Even small companies will benefit from taking a relatively short time to develop a formal plan for the information systems function. In The business eco-system: Your path to finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!, and elsewhere in this book, we have emphasized the value of having a formal business plan to guide the organization. Many organizations take their business plan down another level and have formal plans for individual departments, such as sales and marketing, operations, and human resources. It is particularly important to have a written plan for the information systems function as top management, must be assured that the benefits of IS are being applied in accordance with the overall goals of the organization. IS professionals call the end result of an IS planning process “strategic alignment”, which simply means that the strategic goals of the IS function are aligned with the strategic goals of the organization.
In a very small organization an information systems plan can be developed by one or two individuals. In larger organizations, it is usually developed by a project team, sometimes with the assistance of outside consultants. The important thing is that resources devoted to developing an information systems plan have knowledge of current and emerging information and communications technologies as well as a solid understanding of the organization’s strategic plan. Development of a formal plan usually involves interviewing managers in each organizational unit to obtain their perspectives on issues such as:
- the overall strategic plan or direction of the organization
- plans of individual organizational units developed in support of the organization’s plan
- industry trends, competitors’ strategies and common practices
- legal and regulatory record-keeping and reporting requirements
- current problems and opportunities with operational processes
- information needs for planning and decision-making
Identifying business entities (e.g. customers, products, employees, etc) and data (i.e. attributes) required to describe each entity.
Once this is done, possible IS projects can be determined by identifying natural groupings of process and data and/or unmet information needs of managers. Possible projects must then be ranked in priority sequence.
Technical issues must be considered next, because there are several applications that the organization eventually uses that often share a common technical platform (e.g. PCs, networked PCs, etc). As we discussed earlier in this chapter, another option is to adopt the “software as a service” (SaaS) approach when it is available and appropriate. Technical issues may cause a reassessment of the priority sequence of possible projects. For example, it may be easier or more logical to install the organization’s first application which uses database management software on a smaller project to let personnel get familiar with the software before moving on to a larger, more risky project. More details on current technical concept and issues are available in Global Text’s Information Systems Text, Chapter 7, available at http://docs.globaltext.terry.uga.edu:8095/anonymous/webdav/Information%20Systems/Information%20Systems.pdf. You may also like to scan the table of contents of the IS Text for additional readings as it covers many of the topics we discuss here in much greater detail.
Once a plan is agreed, it is implemented. Most organizations find it useful to update the plan yearly at least as business and technical issues can change quickly.