The design of a new computer-based information system is an exciting and demanding undertaking. First, someone calls attention to a problem with existing information processing procedures. A design team assesses the benefits of using a computer to improve these procedures. Then an abstract model of present processing procedures is developed and designers create a new information processing system, The new procedures are converted into systems specifications and finally into computer programs. During the final stages of development, the system is tested and converted and becomes operational.
- Nature of the Work
The rapid spread of computers and information technology has generated a need for highly trained workers to design and develop new hardware and software systems and to incorporate new technologies. These workers— computer systems analysts, computer scientists, and database administrators —include a wide range of computer specialists. Job tasks and occupational titles used to describe these workers evolve rapidly, reflecting new areas of specialization or changes in technology, as well as the preferences and practices of employers.
A systems analyst needs to know about computers and programming, but also should know and have a desire to use computers to solve problems. The solution to the “problem” is generally a new information system. Systems analysts solve problems for business organizations, such as these:
- Problems getting orders from customers
- Problems withholding amounts from pay slips for employees
- Problems getting needed information to management
- Problems getting information about orders to transport
- Problems about estimating what to produce in the factory
A systems analyst uses a generic problem solving approach. The analyst uses a series of steps in order to systematically understand and solve the problem. The steps are:
- Research and understand the problem
- Verify that the benefits of solving the problem outweigh the costs
- Develop a set of possible solutions (alternatives)
- Decide which solution is the best and make a recommendation
- Define the details of the chosen solution
- Implement the solution
- Monitor to make sure the desired results were obtained
When a new information system is a “solution” to a problem, it is important to understand the problem the system will solve. This is the essence of systems analysis – understanding and defining what it takes to solve the problem. A business case must be made for solving the problem – if the benefits don’t outweigh the costs, then why should the problem be solved at all? There are always many alternative solutions that will solve the problem. They must be identified and evaluated. One of the solutions is chosen based on a variety of factors. The chosen solution is defined in detail and then it is implemented. While the new system is being used, it is important to monitor it to be sure it is doing what is needed to solve the problem. Over time it will need to be supported and perhaps modified.
Thus systems analysts solve computer problems and enable computer technology to meet individual needs of an organization. Some systems analysts also are referred to as systems developers or systems architects.
Analysts begin an assignment by discussing the systems problem with managers and users to determine its exact nature. They define the goals of the system and divide the solutions into individual steps and separate procedures. Analysts use techniques such as structured analysis, data modeling, information engineering, mathematical model building, sampling, and cost accounting to plan the system. They specify the inputs to be accessed by the system, design the processing steps, and format the output to meet the users’ needs. They also may prepare cost-benefit and return-on-investment analyses to help management decide whether implementing the proposed system will be financially feasible.
When a system is accepted, analysts determine what computer hardware and software will be needed to set it up. They coordinate tests and observe initial use of the system to ensure it performs as planned. They prepare specifications, work diagrams, and structure charts for computer programmers to follow and then work with them to “debug,” or eliminate errors from the system. Analysts, who do more in-depth testing of products, may be referred to as software quality assurance analysts. In addition to running tests, these individuals diagnose problems, recommend solutions, and determine if program requirements have been met.
In some organizations, programmer- analysts design and update the software that runs a computer. Because they are responsible for both programming and systems analysis, these workers must be proficient in both areas. As this becomes more commonplace, these analysts increasingly work with object-oriented programming languages, as well as client/server applications development, and multimedia and Internet technology.
Thus the systems analyst, working with other IS personnel, defines the requirements that are used to modify an existing system, or to develop a new system. The systems analyst identifies and evaluates alternative solutions, makes formal presentations, and assists in directing the coding, testing, training, conversion, and maintenance of the proposed system.
- System Analysts
The characteristics of a good systems analyst are:
Working Knowledge of Information Technology: The systems analyst is an agent of change. The systems analyst is responsible for showing end-users and management how new technologies can benefit their business and its operations. The systems analyst must be aware of both existing and emerging information technologies and techniques.
Programming Experience and Expertise: A systems analyst must know how to program, because, they are the principle link between business users and computer programmers. It is wrong to assume that a good programmer will become a good analyst or that a bad programmer could not become a good analyst. Most systems analysts need to be proficient in one or more high-level programming languages.
General Business Knowledge: The systems analysts are expected to immerse themselves in the business and be able to specify and defend technical solutions that address the bottom-line value returned to the business. Systems analysts should be able to communicate with business experts to gain knowledge of problems and needs. It is not uncommon for systems analysts to develop so much expertise, over time, they move out of information systems and into the user community.
Problem-Solving Skills: The systems analyst must have the ability to take a large business problem, break that problem down into its component parts, analyze the various aspects of the problem, and then assemble an improved system to solve the problem. The systems analyst must learn to analyze problems in terms of causes and effects rather than in terms of simple remedies. The systems analyst must be well organized. System analysts must be able to creatively define alternative solutions to problems and needs.
Interpersonal Communications Skills: The systems analyst must be able to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing. The systems analyst should have a good command of the English language. Almost without exception, communications skills, not technical skills, prove to be the single biggest factor in career success or failure.
Interpersonal Relations Skills: Systems work is people-oriented and systems analysts must be extroverted or people-oriented. Interpersonal skills help systems analysts work effectively with people. Interpersonal skills are also important because of the political nature of the systems analyst’s job. The systems analyst’s first responsibility is to the business, its management, and its workers. The systems analyst must mediate problems between team problems and achieve benefits for the business as a whole. Systems analysts work in teams composed of IS professionals, end-users, and management. Being able to cooperate, to comprise, and to function as part of a team, is critical for success in most projects. Because development teams include people with dramatically different levels of education and experience, group dynamics is an important skill to develop.
Flexibility and Adaptability: No two systems development projects encountered by a systems analyst are identical. There is no single, magical approach or solution applicable to systems development. Successful systems analysts learn to be flexible and adapt to special challenges or situations presented by specific systems development projects. The systems analyst must be able to recognize when variations upon (or single-instance exceptions to) development standards are necessary and beneficial to a particular project. The systems analyst must be aware of the implications of not following the standards.
Character and Ethics: The nature of the systems analyst’s job requires a strong character and sense of ethics. Ethics is a personal character trait in which an individual(s) understands the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and acts accordingly.
Systems Analysis and Design Skills: All systems analysts need thorough and ongoing training in systems analysis and design. Systems analysis and design skills can be conveniently factored into three subsets: concepts and principles, tools and techniques.
- The Changing Role of Systems Analysts
The role of systems analyst is changing into two distinct positions or roles: business analyst and application analyst.
A business analyst is a systems analyst that specializes in business problem analysis and technology- independent requirements analysis. Typically recruited from the user community, business analysts focus on business and non -technical aspects of systems problem solving. As experts in their business area, they help define system requirements for business problems, and coordinate interactions between business users and technical staff. Business analysts are usually appointed to a specific project, or for a fixed duration. Business analysts will typically be paired with one or more application analysts.
An application analyst is a systems analyst that specializes in application design and technology-dependent aspects of development. Application analysts usually come from computer or information systems backgrounds and education. While they are frequently capable of business problem analysis and requirements analysis, they are experts in the translation of business requirements into technical designs. It should be recognized that both business and application analysts share many skills; particularly, systems analysis skills.
- Systems Inter connectivity
One obstacle associated with expanding computer use is the need for different computer systems to communicate with each other. Because of the importance of maintaining up-to-date information—accounting records, sales figures, or budget projections, for example— systems analysts work on making the computer systems within an organization compatible so that information can be shared. Many systems analysts are involved with “networking,” connecting all the computers internally—in an individual office, department, or establishment—or externally, because many organizations now rely on e-mail or the Internet. A primary goal of networking is to allow users to retrieve data and information from a mainframe computer or a server and use it on their machine. Analysts must design the hardware and software to allow free exchange of data, custom applications, and the computer power to process it all.
Networks come in many variations and network systems and data communications analysts analyze, design, test, and evaluate systems such as local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (WAN), Internet, Intranets, and other data communications systems. These analysts perform network modeling, analysis and planning. They also may research related products and make necessary hardware and software recommendations. Telecommunications specialists focus on the interaction between computer and communications equipment.
The growth of the Internet and expansion of the World Wide Web, the graphical portion of the Internet, have generated a variety of occupations related to design, development, and maintenance of Web sites and their servers. For example, webmasters are responsible for all technical aspects of a website, including performance issues such as speed of access, and for approving site content. Internet developers or web developers, also called web designers, are responsible for day-to-day site design and creation.
Computer scientists work as theorists, researchers or inventors. Their jobs are distinguished by the higher level of theoretical expertise and innovation they apply to complex problems and the creation or application of new technology. Those employed by academic institutions work in areas ranging from complexity theory, hardware, to programming language design. Some work on multidisciplinary projects, such as developing and advancing uses of virtual reality in human-computer interaction or in robotics. Their counterparts in private industry work in areas such as applying theory, developing specialized languages or information technologies, or designing programming tools, knowledge-based systems, or even computer games.
With the Internet and electronic business creating tremendous volumes of data, there is growing need to be able to store, manage, and extract data effectively. Database administrators work with database management systems software and determine ways to organize and store data. They determine user requirements, set up computer databases, and test and coordinate changes. It is the responsibility of an organization’s database administrator to ensure performance, understand the platform the database runs on, and add new users. Because they also may design and implement system security, database administrators often plan and coordinate security measures. With the volume of sensitive data generated every second growing rapidly, data integrity, backup, and keeping databases secure have become an increasingly important aspect of the job for database administrators.
There are many dimensions to system analysts and it is clear that their role as keepers of information security is critical to effective organizational development and progress.