Monday, November 30, 2009

Nature of Relationship Between Business Plan and Information Systems Plan

(Note: This is a reply to Mr. G.'s thread in USeP-IC Web Forum - Assignment 2: What should be the nature of the relationship between the business plan and the IS plan?)

Planning is something very essential to anybody or any organization as it is a preparation of some things that need to be done. Encarta defines plan as a system for achieving objective. Thus, it is clearly stated that it is a method of doing something that is worked out in advance – a layout or just an outline of items to be included in certain tasks.

In any organization, planning is a basic tool in achieving its objectives and purposes. To earn success, people should have an effective business plan to be carried out. A business plan is any plan that works for a business to look ahead, allocate resources, focus on key points, and prepare for problems and opportunities( Basically, any form of business and/or establishments has business plans that set out its future strategies and financial development.

Since we talk of business plan and IS plan here, let us dig deeper the importance of planning. To have a better view on this I would like to present to you some key points I have gathered through my researches about business planning.

First, planning is a critical component of good management and governance, as agreed by most non-profit leaders and experts. In organizing and controlling the affairs of a business, a manager has to set out a layout of his plans which will guide him in doing tasks concerning the achievement of his business goals. This will also help him govern his business colleagues and associates and direct the whole company to its program implementations. Without this solid foundation that serves as a backbone for the organization, no business will be able to have a clear perspective of its accomplishment. Planning guides the organization on the right track keeping it focused and remains relevant to the needs of its community, the reason why it exists. It provides a basis for measuring the results and progress of the business development. The key important thing is it makes the organization move into a systematic and orderly way.

Because planning serves as basis for assessment of progress, most organizations understand the need for annual program objectives. When managers and leaders organize objectives for yearly program implementations, they usually set out goals made strategically to help them set the priorities of the organization and organize work. They need work plans that are focused on organization’s programs which then include operating and systematic plans for the development of the company’s resources.

And with the fast-evolving changes in our environment in the present, plans should likewise be made every now and then if possible so to handle the rapid amendments and transformations of various company programs and objectives intended for longer terms. Some definite objectives could not be anymore applicable in a certain period of time or it may be difficult to implement now that several changes are influencing the present status of the organization. That is why planning is an important factor to be considered by most leaders since this will help them in making some methods which will aid in defining ways to manage changes brought by internal and external factors in the community.

Nevertheless, not only managers and leaders are liable in making plans in an organization. Since implementing the goals and objectives to achieve the vision and mission of the company involves each and every individual, all must also take part in setting the layout of the plans of the organization. In most cases, those of higher positions like CEOs and Board of Directors are the usual creators of planning the business components of the company and the lower rank staff like those in the supervising and control staff and employees are hands-on to the implementation of the plans. Some have certain office divisions and departments which handles these planning strategies. But in common cases, planning are done primarily by the administrative division.

Having realized the efficiency brought by technology to the corporate world, information technology has long been integrated into the core of every business through managing and supporting its operations. The information system department is not far from the organization’s most important areas. IS people are treated as critical resources of the company. Thus it is then very crucial for the company to take high attention on the heart of the organization which holds its vital information. We have talked and mentioned about the information system and its significance to the organization before. The purpose and use of information systems in the beginning, according to a reference that I have found, is targeted towards reducing manual labor and increasing efficiency and thus reducing cost of doing business. In this case, the information system processes the essential elements of the company’s day-to-day business.

For this reason, planning should include not only the external part of the business components of the company but also the internal structure of the organization as well as elements comprising the information systems. The information systems utilizes technology to better serve the organization, the community where it belongs, to perform its mission, to achieve its goals through propelling business, to boost the economy. There are a lot more reasons to keep driving the information systems of the company. Every organization as we all know is continually striving hard to improve its competitive position in the global and local marketplace. Thus most organizations invest in information technology as it plays a critical supporting role in reaching the organization’s goals.

If we are going to look down specifically on the components of an information system and have a breakdown of each task, we will see the importance that each significant element holds. All the hardware aspects of the organization are essential tools of every individual utilizing these resources necessary for running the business of an organization. Of course these equipments are investments of the company because these are the things that aid in processing large amounts of data and helps produce more results while lessening the effort of the labor. Naturally, hardware components would not run without the software elements of the system. Moreover, in most businesses, there are lots of proprietary and open source software alike being used by various companies that could further improve processing their information. Some of these are those especially made for certain tasks and programs made for working on particular jobs. Needless to say, an information system would not be without the most important ingredient – human resources. Of course, who would operate on the hardware and software components of the business without the people who are working for it? The workforce of the company is the critical resource of the organization. And as with the information system, these IT people are treated as highly significant beings because all the crucial information about the business of the company is being processed in the information system department which is manned by people who are hands-on to the functionalities of the system.

Moreover, since the information system involves many functions and procedures, it is therefore necessary to have an Information Systems Plan where the processing, classifying, arranging, and calculating the data input to yield the necessary output of the business information.

There are lots of cases where some departments especially the large divisions of the company have set unique strategies that certain objectives are made according from what their division or department are primarily tasked to work out. To be able to carry out the mission and vision of the company as a whole, each and every subdivisions of it should align with the business strategy. This is where the business plan and information systems plan connect.

The nature of relationship between the business plan and the information systems plan is relative to business and IT. An information system plan is a road map indicating direction of systems development. Normally, the information system is linked to the business plans of the organization. This is because aside from the business strategies being planned out by the heads of the company, there are also new hardware and software technologies that an organization should be aware of. The management should also look up to how these technologies will benefit the organization as a whole. Apart from that concerns such as how the company should acquire and manage the firm’s hardware and software assets, and other mediating factors affecting the information technology and the organization should also be considered.

An organization is a stable, formal structure. It takes resources from the environment and processes them into outputs. The information system is in charge of doing these procedures that is why the IS plan should not be far from the overall business plan of the company. Each will benefit the other. The organization takes information from the environment and the information system is in charge with the production process of these data which will be generated into outputs given back to the environment or the community needing the services of the organization. The information system department is just one formal organizational unit inside the organization which is responsible of the information systems. In developing a program that will be used in business transactions, for example, the programmers write the programs while system analysts translate business problems into solutions. The program that will be made will be used by end-users or representatives outside the IS department where systems are developed. This is one significant importance of the IS in the firm. Without intensive business plan and integrated IS plan, these programs would not be possibly directly implemented and gain beneficial results for the business. The kinds of information systems like the operational, knowledge, management, and strategic level serves the groups of operational managers, knowledge and data workers, middle managers, and senior managers. As we can see, these people are also the same persons setting out the company’s vision, mission, goals, and objectives. They make up the team in making the business plans of the organization. But here, in various functional areas like sales and marketing, manufacturing, finance, accounting, and human resources, all are also concerned with the information system levels. Just one proof that business plan should not isolate IS plan. In fact, the two should be well-made and integrated for the organization to grow and develop. If in some cases the organization plans to bring business to the global scope with its clients not only in the local or national but also worldwide, for sure it needs enough information and communication from and to various firms and business partners outside. This can be done by networking digital firms and virtual organizations to link people, assets, and ideas so to create and distribute products and services without being limited to physical locations.

The factors to consider when planning and/or maintaining an information system is nevertheless similar to planning and organizing the business. Both will be concerned of the organizational environment, its structure and operating procedures. Because the IS is considered as the heart of the organization, its plans should be aligned with the business plans of the firm. Likewise, the business plans should take more into account the needs and functionalities of the information system since it is the core of the company’s operations. The information system is designed to assist the kinds of tasks, decisions, and business processes. Thus, the impact of the IS will also affect the organization as a whole. Information system and business strategy is an effective partnership and to gain efficiency in business, these two should work well together through strategic planning.

In general, I can say that the use of information technology in business strategies helps achieve competitive advantage of the organization in the global marketplace. This is because IS encouraging the sharing of knowledge across business units enhances competency. Information systems achieve great efficiencies by automating parts of the business processes. When the manual system poses threats to security and reliability of data due to redundancy, the automated system can bring fast, accurate, more reliable outputs which could then be utilized not just by one functional area in the company but to all that is concerned with the information being processed. This is what we call cross-functional business processes which go beyond the boundary between sales, marketing, research and development, and many other. Just like in an order fulfillment process, the methods involved in sales include generating and submitting the order. It could be passed on to the accounting section where the credit is checked and approved to generate invoice. If the credit is approved, the manufacturing and production can now proceed in assembling and shipping the product. Without the information technology as a tool, most organizations would spend lots of costly efforts and resources if the said transaction will be done manually and/or in a decentralized system where in fact all can be done more efficiently and quickly if appropriate IS procedures will be followed. Within the business, there are a lot of functions having its uses of information systems. Just imagine if the information system plan is not in line with the business plan or vice versa. The shallow thought connecting these ideas is this: the information system comprises of the different systems in which every process of each business function is made. Needless to say, both IS and business strategies is correlated to each other – business plans carry out the external factors of the organization while IS plans have to do with the information system and the company’s core issues.

study study study study
I would like to acknowledge the following resources I used as references of the above statement:
Arrow What is a Business Plan by Tim Berry in
Arrow The State of Tennessee 2008 Information Systems Statewide Plan by Bengel et. al
Arrow Administrative Information Systems Business Plan Exec. Summary by University of Iowa
Arrow Formulating an Information System Strategic Plan by BlastAsia Inc.
Arrow Commonwealth of Virginia Strategic Plan for Information Technology 2007-2011
Management Information Systems 8th edition by Laudon and Laudon materials:
Chapter 2 Information Systems in the Enterprise
Chapter 3 Information Systems, Organizations, Management, and Strategy
Chapter 12 Redesigning the organization with Information Systems

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Fruit of Sweet Success

No matter how hard it is to climb the tallest mountain, nothing could really compare to that overwhelming feeling after getting on top of the world.

True. After all the knee scratches and back-bending, bone-breaking, muscle-aching grips of the wild rocks along the way, you can still taste the sweetness of success when you reach the top of your destination. In the end you will not mind the wounds that you earned but treat it as just spices of your journey.

Not all people think that getting on to their destination involves much sacrifice and pains. That is why they easily quit when the biggest trials come. Some would not mind anything at all and could even give up anything and everything for just a simple ideal. Nevertheless, whatever the reasons and the corresponding consequences are, one thing is for sure - sacrifices have their rewards. And vice versa.

These last few weeks I have been very preoccupied by some sorts of business (which I refuse to tell you in here..) and that every single thing about it just gives me the headaches and the emotional tantrums. Nevertheless, I could sense the smell of victory when I was able to foresee things are going in their appropriate track. The lesson I want to impart here is being optimistic.

Thinking positive is not my way of treating serious things in my everyday life. But that had helped me face my fears and I could say I was able to triumph over my weakness. Although it is sad to say that in the end I am not the real victor but I have my consolation - I never quit so I am not the loser.

If then it so happened that I did got carried away by my emotions when the worse experiences of life came to me. But thank God I was able to deliberate on it and let time take its healing touch than making rush decisions that could further complicate situations in the end. I was able to turn those unwanted things to something positive in purpose and challenged myself to go back to where the mistakes started and vowed to have a real change in strategy. The failure pushed me to try again but not to do the same errors but to change according to the lessons I have learned. The positive side I have been convincing to myself became a solid mindset which guided my actions and decision-making skills.

Moreover, the best thing that happened was, I never get into rush decisions and suffer unwanted consequences in the end. Perseverance in getting things in order than just staying in a corner lamenting over your failures and ending up wasting your time doing nothing remarkable at all really helped a lot. The result? A sweeter fruit of your labors. :-)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An IT Professional 10 Years From Now

(Note: This is a reply to Mr. G.'s thread in USeP-IC Web Forum - Assignment 1: Think about yourself worthy to be called as IT professional, how do you see yourself 10 years from now, what are your strategies to get there?)

"Ten years from now...I will be leading the team in automating business and non-business transactions in the city's local government units..."

A dream. An aspiration. But knowing the possibilities of time, that is not far from getting true. Who knows?

When our professor met our class for an orientation of the subject Management Information System 2, he asked the same question. Most of us were inaudible as to what we really imagined our lives to be in the next decade. Some were called to stand and verbalize their thoughts. But none of us I guess, satisfied our instructor. It was the same as answering the question 'what would you want to be when you grow up?' during the end of elementary and high school years.

As I was deliberating my thoughts of how to answer the question, I also asked myself what would really be me in the next few years after I finish my studies? Should I be one of those fresh graduates who venture into freelance jobs or apply to other colleges and universities for part-time teaching and enrolling in masteral degrees at the same time? Nevertheless, I discard the idea though I am not so sure of how my future would look like.

When one of our classmates cited that he wanted to go and work abroad (peace, Franz!) and our instructor moaned a disagreeing tone discouraging everyone to go abroad immediately just a few years after graduation, it helped me organize my ideas in a clearer view. What our instructor wants is for us to realize that we are scholars of our localities and the nation expects us to serve our very own than the other foreign nations. Furthermore he said that developed countries are not anymore hiring IT professionals for they are now into outsourcing.

The first point stated by our instructor led me to one thing I have been thinking some time ago. What most of the people nowadays wanted is to go abroad and land into jobs there where they could earn a relatively higher rate than what our local employers could give. Practicality, that is what they said. With the economic crisis gradually tightening our belt stiffly, I would not be surprised that more and more Filipinos are applying jobs outside leaving their lovedd ones behind just to provide the financial needs of the family. Maybe that is the common reason why most college students took courses in demand in the foreign countries. But me? I have the slightest idea of the global demand status of my course. I thought that if ever opportunity comes, maybe I could grab it. But I never thought of aspiring to work outside though, it never crossed my mind that I will be pressuring myself to finish my studies and be eager to work abroad. I choose to work here.

My professor was right. We have been lucky to be studying in a state university. It is then worthy for the government and the country to be served by us, who have been given the chance to have college education. I think it would not be detrimental if we just have to spend even a few years to work here before venturing to greener pasture if we have plans to do it. Not only we could gain experience in working here but we will be able to pay back what our country have given to us by sharing our knowledge and skills for the benefit of our own. It should end that way, shouldn't it? How could we let the other countries get the benefit of our services when our own nation lacks assistance and needs help? It is just the same as 'why are we suffering financial budget just to import goods we consume while we are exporting world-class raw materials for the products that we buy?' Silly, isn't it? That is what we hear from the news and current affairs regarding the economy of our society.

As an Information Technology student, I have learned the value of how important and critical even just a single bit of data or a simple detail of information is for an organization. With the computerized system we have nowadays, the rise of economy in developed countries relies much on the software and hardware aspects of technology. And we, people have big roles in leading our nation from scratch to riches. We may not have the technology other big countries have but I believe we have enough resources and skillful people to start small. Enough to survive on our own. Only these resources are not utilized to their real functions that is why it is not performing well according to its purpose. I think the authorities failed to invest more on developing and maximizing the resources we have to its full worth.

I will tell you an evident thing why I was able to say that. Just look at our government and private transactions. While the foreign countries are mechanizing their industries, we still use the old manual (and convenient) way of processing our documents. Convenient for those who have been used to it and refuse to give in to the new flow of modernity. We, students are studying the what's and how's of the trends and applications of technology yet we could not find it anywhere being used WIDELY especially in mission-critical or even private business organizations locally. Only some. Just a few I guess, contrary to others who are using it almost in all establishments and institutions. I knew we all know of the advantages of computerized systems and that it is not that easy to switch immediately to automation. I am happy that some organizations are considering helping private institutions improve their manual systems by introducing applications of IT into business. I guess that should where we should fall into the picture. We have big roles in helping the organizations use the information technology to the benefit of the business.

Say for example, my mom works in the local government unit (e.g. barangay) in our place. I could not exactly recall when or what year she has been staying for soooo long in the office until late in the evening just to finish all these sorts of paper works. I could still remember, she called me in asking me to help her with some computations and listings and everything that she could not do alone without getting late for the deadline. The works are just easy-to-average but kind of pain in the head. Imagine a sort of numbers and forms to be filled up, copied, referenced, computed, updated, and reprinted again. If in any case the numbers and budgets are not in tally the job has to be redone. If entries are not on the right track, reviews should be made and you will find yourself getting back to scratch over and over again. Hassle, isn’t it? The only system computerized in their office, I guess, is the encoding of data and printing of all kinds of papers and forms to be submitted and signed by the officials. I could not find a single system where it is not just used for printing and encoding ONLY but something else. Hopefully they had. But unfortunately, even the higher office which requires them to process their documents are also doing almost the same thing – manual processing of data. I am not surprised to see bulks of papers in the tables in the offices where you can only see heads of the people working on it because they are all covered with piles of documents. And what makes it annoying is that if the higher office finds some erroneous parts on the documents, the recent ones you are working in the present would be affected. So the result, you will be reviewing the stuff from the past months or years and stop the current document you are working now. Not mentioning that as the time goes by, your job to be done is also piling up in queue and the budget your office is allocating for current projects will be delayed due to chain effects of the process. Whew! Just imagine the stress that manual processing could do. I guess it would just be okay if what you are processing are only just some sorts of simple things. But it is complicated.

Thinking about these made me wonder if the local government already has or starting to have (or just planning to have!) a convenient way of gradually changing these manual system of processing documents in the local barangays into computerized and centralized way. I could really imagine other employees too with almost the same duties as my mom has. They are doing jobs overtime with no extra pay (sometimes, depending on what institution you are working with) but just concerned of beating the deadline so to get things done.

This is just a simple scenario where we could apply the basic advantages of an automated system. That is, to reduce difficulties caused by manual data processing. Regarding data storage, an office could house thousands of papers if manual system will be pursued up to now. There will be problems in finding just a single sheet of form if needed because it will take time to sort files and folders and cabinets and drawers and before you realize, you spent two hours delaying your other tasks just to find a single important document where in fact you could search the archives of your database in the computer if and then these things are stored in the computer. Regarding data security, you will have lots of cabinets and drawers with various files and folders to be protected from fire, water, insects, and interested third parties who might want to grab your data. Plus, much of these are taking space in your office not mentioning the eyesore it gives for failure to maintain orderliness in your workplace. Human errors which may happen every now and then will reduce the accuracy of data and that would eventually lead to unreliability of information. How I wish every business and non-business transactions in the local government units and private organizations will be as easy and convenient as a computerized and automated system of data processing.
As an IT professional in the very near future, I am very positive that I will be of help to my nation by sharing my knowledge and skills and applying what I have learned to the benefit of my community. I know there may be lots of IT graduates and professionals out there who are more skillful than me but I am saying to myself that I could also give a part of me to my country. A good start is to lend a hand in planning a good way of easing the complexity of works in the manual system.

By helping and visiting some time in my mom’s office, I was able to observe the flow of what they were working. This gave me the idea of identifying some points from which possible problems would arise. Most of the time I would not touch any of my mother’s work for fear that I might mess up with her things or take her out of her concentration. So I would choose to explore the office computers to find interesting things whatever that would catch my attention. And oftentimes when I do not find any games or sort of recreations, I would content myself with searching the archives of word and spreadsheet documents saved in the computers. Boring, isn’t it? But inspecting these files makes me realize that we are really lacking in the appropriate skills even in just organizing files and folders of our office. With this, how can the government consider making its way to full automation of processing documents? Not all employees and staff working in the government units have basic knowledge in computers.

I think the government is also considering the fact that it would take much time and effort on the end-user part that will be undergoing training when the automation of manual data processing will be pursued. That is why, maybe, the human resources that are working in the present and are conveniently working their tasks according to what and how they have been used to do it are just enduring the system.

But what about the next generation that will replace the staff in the long run? Won’t they think of an easier, more convenient way of working? Of course, they are not the only ones who will benefit this. I am sure the government is gradually making steps in doing away with the old data processing and shift to electronic automation.

In the moment I am kind of starting a simple program of storing lists of sponsored scholars I have found in the office computer into a database and retrieve it just like what we do in our school projects. I am not giving pressure to myself since nobody asked me to do that but I was thinking that I might do it part by part only by some point in time when I happen to visit the office. I was envisioning myself of making an automated system in our barangay where my mom and other barangay staff would not find hard times in searching the archives and updating the database of whatever information they want to store or retrieve. And as a consolation to myself, I was just imagining that because of the system that I might be doing, our barangay will be known and acknowledged by the city government and the other barangays and would eventually be given a reward for this wonderful innovation. Hahahaha! That is just a dream but I actually wanted to do it anyhow. Who knows, if it ever happens then the local government would make our barangay a premier in automated transactions and they would realize that they should also start doing the same to the other barangays and the central office. In that way they would consider investing budget for this simple innovation and will eventually lead to automation of all business and non-business transactions. Act begets act.

And because of that little concern I did, I will gain experience in applying the concepts I have learned to my community. Ten years from now, I will be leading the team in automating business and non-business transactions in the city’s local government units. In the next five years, I am envisioning myself as part of a group of advocates who desires for the improvement of data processing in a centralized office. I will be helping my local barangay in developing and using programs and applications that will lessen the hassles and disadvantages of the manual system. Through this, more and more tasks will be quickly and accurately done because processing time will be reduced. Eventually, more people will be served and will be happy because of the prompt response of the personnel in the offices.

Well, before we let our minds wander through the imagination of the future let us think of the present first. Of course, what I am thinking of tomorrow would not be as effortless as picking an apple in the tree. I need strategies to get to my goal. And one of these is to invest in the present.

Before I could lead the team of IT professionals I should prove myself worthy to be one. It is not as simple as showing your credentials having earned a bachelor’s degree in that field of work but attesting your skills of being a properly qualified and experienced one in the environment. So to be able to develop a system, I should have firm foundation of the knowledge about the system. Right now, I should put into mind and heart whatever things I learn in my university to be able to apply these concepts later. My exposure to the industry would greatly help. It would give me a better view of the actual happenings inside an organization. By studying the flow and structure of the information system of an organization, I will be able to point out some areas that need improvements. But of course, corresponding recommendations should be made to make the study significant especially to the role of the IS in the company and the value of the organization to the community as a whole.

Not only concepts and teachings will make me proficient, but also familiarity in actual programming or software developing (gosh…scary!). With several school projects, documentations, machine problems that I am required to do and submit in school, I am confident that all of these will make me practice my abilities and eventually learn.
I am hoping that I could learn much as I go along with my experience as an IT student.

Of course, I would not learn the full cycle of my profession without the assessments and reviews of my evaluators. If then I would not know my strengths and weaknesses. I need their opinions and suggestions on whether I need to maintain or improve my performance and to help me know if I am keeping on the right track. Furthermore, I should also know how to get along with my colleagues as well, since I will be working with them for some point in time in systems that might be used in mission-critical situations. As early as now while I am still studying in the university, I should know whom should I choose to be with in my group projects. As what one of our professors is telling us, there should not be all good programmers in one team. In a group, there should be at least a good project manager, a good analyst designer, a programmer, and a good documenter. This is very important since a major task will not be handled alone by programming only or by documenting only. There should also be fine relationship with each team member as it affects the performance of each other and to the quality of work. A certain project should be worked out by all team members collaborating and complementing each other’s respective skills and corresponding tasks.

With these simple yet effective strategies, I believe I will achieve my simple dream someday. Who knows, I might reach my goals far better than I am saying today? Only time could tell. With hard work and perseverance, a determined mind and dedicated heart could surpass any challenge. Think positive. Think clear. Aim high!