Analysing Information System of a Korean Clothing Company(Whoz-Dat-Com)
The purpose of this investigation is to identify the steps and procedures required to form an Information systems strategy to improve an existing business, in terms of providing an efficient and flexible organisation via appropriate change procedures and protocols. A typical business will be reviewed and the investigation and findings will be based on this example. The business is described through a case study.
The one chosen is typical of many small business organisations. The plan to get from strategy “A” to improved strategy “B” will be implemented under the rules and procedures of a methodology specifically identified as being the most relevant for the business case under investigation. The Soft Systems Methodology (Checkard,1981) was identified in this case as being the most relevant for the challenges posed. The case study also serves to show what works in this type of transformation, and to see how a change management strategy can be applied in an efficient manner.
So what does it take to change and influence a medium sized business operation to become more efficient? What change management procedures are required in order to make the change in a controlled manner? These are questions we must try to answer if we try to instigate change successfully.
Previous research into this type of activity has shown that a couple of approaches can be used. For instance, there is the use of system methodologies, such as SSADM, DSDM, and SSM.
Some strategists recommend methods like Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis, while others suggest Political, Economical, Social and Technological (PEST) analysis. Still many of others will work on various strategies to evolve and change business, such as Soft Systems Methodologies (SSM). There are a variety of change procedures which can be utilised in transforming business from one to another. The type of methodology chosen should be suitable for the type of business requiring change. As will be seen in this brief, not all methods and systems necessarily provide a perfect fit. Quiet often it will be a mix of methods used in the final analysis.
An important applicable of any change proposition is to establish how an organisation operates currently. This information can be extracted by the use of quantitative methods, using the analysis of business documents and the result of qualitative investigation, including standard investigation techniques such as face to face interviews and questionnaires. This should take place with parties having an empowered interest in the project. In this case of Whoz-dat-com Clothing company in Korea, it will be the directors, managers and other staff in the business.
This is the "what" of the analysis in terms of what we need to do. The next aspect is "how" we would achieve this and the expected aims of the project, in this case to implement a change management process suitable to transform the business from the state of disorganised/inefficient to organised/profitable using an appropriate methodology.
This "how" of the equation can be determined from the questions raised and how responses can be well used to fit in with the objective of the final project. This idea, along with suitable business and technical techniques will be used in improving the Information System business strategy.
Business Case Study: Whoz-dat-com (Clothing)
A typical Clothing organisation forms the basis of our case study. They provide Clothings to the general public on a wholesale/retail basis. They have a vast product range, supplying numerous retailers throughout Korea and elsewhere. The aim of this case study is to provide a current business performance analysis in terms of company structure and Information Systems strategy. Areas of concern will be identified in order to target areas for improvement in the business and overall strategy.
The company has an internet website. This was designed to store and process customer details as well as processing daily online transactions. Profits are achieved by a presence in high street such as Kang-nam district, the main and richest area in Seoul and providing potential customers with the ability to purchase stock online. The details of any online orders are stored on the system and are only obtainable by members of staff who specialise in the sales department. In order to access the system, each member of staff uses their personal login name and password, issued to them by the administrator. The information is not accessible by different branches or by all members of staff although in theory every member of staff is sales specialists.
1. Online Ordering Process
The online system was made in order to process daily transactions for retail products. One of the driving points of the online ordering system is to provide a level of security for online customers. Once the required data has been entered into the system it will automatically be saved to a database linked to the head office. Once Data has been passed through the system and the client agrees to the terms and conditions displayed on the relevant web page, a confirmation is issued indicating a pass or fail status for payment. If approved the information is sent to the stock database and the relevant mail order department. In order to complete the order process the customer must be logged into their account. An account is created by registering on the web site, providing a valid email address and other personal information. However, it is not necessary to provide credit/debit card details as this is only used once a purchase is made.
Once registered a full list of available products are provided to the customer and an online basket is updated with any additions, amendments or deletions the customer may request through the online system. Once the customer is ready to pay, the checkout process commences. At this point the customer enters details from their debit/ credit card. There is no payment history function, but a receipt for each sales is provided. If any problems occur continuously as part of the transaction then the consumer must call head office in order to rectify the situation. In addition to an online store and street shops, customers are also able to purchase items on the phone to purchase or reserve items.
There are 2 main accounts available on the website, business and consumer. However, it is recognised that the website lacks many features, which are inherent in other similar websites. One of the advantages of the current business is that they develop their own software in-house. In theory, this should provide them with maximum, cost effective advantage in order to improve the website on an ongoing basis. However, in practice this is not what happens.
2. Company Current Structure
The company structure is one in which it has not been clearly mapped. Other problems surround the decision process. Decisions are made upon a quick thinking process without thinking about consequences. Staff has no clear responsibility and management are not as organised as they should be with regard to the training of staff. Therefore, in general the company is in need of a re-structure.
The diagram below represent a low level visualisation of a selected few entities which were being merged into one another.
A more detailed flowchart showing that how the operation works is illustrated here:
Although this structure looks to be reasonably organised, it does not show the underlying problems experienced by the company. For instance, staff often works in different departments. The implication of this is that opportunities for expansion and benefits are not available. In addition, it is not possible to include improvements, as this cannot be implemented in the current scheme.
3. Problem Areas Overview
To summarise the current situation from an IIS perspective, the following is a list of areas identified for improvement:
* No registration of card details for automating any future customer orders: customer must re-enter card details for every purchase.
* Not making best use of the internal website development available, could use Rapid Application Development (RAD) methodology in order to implement features to the website quickly, without affecting its current operation.
* Not enough high street branches available.
* Different types of accounts of membership not available on the website.
* Company structure is not clearly mapped, the current organisation is not organised in a logical way.
* General decisions are made on an “ad-hoc” basis, with the effect that consequences are not always identified at the outset.
* Staffs often work in different departments. The implication of this is that opportunities for expansion and benefits are missed, along with potential improvements.
3.1 Whoz-dat-com SWOT Analysis
Here is a brief Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats analysis of Whoz-dat-com.
Strong brand name
Niche product portfolio
(Clothings and accessories) .
The website needs a serious facelift.
Security of the site could be a problem.
The website card processing system - credit/debit card details should be entered newly for every sale.
The e-commerce site in this case would be better supported by more physical branches.
Improve the website and redesign to provide a more interesting and reliable user experience.
The memberships of the site should allow for different types of consumer and allow memberships to reflect these.
The credit card processing system needs to be improved to allow existing customers to uses their original card details without having to re-enter the details with every new order for customer convenience.
Existing features of the business process and website can be reused in a new, developed process and business strategy, without detracting from the current situation.
The company can develop their own web software in-house and save on expensive development. There is an opportunity to maximize profits at minimum cost.
The website does not seem to have an adequate level of security.
Competition will fill the void of the company administration and perhaps offer an enhanced range of products.
Soft Systems Methodology Strategy
In our research, different methodologies were considered, for example SSADM ((Structured Systems Analysis and Design Method). This methodology was designed for government departments. It was not considered useful in this case as it is designed for very large corporations and industry, and is quite rigid in its approach. It was commissioned by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) as a standard for development projects undertaken within government departments. It specifies a system development template which offers the system development process. Because of its rigidity, it would not fit the medium sized Clothing company we have in mind, and in any case the very nature of the current organisation would mean that change is probably more easily achieved through a more flexible approach. In considering SSM over other methodologies we find that 'Hard' sciences like physics and engineering often deal with measurable, objective criteria. There is also a great deal of control over the variables in the system, which can in turn be logical separated into subsystems (Checkland, 1981)
Business systems, such as the Clothing company are often very different, and much more based on qualitative, rather than quantitative research methods. As with the Whoz-dat-com Clothing company, variables in the system may be ill-defined (fuzzy) or ambiguous. In fact, they are very dependant on human perception/judgement and participation (Checkland,1981). Peter Checkland developed specifically for the development of business systems like these, as other approaches were geared more towards the hard approach. The methodology has changed little since its inception in 1981
1. SSM Stages (Wilson,2001).
SSM is divided into seven distinct stages, briefly explained here. These will be explained in relation to Whoz-dat-com Clothing company case study.
1-1. Researching the current problem.
In our analysis of the Clothing company, we have found that there are some problems in both the way the website operates and the nature of the work of staff. The website has the basis of further development, enabling improvement of the online ordering process. However, this has not been taken advantage of and this impact on the bottom line, namely profitability. As one example of an annoyance to customers, the nature of the credit card payment system i.e. having to enter card details every time an order is placed does not help the situation.
The staff frequently have to move from one department or shop to other shops on an ad-hoc basis. While this means that staff are providing a degree of flexibility it also means that staff do not have the opportunity to train and very often the strengths of individual staff members is not taken advantage of.
1-2. The use of pictures to gain an insight into the proposed system.
As we have seen, the flow chart of the current company structure and make up enables us to be provided with a graphical insight and “big picture” of the current system and more easily identify areas for improvement. We can see from the case study that there are numerous areas which are in need of improvement. Like the flow chart, the proposals can also be documented using appropriate graphical description along with suitable textual descriptions of problems.
1-3. Identify Root Definitions
The objective of this stage is to provide appropriate views of the systems and these views can be tailored so that they match the potential view of the parties with a vested interest, such as management and staff of the Clothing store system.
1-4. Conceptual Models
For each root definition in the project, a conceptual model is defined for each root definition identified. This means that an initial diagram (a “concept”) is created showing an ideal view of what the system should look like in relation to the proposals suggested.
1-5. Real World Comparison
The ultimate objective of the project is to provide a system for the Clothing business which will finally be developed in the real world. Further pictures of the process are developed in more details, using the conceptual models developed earlier. These are then compared with the original conceptual models created.
1-6. Review Changes
As the process is being reviewed, it is necessary to identify any changes so they are incorporated into the new system. In this way, the conceptual model is used to identify possible improvements to the system.
1-7. Implementation Plan
Once all the changes and feedback from the review process has been provided, the next stage is implementing the changes. This will need to be project managed and a project plan would need to be put in place. Usually, a consultant will be used to ensure that the project is moving along efficiently on technical and business lines.
Each stage in the process is repeated until the system is working as expected and a satisfactory state of tasks exists in relation to the system matching the original objectives set out at the outset of the project.
In this Clothing company case we see a crumbling foundation in the way they performed their activities however, it is a foundation non the less. They are an established company and they have a website which apparently works even if not in an efficient fashion. This was established during research and was documented using appropriate graphical descriptions, including flowcharts. During the research stage the systems analyst employed in the process would need to look at the potential number of choices of methods available. The analyst would need to take into account the existing processes and try to embed and incorporate them into any new systems designed to improve the situation. Pictures can help in this process (stage 2 SSM). When considering the SSADM approach, we can see that standardising is a common method used for this methodology. Standardising is a good way to develop a system in stages, but the overall concept of SSADM was considered not to be suitable in the case of the Clothing company, mainly due to its rigidity. The rigidity involves the use of a template from the start to the end of the project. Therefore, this lack of flexibility would not be suitable for the Clothing company, as it would take a long time to implement, is a complex process, would not bring about improvements in the website in a short time period (it does not use RAD), and the whole approach could be proved to be very costly.
The first two stages of the process mean that the business requirements and technical constraints will have a major bearing in what can and cannot be achieved in a suitable timescale. The investigation carried out at these stages would recognize and importantly document, the current failings of the organisation and inefficiencies. This includes not just of the manual processes but the technical aspects including possible website improvements. The documentation gained from the stage would be vital in order to gain an insight into future changes and requirements.
The follow-on stages would identify how each aspect of the business report findings will be agreed and developed. Once all these are in place the life cycle of a methodology would iterate until all aspects of the new system were tested and introduced to completion.
Following on from these early research and conceptual models, developed at the outset the root definitions would be put in place. These will deal with the major problems identified in the Clothing business case study based on statements such as:
* “Improving the credit/debit card process”.
* “Forming a more hierarchical staff structure”.
* “Improving website for memberships, accounts, payment process.”
* “Re-organising company structure”.
1. Implementing and Reviewing
Once the project is completed, an analysis in the post-project phase would help identify how the system will be maintained. Continuous development would then be ongoing and based on the new, efficient system. As with any methodology, including SSM identified as being most appropriate here, the strengths and weaknesses of this method can be identified. However, in terms of a methodology, the weaknesses of SSM are not difficult to overcome as a rule. The major advantage of the SSM methodology is that there is a sufficient basis on which to place reliance so that a new, more efficient system can be developed. The processes of Whoz-dat-com Clothing company business are clearly defined and this goes for the website. Inefficiently, they may be but SSM would not be useful as we are not dealing with too many factors/problems which are unrecognized or ambiguous.
As a general rule, these systems analyst or business analyst would not always implement and recommend changes based on a single theory. It is more likely that they would implement procedures and practices from different methodologies and apply them to a specific situation as opposed to a single model for all.
It may be in the final analysis that a “trade off” between a similar methodology such as DSDM methodology and SSM would provide a better solution.
The Census Bureau of the United States (2008) found that in 2006, e-commerce grew faster than total economic activity in Manufacturing, Merchant Wholesale Trade and Retail Trade. The bulk of e-commerce is done by Manufacturers and Merchant Wholesalers. Therefore, there is a need to provide a competitive and useful online experience for online shoppers.
If this project were to come to reality, there are a number of aspects, which would need to be taken into account. There is a natural resistance to change, particularly amongst existing staff (Wirth,2004). Some of these staff would need to be re-trained to take account of the new procedures and practices, including an introduction to the system. The upshot of this is that all these changes would mean additional costs, not often recognised as being a factor at the outset of the project. It may be necessary to introduce change processes on both a technical and business level. The human factor must be taken into account when recommending any changes to current working practices.
Also, in reality there are usually a number of constraints which affect the result. The costs of the system in addition to the costs of running the news system would need to be taken into account. An evaluation of the best providers for both business and technical services would need to be considered. It is important to use a recommended provider for both technical and business services. Past projects and reputation of consultants must be taken into account.
Another factor is to have a timescale for improvements, which should be realistic and will enable the objectives to be reached in a realistic time. It may be necessary to implement changes alongside the existing systems, and therefore provision may need to be taken to ensure the existing ways of working and systems are not interrupted causing major problems for the business.
Finally, the use of a system methodology does not always mean that the principles and operations of a methodology will be strictly used in practice. Projects such as a new IIS system implementation often take different paths, and problems encountered during the project may mean a complete re-evaluation of the methods being used currently.
Therefore, in reality, although there are guiding principles and processes in place to assist a new IIS project along, it does not necessarily mean that any methodology used would be strictly applied and supported in practice.
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