Whether a company is using a computer system now or is planning to use one in the future, it will undoubtedly have to make some type of computer-related purchase. This purchase could be as small as a few a couple of hundred naira for a new ribbon for a printer or as large as a few million naira for a very large and complex computer system. In general, more planning and detailed analysis is needed for larger and more -expensive computer systems. If you know what is involved and what has to be done in acquiring a large and expensive system, you will also know how to acquire less-expensive systems, equipment, software, service, and maintenance. Thus, it will be our approach to investigate the fundamental steps in acquiring a large system. Everything else will be simpler and require fewer steps.
The complete analysis and design cycle requires four basic steps:
- Systems investigation.
- Systems analysis.
- Systems design.
- Systems implementation.
The analysis and design cycle begins with a desire to find a better data and information processing system. The particular systems that will undergo analysis and design are determined during systems investigation.
The overall purpose of systems investigation is to determine whether the existing system is satisfying the goals and objectives of the organization.
In the past, analysis and design were initiated by someone in the data processing department, such as the data processing manager or a systems analyst. As managers and other non-data processing personnel learn more about the capabilities and limitations of computer systems, the initiation of analysis and design is being called for by people outside the data processing department. Companies can be bought, sold, merged, and reorganized. These types of major changes will usually result in a need for systems analysis and design.
The first step in performing systems investigation is to form an investigation team, made up of data processing personnel and top – or middle-level managers. The exact makeup of the team depends on the size of the company and nature of the investigation. This team is then charged with the responsibility of gathering and analyzing data, preparing a report on the justification of systems analysis and design, and presenting the results to top-level managers, who will make the final decision concerning the proposed analysis and design. In larger organizations, several teams will be making a systems investigation at the same time. Due to limited resources, these teams usually compete with each other. After all of the presentations have been made by the teams, top-level managers will select problems or needs that require the most attention or that will result in the greatest financial gain.
The actual data collection and analysis performed during systems investigation is similar to the type of data collection and analysis made for those projects and problem areas selected. Interviews, questionnaires, cost/benefit analysis and so forth can be used at this stage. These topics are covered in the next unit.
Once the data has been collected and analyzed by the teams, a report is made on the feasibility and cost justification of performing a complete systems analysis and design study. The study teams will try to convince top management to continue the study, Therefore, this report is important and should be carefully drafted. Even if systems analysis and design are not undertaken for a particular system, systems investigation may reveal areas that could substantially improve the system. When detailed systems analysis and design is to be undertaken for a system, the president or chairman of the board may issue a directive to all employees to support and cooperate with the analysis and design effort.
- Systems Analysis
After a project has been given approval for further study, the next step is to perform a detailed analysis of the existing system. The overall emphasis is to uncover some of the inherent problems and limitations of the existing system and to determine the extent to which the existing system is achieving the organization’s goals and objectives.
3.3.1 General evaluation considerations
Systems analysis starts by clarifying the overall objectives of the organization and by determining which documents and information are needed to obtain these objectives. A manufacturing company, for example, might have an objective to reduce the number of stock outs. This objective can then be translated into one or more information needs. One information need might be to have an accurate list of inventory levels for all items. If the number of items in inventory is large, other information needs can be established. For example, a manager might want a list of only those inventory items that have an on-hand inventory level of 50 units or less.
In generating the information needs, it is important not to limit the study to the capabilities of the existing data processing system. In a sense, you need to forget about how you are currently processing data and generate information needs based on what you want. These information needs can include graphic presentations, along with more traditional reports.
Analysis of a small company’s computer system can be straightforward. On the other hand, evaluating an existing data processing system for a large company can be long and tedious. As a result, large organizations that are evaluating a major data processing system normally go through a formalized evaluation procedure involving the following major steps:
- Assembling of the study team.
- Collection of appropriate data.
- Analysis of the data and the existing system.
- Preparation of a report on the existing system.
3.3.2 Assembling the study
The first step in systems analysis is to formulate a team of individuals team to study the existing system, The study team is not only given the responsibility of investigating the condition of the existing system but is usually given the responsibility of performing systems design and aiding in implementation of the new system as well.
The study team usually includes the members of the investigation team that completed the initial investigation report. Depending upon the size of the problem or need to be investigated, a number of additional people are placed on the study team. The selection of these additional members is important. Without the support and involvement of middle- and top-level managers, analysis and design may never get implemented or may never be fully utilized if implemented. This occurs primarily because managers and other employees are often reluctant to change. Today, many study teams have representatives from management, marketing, production, accounting, and finance. These individuals can help in getting acceptance of the results, in implementing the results, in negotiating for better contracts if additional hardware and software are required, and so on.
Once the study team is assembled, it develops a list of specific objectives and activities. A schedule for obtaining the objectives and completing the specific activities is also developed, along with a statement of the resources required at each stage, such as clerical personnel, supplies, and so forth. Major milestones are normally established to help the study team monitor progress and to determine if there are any problems or delays in performing systems analysis.
3.3.3 Data collection
In the systems investigation report, various problems or needs were outlined, it is the purpose of data collection to seek additional information about the problems or needs under investigation. During this process, emphasis is given to the strengths and weaknesses of the existing data and information processing system.
Data collection requires that two steps be performed in sequence. The first step is to identify and locate the various sources of data. In general, there are both internal sources and external sources. The second step is to actually collect the data. This may require a number of tools, such as interviews, direct observation, and the development of questionnaires.
The major internal sources are: (1) organizational charts, (2) forms and documents, (3) procedure manuals and written policies, (4) financial reports, (5) data processing documentation manuals, (6) top-, middle-, and low-level managers, (7) other employees of the organization, (8) staff personnel, such as lawyers, accountants, or internal consultants, (9) the data processing manager, (10) systems analysts and computer programmers, and (11) other data processing personnel. Some of the external sources include:
(1) computer manufacturers’ and vendors, (2) customers, (3) suppliers, (4) stockholders, (5) government documents, (6) local, state, and federal government agencies, (7) competitors, (8) outside groups, such as environmental groups or special interest groups, (9) newspapers, (10) trade journals related to the organization, (11) data processing journals, (12) textbooks, and (13) external consultants and other professional groups. Once the data sources have been identified, the next step is to collect data that relates to the existing system.
One of the most popular and effective data collection techniques is the interview. In a structured interview, the questions are written in advance. Some structured interviews only allow for a certain type of response, such as yes or no, or a response that ranges from strongly agree to strongly disagree or from not important to very important, Other structured interviews allow open-ended responses, where the person being interviewed responds with a few sentences for each question. In an unstructured interview, the questions are not written in advance, and the person doing the interview relies on experience in asking the best questions to uncover some of the inherent problems and weaknesses of the existing system. Before the main interviews, a few sample interviews should be conducted to make sure the right questions are being asked. This is called pilot testing. When the members of the study team are satisfied with the interview process, the interviews are scheduled and conducted. In conducting the interviews, it is important to select a location that is convenient, comfortable, and private. During the interview, the person conducting it should be straightforward and should tell the respondent that all individual responses are kept confidential. Good interviewing is an art requiring experience and excellent personal relations skills.
Another data collection technique is direct observation. With this approach, one or more of the members of the study team directly observe the existing system in action. They see how data flows between the production department and the accounting department, how sales orders are processed, how stock outs are handled, the time it takes to transfer information from one department to another, and more. By direct observation, members of the study team can determine which forms and procedures are adequate and which ones are inadequate and need improvement. Direct observation, however, does require great skill. The observer must be able to see what is really happening and not be influenced by his or her own attitudes or feelings. In addition, the observer needs good writing skills to record observations for other study team members.
When the data sources are many and spread over a wide geographic area, questionnaires may be the best data collection approach. Like interviews, questionnaires can be either structured or unstructured. In most cases, a pilot study is conducted to fine tune the questionnaire. A follow-up questionnaire can also be used to capture the opinions of those who do not respond to the original questionnaire.
A number of other-data collection techniques can be employed. Again, the overall emphasis is to collect data on the existing system. In some cases, telephone calls are an excellent method. In other cases, activities may be simulated to see how the existing system reacts. Thus, fake sales orders, stock outs, customer complaints, and data flow bottlenecks may be created to see how the existing system responds to these situations. Statistical sampling and testing techniques can also be used.
- Data analysis
The data collected in its raw form from the data collection stage is usually not adequate to make a determination of the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing data processing system. This data needs to be manipulated into a form that is usable by the members of the study team. The manipulation is called data analysis. Some of the most commonly used techniques are:
- Grid charts.
- System flowcharts.
- Program flowcharts.
- Decision tables.
- Structure charts.
- HIPO diagrams.
- Layout charts.
The cost of the existing system may also be investigated. Direct, indirect, fixed, and variable costs are identified and determined for the existing system. Direct costs are costs incurred as a direct result of the existing system, while indirect costs occur with or without the existing system in operation. Indirect costs include lighting, air conditioning, staff personnel, insurance costs, and so on. Fixed and variable costs can also be associated with the existing system. A fixed cost is one incurred whether the system is operating or not, while the variable costs are costs incurred when the system is in operation. Fixed costs would include the cost of equipment, hardware, software, and so on.
Report on the existing Systems analysis concludes with a formal report on the status of the system existing system. This report contains both the strengths and weaknesses of the system.
Particular attention is placed on those areas that could use improvement. This leads into the systems design stage.
System analysis is essentially a sequence of procedures, techniques or strategies aimed at creating a rapport between the systems developer and the systems user. It is essentially a diagnostic stage in systems development and gives the user the opportunity to determine, in the final analysis, the outcome of the design.