Although a system replacement may be desirable,
it may not be affordable. Many managers see themselves in this
dilemma. They can't conduct business with the current system, but
they can't purchase a new one. Another option is available. They
can reengineer their systems by methodically taking advantage of
the user expertise that has been solving their system problems all
along. The key to creating more effective user solutions is to
provide the users a global viewpoint instead of a parochial
perspective. The following steps represent a process for using the
expertise of system users to improve current systems.
1. Select an appropriate application.
2. Document the current systems in that application.
Establish a project team.
4. Define the mission and set objectives for the team.
5. Reward the team conspicuously for its successes.
Focus effort on a single application within the
company, but define it broadly enough to include the
interdependent functions within the application. For example, if
you select the purchasing application, you would also include
receiving, inventory management, and accounts payable. Avoid
tackling the highly complex applications in selecting the first
The next step is to exhaustively document the
systems within that application. This is best done with
flowcharting. The analysis should trace the source and destination
of every copy of every document. It should describe every
operation that occurs through each transaction. Computer based
flowcharting is an excellent tool for this analysis. Gathering the
information about these systems absolutely demands that the
information be obtained from the operations-level people who are
doing the work. Interviews with managers should be used only to
obtain an overview of the process flow. Along with the process
descriptions, collect copies of all the documents used for
transactions. Finally, after constructing the flowcharts, verify
them with each of the people interviewed.
Establish Project Team
Once the flowcharting is completed, it is time
to assemble a project team that will be charged with developing
system improvements. The team should include system users who are
interdependent on each other for the acquisition and transfer of
information within clearly defined applications (e.g., purchasing,
inventory control, and receiving). Ideally, the team should
include a member who has resources and authority to implement the
Define Mission, Set Objectives
Explain to the project team that their mission
is to simplify and integrate the information systems within the
defined application. Their objectives should be quantifiable:
• increase the speed of transactions
• increase the accuracy of information
• reduce the paper required to make a transaction
• reduce the number of times identical information is typed
When confronted with the complexities of the
flowcharts and the volume of paper associated with the systems,
the team will find
that many significant improvements will become
immediately apparent. When the team defines and proposes these
improvements, give them conspicuous recognition. They will have
discovered systems improvements for which you might have paid
consultants dearly. Signs, parties, ceremonies are all appropriate
means to show the organization's gratitude for the
accomplishments. They also illustrate the extent to which top
management values creativity in improving the information systems.
There has been a great deal of attention given to the process
of determining how to select and implement new information
systems. Indeed, there is an entire software industry devoted to
assisting companies shed old systems for new. Tough economic
times, however, may force managers to consider a far less
expensive course of action: optimizing systems that are already in
place. This optimization process may be possible without purchases
of hardware or software. The process may also yield something that
systems vendors cannot provide: improved morale and dialogue
between systems users. Systems users are often unrecognized
insofar as their knowledge of information systems is concerned.
These people possess critical awareness of the tiniest details
regarding complex business operations. Although their ad hoc,
unmanaged first efforts at systems improvement may not have
yielded optimal results, they represent a reservoir of knowledge
that can be channeled to create major systemic improvements.
Engaging users to create system improvements will yield several
benefits. The employees will appreciate the recognition. They will
also enjoy having new systems that work better. The organization
will operate more efficiently and will have achieved the
efficiency at relatively low cost. The studies conducted in the
process will also serve as a basis for a system requirements
definition at such time as the company can afford to replace the
systems. The company will receive all of these benefits by tapping
into, and managing the creativity of its own employees.
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