Manufacturing Systems 



In a time of downsizing and making do with available resources, managers face an ongoing battle to obtain current and accurate information from obsolete and inefficient information systems. Managers battle their systems, enduring late and inaccurate information thinking they have no other choice. But another choice is available! There is an effective process for examining and improving existing systems. Furthermore, there is a group of people to call upon to take on this task: not system vendors, not consultants, but the company's own system users. Users are generally an intelligent, creative, and conscientious group of people who work in the front lines of the information battle and who are usually highly motivated to implement system improve­ments. This paper describes a process whereby user experience and creativity can be utilized to affect significant improvements in information systems. This process involves people's interaction with, and reaction to, the information systems of an organization. The process also involves the management of that reaction.

Corporate Systems vs. Informal Subsystems

An organization's information system is the group of mechanisms and procedures used for creating, processing, managing and disseminating information. The information system is the vehicle used to process sales, manage production, purchase material, bill customers, track sales, and manage the finances of the organiza­tion. The information system in most organizations has two components: the corporate system and a myriad of subsystems supporting the corporate system.

The corporate system is installed by management. It connects all of the primary functions of the organization and is the product of a global plan. Usually it consists of a computer system with an assortment of reports and on-line inquiries. It uses preprinted business forms such as sales orders, purchase orders, and invoices. Because this system was installed to accommodate the business conditions and practices at a certain point in time, it becomes stressed when those conditions and practices change. As this stress increases, the corporate system begins to fail in meeting information requirements. It provides information too slowly, or in the wrong format, and cannot accommodate new types of transactions. The system may also fail to provide levels of control that have become increasingly critical over time.

Subsystems are developed by users of the corporate system. Subsystems are the fixes, patches, subroutines, and workarounds created by resourceful users trying to provide the systemic functionality not afforded by the corporate system. These subsys­tems may serve only a single functional group and typically consist of logs, files, PC-based spreadsheets and databases, extra photo­copies, or white-board systems. They are created to serve a narrow function and generally pay little attention to whether they duplicate a similar function elsewhere. Subsystems are generally created by well-intentioned, creative employees who see a small part of corporate operations.

Evolution of Informal Subsystems

Users compensate for deficiencies in the corporate system by creating informal, subsystems. These subsystems represent genu­ine solutions insofar as the creator-user is concerned, but eventu-

ally there is a proliferation of subsystems throughout an organi­zation. The interaction of many subsystems with an ineffective corporate system creates significant problems in the management of information throughout an organization. The organization becomes critically dependent upon subsystems and depends on them to enter orders, purchase material, build product, make shipment, and bill customers. The corporate system becomes useless without subsystems.

To be Continued


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