When you decide it is time to move forward with leveraging your organization with information systems, you will appreciate the effort spent on developing a systems plan. The plan will state the kind of hardware, software, and communications technologies you need, as well as the sectors of your organization which should receive your attention first.
Many small organizations begin operations with manual systems to keep track of their operations. They may have simple lists on paper for customer, vendor, and employee information and keep a set of accounting records on paper as well. This was the way business information was kept by all organizations, large and small, before the advent of computers. When PCs became available, their cost was such that the power of the computer was made available at low cost and so today, most organizations of any size have at least one PC or laptop. You may well start out with keeping records manually, but before too long, you will appreciate how much easier it is to keep records on a computer and how well-designed software applications can provide you with valuable information quickly, in many different ways, whenever you need it.
One issue you will need to address early is your sourcing options, i.e. where will you obtain your hardware, software, and human resources to help you acquire and manage the IS resources you need. In Securing and managing external relationships, we discussed the ways that organizations partner with other organizations to perform essential business functions. It is very common for organizations to partner with another company to supply them with the specialized knowledge needed to acquire the right combination of hardware, software, and communications services to meet the needs of the organization. We will discuss these issues later in this chapter when we discuss the ways organizations develop a systems plan. Suffice it to say at this point, that you will have many options:
- You can hire an IS professional if your needs require a full-time employee to manage your IS processes (and if you can afford it). Organizations that do not need a full-time employee and do not have IS expertise available in-house or even on a part-time basis typically make arrangements for part-time support from an IS consulting firm. Sometimes the consulting firm is a sole proprietorship.
- You can acquire your own hardware (e.g. PCs) or you can buy time on another organization’s hardware to run your software applications. In developed economies, there are companies like Google and Amazon that offer so-called “cloud computing” services. They have developed so much expertise in managing server farms (i.e. data centers) that they now sell hardware capacity on-demand to other companies. Similar options are available in other parts of the world.
- As with hardware, you have similar options with software. Up until recently, if you needed a software package to do the accounting for your organization, for example, you had to buy a package and install it on your own computer. Now, many software packages can be accessed with a simple Internet connection and a web browser. The software package resides not on your computer, but on the vendor’s computer (or perhaps another computer “in the clouds”).
All of the options have their advantages and disadvantages and we discuss them later in this chapter.
While it is certainly possible for you to hire a programmer and have him or her develop the software programs your organizations need, it is rare when a start-up company needs to do this as there are so many software programs available for you to use (and some of them are free). In all likelihood, you will begin to move your organization into the “information age” in one of two ways, either (1) acquiring a suite of commonly-used programs designed for meeting the needs of both individuals and organizations, or (2) acquiring software programs designed specifically to meet most needs of a small organization. Each of these options is discussed below: