Systems analysis is the process of examining a business situation for the purpose of developing a system solution to a problem or devising improvements to such a situation. Before the development of any system can begin, a project proposal is prepared by the users of the potential system and/or by systems analysts and submitted to an appropriate managerial structure within the organization.
The project proposal is the attempt to respond to or take advantage of a particular situation and is an essential element for correctly launching the system analysis. Although there are no hard and fast rules as to the form and content of the project proposal, the proposal should address the following points:
- The specifics of the business situation or problem.
- The significance of the problem to the organization.
- Alternative solutions.
- The possible use of computer information systems to solve the problem.
- The various people interested in or possessing knowledge relevant to the problem.
System projects that are to be shared by a number of departments and users are usually approved by a committee rather than an individual. A project proposal is submitted to a committee that determines the merits of the proposal and decides whether or not to approve it. The committee is made up of people from various functional areas of the organization who have an interest in the operation and information of the proposed system.
THE SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT LIFE CYCLE
The systems development life cycle (SDLC) describes a set of steps that produces a new computer information system. The SDLC is a problem-solving process. Each step in the process delineates a number of activities. Performing these activities in the order prescribed by the SDLC will bring about a solution to the business situation. The SDLC process consists of the following phases:
- Preliminary investigation—the problem is defined and investigated.
- Requirements definition—the specifics of the current system as well as the requirements of the proposed new system are studied and defined.
- Systems design—a general design is developed with the purpose of planning for the construction of the new system.
- Systems development—the new system is created.
- System installation—the current operation is converted to run on the new system.
- Systems evaluation and monitoring—the newly operational system is evaluated and monitored for the purpose of enhancing its performance and adding value to its functions.
- Looping back from a later phase to an earlier one may occur if the need arises.
Each phase has a distinct set of unique development activities. Some of these activities may span more than one phase. The management activity tends to be similar among all phases.
The SDLC is not standardized and may be unique to a given organization. In other words, the names and number of phases may differ from one SDLC to the next. However, the SDLC discussed here is, to a large extent, representative of what is typically adopted by organizations.
At each phase certain activities are performed; the results of these activities are documented in a report identified with that phase. Management reviews the results of the phase and determines if the project is to proceed to the next phase.
The first two phases of the SDLC process constitute the systems-analysis function of a business situation. The following discussion will concentrate on phase one (Preliminary Investigation) and phase two (Requirements Definition) of the outlined SDLC process.
The first phase of the systems development life cycle is preliminary investigation. Due to limited resources an organization can undertake only those projects that are critical to its mission, goals, and objectives. Therefore, the goal of preliminary investigation is simply to identify and select a project for development from among all the projects that are under consideration. Organizations may differ in how they identify and select projects for development. Some organizations have a formal planning process that is carried out by a steering committee or a task force made up of senior managers. Such a committee or task force identifies and assesses possible computer information systems projects that the organization should consider for development. Other organizations operate in an ad hoc fashion to identify and select potential projects. Regardless of the method used, and after all potential projects have been identified, only those projects with the greatest promise for the well-being of the organization, given available resources, are selected for development.
The objective of the systems-investigation phase is to answer the following questions: What is the business problem? Is it a problem or an opportunity? What are the major causes of the problem? Can the problem be solved by improving the current information system? Is a new information system needed? Is this a feasible information system solution to this problem?
The preliminary-investigation phase sets the stage for gathering information about the current problem and the existing information system. This information is then used in studying the feasibility of possible information systems solutions.
It is important to note that the source of the project has a great deal to do with its scope and content. For example, a project that is proposed by top management usually has a broad strategic focus. A steering committee proposal might have a focus that covers a cross-function of the organization. Projects advanced by an individual, a group of individuals, or a department may have a narrower focus.
A variety of criteria can be used within an organization for classifying and ranking potential projects. For planning purposes, the systems analyst—with the assistance of the stakeholders of the proposed project—collects information about the project. This information has a broad range and focuses on understanding the project size, costs, and potential benefits. This information is then analyzed and summarized in a document that is then used in conjunction with documents about other projects in order to review and compare all possible projects. Each of these possible projects is assessed using multiple criteria to determine feasibility.
The feasibility study investigates the problem and the information needs of the stakeholders. It seeks to determine the resources required to provide an information systems solution, the cost and benefits of such a solution, and the feasibility of such a solution. The analyst conducting the study gathers information using a variety of methods, the most popular of which are:
- Interviewing users, employees, managers, and customers.
- Developing and administering questionnaires to interested stakeholders, such as potential users of the information system.
- Observing or monitoring users of the current system to determine their needs as well as their satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the current system.
- Collecting, examining, and analyzing documents, reports, layouts, procedures, manuals, and any other documentation relating to the operations of the current system.
- Modeling, observing, and simulating the work activities of the current system.
The goal of the feasibility study is to consider alternative information systems solutions, evaluate their feasibility, and propose the alternative most suitable to the organization. The feasibility of a proposed solution is evaluated in terms of its components. These components are:
- Economic feasibility—the economic viability of the proposed system. The proposed project's costs and benefits are evaluated. Tangible costs include fixed and variable costs, while tangible benefits include cost savings, increased revenue, and increased profit. A project is approved only if it covers its cost in a given period of time. However, a project may be approved only on its intangible benefits such as those relating to government regulations, the image of the organization, or similar considerations.
- Technical feasibility—the possibility that the organization has or can procure the necessary resources. This is demonstrated if the needed hardware and software are available in the marketplace or can be developed by the time of implementation.
- Operational feasibility—the ability, desire, and willingness of the stakeholders to use, support, and operate the proposed computer information system. The stakeholders include management, employees, customers, and suppliers. The stakeholders are interested in systems that are easy to operate, make few, if any, errors, produce the desired information, and fall within the objectives of the organization.
This phase is an in-depth analysis of the stakeholders' information needs. This leads to defining the requirements of the computer information system. These requirements are then incorporated into the design phase. Many of the activities performed in the requirements definition phase are an extension of those used in the preliminary investigation phase. The main goal of the analyst is to identify what should be done, not how to do it. The following is a discussion of the activities involved in requirements definition.
INFORMATION NEEDS OF THE STAKEHOLDERS.
Analysis of the information needs of the stakeholders is an important first step in determining the requirements of the new system. It is essential that the analyst understands the environment in which the new system will operate. Understanding the environment means knowing enough about the management of the organization, its structure, its people, its business, and the current information systems to ensure that the new system will be appropriate.
THE CURRENT INFORMATION SYSTEM.
A comprehensive and detailed analysis of the current system is essential to developing a quality, new information system. The analyst should understand and document how the current system uses hardware, software, and people to accept and manage input data and to convert such data into information suitable for decision making. The documentation should be detailed and complete. For example, the analyst should assess the quality of input and output activities that form the user's interface. In addition, the volume and timing of such activities may be documented.
THE CAPABILITIES OF THE NEW COMPUTER INFORMATION SYSTEM.
Functional requirements include the necessary hardware and software configurations along with the appropriate human resources. Specific functional requirements often include the following:
- User interface requirements—the input and output needs of the user that must be provided for by the new computer information system. These needs include layouts and definitions of input and output, volume, frequency, origination of input, and destination for reports.
- Processing requirements—the activities required for converting input into output, including calculations, decision rules, database operations, and other processing operations. In addition, requirements concerning capacity, throughput, turnaround time, response time, and the system's availability time are established.
- Storage requirements—the organization, content, and size of databases, and types and frequency of updates and inquiries. Furthermore, backup procedures and the length of time and rationale for retention of backups are delineated.
- Control requirements—the accuracy, validity, security, and adaptability requirements for the system's input, processing, output, and databases. Crash recovery and auditing requirements of the organization are further specified in this stage.
The analysis team, at the end of this phase, produces a document containing the functional requirements of the new computer information system. Additionally, the document contains preliminary schedules and a budget for the next phase. The task force or committee responsible for the project studies the document for the purpose of approving or not approving the work of the analysis team. In addition, the analysis team provides the committee with a demonstration. In essence, the analysis team walks the committee members, step by step, through the requirements definition phase. If the committee approves this phase, then the analysis team is funded and given the go-ahead to proceed to the next phase. However, if the committee does not approve this phase, then either the project is canceled or, after appropriate modifications, the analysis team resubmits a new document to the committee.
A walk-through starts with a description of the project. From this point, the analysts delineate a set of well-defined goals, objectives, and benefits of the computer information system. Following that, the budgets and staffing requirements are articulated and the plans are shared with the committee. Specific, planned tasks are compared to actual accomplishments, and deviations, if any, are noted and accounted for. The plans for asset protection and business control are reviewed with the committee members. Finally, the analysts seek the committee's approval of the objectives, plans, time table, and budget for the next phase—systems design.
In summary, systems analysis is an essential starting point in the development of computer information systems projects. An organization generally follows a development pattern set up to meet its needs. Regardless of which methodology an organization uses, the objective of systems analysis is to fully understand the current environment and future requirements of a computer information systems project.
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