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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