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Worry-free integration.


These days, consultants will beat down your door to sell you a systems integration project.

On paper, it looks great. You'll be able to hook those "incompatible" computer systems together, exchange data, and increase efficiency.

But you've heard enough disaster stories to be cautious. There can be problems even if the consultant has a good track record. How can you protect yourself?

The first thing, according to Phyllis Dunn, is to take a very active role in the project. Dunn is division director of a administrative support for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Using a systems integration approach, she helped the Authority grow from a state-owned company with almost no MIS staff to one tht now handles more than to one that in nine different systems areas. She accomplished all this in less than three years.

We spoke with Dunn and Greg Defronzo, who managed the details of the project.

They explained the key steps that insued their success. We've distilled that into a handy checklist and discussed some highlights as well.

Dunn said they put toghether a strategy that included standard software packages, to eliminate expensive custom software costs. They also insisted on having one contact or person held accountable for everything, even though a team of consultants and subcontractors did the work.

The project was implemented step by step. It consisted of seven releases, each with a component of hardware, software, and network services. Every new release built on previous work. For example, you might install the network's backbone first, and a few mini-computers in your data center. The next release in your data center. The into the network, and running one application. The following release might cover the interface for the application.

To ensure that each details was put in the proper place, the Authority used a traceability matrix. This listed the actual program codes, screens, and menus for each features and function to be installed. The matrix made it easy to confirm that a feature or function was installed successfully.

Defronzo used a separate project management tool to pull all the details together. The Authority's systems integration contract had more than 2600 "deliverables"--including application features and functions, hardware, maintenance agreements, training, documentation, and so forth. The staff tracked these things with a database, making each deliverable a project milestone with start and end dates. Each release also had to pass a detailed series of acceptance tests.

Dunn critically examined information flow and decision making in her organization prior to starting the project. That way, she and her staff could spot and fix any problems before they were automated. They didn't want to automate their mistakes.

They also gave special priority to users' needs, and let users--not the system--decide how best to do their jobs. Dunn made sure that any new system gave each employee the critical things required to do his or her job successfully. She gave high priority to training and documentation. And one person served as a liaison between MIS and the user community. After a year, Dunn reviewed the project's original requirements to make sure nothing had changed.

Dunn and Defronzo have 15 guidelines:

1 Take a very active role in deciding how you want the project to be done. Don't simply turn everything over to a consultant.

2 Do your best to be sure you use standard software packages.

3 Hold one contact accountable for everything even if you use many subcontractors.

4 Implement the project in steps, with each one building on the ones before it.

5 Use a traceability matrix to make sure each details is put in place properly. List actual program codes, screens, and menus for each feature and function. This makes it easy to confirm successful installation of any feature.

6 Use a separate project management tool to pull all the details together. Use a database to track all the "deliverables" in your contract--features, hardware, services, training.

7 Make each step pass a detailed series of acceptance tests. Detailed planning is the key to a "no-surprises" intallation.

8 Don't automate your mistakes. Understand the business operations: who's using what information, how decisions are being made. Document the information flow.

9 Realize your users are the key to success. How fast can they assimilate the new technology? Set up a work group or application steering committee for each application, and involve key business people from those operating units. Let them define their needs. Develop a tracking system for business policy issues that need to be resolved.

10 Don't let the system decide how people will do their jobs. You may find it useful to set up three committees: one with representatives of all users> a second consisting of group managers to cover policy, procedure, and direction of business issues> and a third within the MIS group to learn how to support the new system.

11 Verify that your original requirements are the same a year later.

12 Create user liaison between MIS and the user community. This ensures that everyone has the same message, shares the same goals, and that the staff are business professionals first and technical professionals second. Don't get lost in technical details.

13 Give high priority to training and documentation. To do this, hire flexible people with skills in more than one job area.

14 Find and measure the critical things each employee needs to do his or her job successfully. Then use them as yardsticks to evaluate any application you want toinstall.

15 Systems integration must include hardware, software, services training, and documentation. If you hire an outside integrator, make sure you get the complete package.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stone, Edward J.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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