concentrate on market research, demographic reports, new product development, competitor analysis, etc (Earl 1989). Opportunity frameworks; seek to identify areas of the organization that could be developed to grasp an opportunity, such as the use of their information database as a product in its own right that could be sold to market research businesses.

Standard business strategy methods are used to identify such opportunities by using: value chains, application searching and information analysis (Earl 1989). Business strategy frameworks; assess strategic impact on the business's operation to identify whether the organization could deliver its strategic solutions, such as, competitive advantage, operational efficiency, strategic postures, etc (Earl 1989). Positioning frameworks; are used to assess strategic importance with regard to internal support systems, such as, operational scale, temporal factors, spatial considerations, etc. Strategic grids, for example, could be used to match the strategic requirements against the support mechanisms in place in the organization (Earl 1989). Technology-fitting frameworks; identifies specific areas of technology that could help the organization meet its objectives. They might identify an upgraded data processing department or a new integrating network facility to support operational efficiency or they might select new directions such as CAD/CAM or robotics to enhance production and so on (Earl 1989).

Business Process Reengineering Project managers may decide that major changes to business processes may be required. A business can either evolve gradually over time, or may be modified substantially in one step, through a revolutionary change. Business process re-engineering (BPR) recommends such radical adjustment as a way of increasing the competitiveness of a business (Charnley, 1995). Rapid change can create a business advantage but will often involve significant disruption, cost and risk, with a possible harmful effect.

Identifying radical changes in itself is always beneficial in that it helps give a fuller picture of how a business might improve. The implementation of the changes should, however, be performed carefully to ensure that the potential benefit is achieved. In practice, this means making incremental improvements in steps that offer a good balance between cost, benefit, and risk (Charnley, 1995)...


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