- OverviewSystems Approaches
End-user computing has enjoyed rapid expansion during the last few years for many reasons, most of which have to do with the recent introduction of fourth generation languages, the continuing sophistication of the end-user, and the proliferation of inexpensive, but powerful personal computers; all coupled with the dissatisfaction of users with traditional data processing
capabilities. But this rapid growth has not taken place without its share of concerns; such as security of data, documentation of programs, and compatibility of hardware and/or software.
- Origins of End-user Computing
End-user computing, the development of computer applications by non-data processing individuals (usually using fourth generation languages in the microcomputer environment), is growing at a tremendous rate. End-user computing has enjoyed such rapid expansion for many reasons, most of which have to do with the dissatisfaction of users with traditional data processing capabilities. Thus a systems development life cycle (SDLC), which uses structured tools and methods, was adopted by most firms as a framework for the orderly development of information systems in the 1960s.
Today similar solutions must be developed for the end-user computing environment. However, this is not a simple process. Although traditional and end user developed systems are similar in that they have the same goal of finding computer solutions to user problems, there are many differences that make many components of a traditional DSLC unnecessary in the end user environment. New processes must be developed to meet the specific needs of the management o f end-user computing. The focus o f this unit will be an examination o f the problems in the user environment and how a user-oriented SDLC should be developed to solve those problems.
- Growth of End-User Computing
Today there is growing discontent among users because they perceive MIS departments as unable to deliver a system to the user as MIS said it would, that is on time and within the predicted cost estimate. Other complaints deal with the inability of the MIS department to speak to the user in a language he can understand and the unwillingness of MIS to let the user play a significant role in project management. Many users feel that MIS has lost sight of the fact that they are a support function that was created to serve the customer (the user).
Perhaps of greatest concern for users is the time required to complete an application because of the backlog of requests that can delay a project for years. Even when these projects are completed, less than half of the systems developed by MIS are useful for decision-making purposes, which is what most mid and upper-level managers need. The systems that many users want (modeling, simulation, and statistical analysis systems) are not requested because they are afraid of increasing the MIS backlog.
This invisible backlog for development of applications can be many times greater than the known backlog. For these reasons, end-user computing offers an attractive alternative to the user. However, it has only been recently that users could even consider an alternative to traditional application development through the MIS department. There are five factors that have been the main contributors to the rapid expansion of end-user computing.
- Technological Improvements
- Increased awareness on the part of users
- Economic conditions calling for productivity and cost-effectiveness
- Needs not satisfied by EDP departments
Technological improvements have come about because of powerful personal computers that are available at continually lower cost, the increasing availability of sophisticated and easy-to-use software, and the development of fourth generation languages. Along with this superior technology, the knowledge of the user has also improved because of greater exposure to computers in schools and the awareness of the benefits of computer technology. Knowledge is power, and the user is putting his knowledge to work. Driven by the growing discontent with traditional solutions, which have failed to meet users’ needs, users have used their knowledge and the technology available to them to develop viable solutions. As users rebel and are successful in their efforts, others have joined them in ever increasing numbers. Most have found increased satisfaction in their new independence. However, the many advantages that can be realized through end-user computing can also create their share of problems.
- Concerns with End-user Computing
Many feel that the major concern with the growth of end-user computing today is that it is following the same path as the growth of computing in the 1960’s: unmanaged expansion. Research found that there currently exists no general understanding of how this growth is taking place and no framework for the occurrence of responsible planning and management. It is important to note that his lack of planning and management is prevalent even though end-user computing is consistently ranked as one of the top ten concerns by IS managers. This situation may be understandable given the limited resources of IS managers and their already over-burdened demand for traditional application development.
One of the main reasons that end-user computing is not being managed is that many upper level managers feel that too much interference will stifle its growth. They realize that their MIS departments are overtaxed and they see end-user computing as a way to shift the workload. These managers also feel that end-user applications can be developed in less time. But unfortunately, many of them also think that the use of a fourth generation language eliminates the need for proper systems analysis, design, testing, and documentation. Yet too much control over end-user computing may inhibit its growth, but too little control also has its share of concerns. These include:
- Poor documentation of programs.
- Lack of physical security over hardware and software.
- Lack of cost justification for hardware and software.
- Lack of adherence to management policies and standards.
- Different people solving the same problem without communicating.
Of these problems, control over the security of the data is of major importance. In the end, user PC environment data is often stored on floppy disks in a plastic box next to the computer or on a hard disk that has no security method. For many user applications data is entered manually into the computer from a hard copy of a report from some other source. This data is not only unprotected from getting into the wrong hands, but the loss of data is also a very real threat. For a number of reasons, backup of data by end users is almost non-existence. Although users may not see the importance of data security and integrity, it is actually a mishandling of a major corporate resource.
Finding a solution to these many problems, while at the same time allowing for the growth of end-user computing, is a major concern for information system managers. Most IS managers believe that end users should follow the same standards and procedures that are required when data processing personnel develop computer applications, although the standards and procedures should be modified to account for differences of the creators of the systems. The next unit will present a traditional approach to systems analysis and design.
Traditional computer applications that were being developed in the 1960’s, shared worries and concerns of security of data, documentation of programs and compatibility. Problems with those systems were largely solved by the development of structured analysis and design methodologies.