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The systems selection process.

The 10 steps of a structured method for selecting a management information system can help reduce error and lead to the selection of the right system for a governmental unit.

Selecting a management information system is more critical today that it was 10 years ago because cost-effective technology and information systems are needed for all areas of government. Improved management information has become vital for effectively and efficiently managing governmental operations. Governmental organizations, therefore, should continuously monitor developments and trends in information technology and evaluate the need to change or add automated systems.

Equipment and software obsolescence is a continuing concern. In 10 years, data processing has progressed through five generations of computer hardware, and indications are that changes will accelerate as technology advances. Software advances generally have been much slower but have included many more vendors.

Managers may directly or indirectly identify the need to change or add automated systems by recognizing one of the following concerns:

* lack of computing resources;

* use of older technologies (i.e., hardware, software, communications, etc.);

* limited management information;

* lack of operational information;

* stagnation in operational and management information system (MIS) functions;

* untimely information;

* turnover of data processing personnel;

* deteriorating vendor service and support;

* lack of software features, functions and capabilities; or

* high data processing costs.

Any of the above problem areas may be a symptom of systems obsolescence or indicate the need for systems replacement.

Step-by-Step through the Process

The process and methodology involved in performing a systems selection is illustrated in Exhibit 1. Failure to select the right system may be due to one or more of the following factors:

* improper definition of systems objectives and requirements,

* failure to involve both management and users at adequate levels,

* underestimating the costs and effort required for conversion,

* failure to adequately plan for expansion or

* failure to evaluate software properly.

The factors that lead to errors in system selection can be minimized through the use of a structured methodology, such as the technique described in the following 10 steps and depicted in the exhibit. This process can be used as a guide and tailored to fit the specific circumstances of a governmental entity.

Appoint a Selection Committee. A selection committee should be appointed to oversee the systems selection project. The selection committee should be responsible for the outcome of the project and should generally direct, monitor and report on project activities.

Management's involvement in the systems selection process is critical to the successful completion of the project. The assigned individuals within the governmental organization should have a clear understanding of the objectives and scope of their assignment and ensure that a proper reporting relationship with management exists before undertaking this responsibility.

Perform a Needs Assessment. Selection committee members should gain an understanding of the present manual and/or automated systems and use this as a basis for defining requirements for each application area to be automated. This can be accomplished by meeting with key departmental personnel to define the features, capabilities and reports that are desired and required to satisfy their needs. This list of requirements is necessary to compare the capabilities of various software products and services and will become a major component of the request for proposals (RFP). This also may include identifying current data processing costs, including estimated costs for processing each major application. This information can provide management with a basis for cost comparison with proposed systems changes.

Because of the uniqueness of particular requirements, general software packages may not be readily available. These applications need to be identified, as they may have a substantial impact on the initial costs of implementing automated systems. In some instances, the governmental organization may subsequently decide to eliminate certain requirements from the systems objectives rather than incur the costs of developing unique application programs.

Determine Processing Volumes. Selection committee members also should document key processing volumes for each application area, since this information will subsequently be used to determine specific hardware requirements. Current and future volumes (e.g., five-year) should be used to ensure that the proposed system has adequate capacity for processing today's activity volumes with a margin for reasonable growth.

Develop Hardware and Software Specifications. The hardware specifications should include technical information related to requirements for equipment speeds, capacities and capabilities. It is important to consider future expansion requirements for each component, such as the central processing unit (CPU), disk and tape drives, data communications devices, printers and other hardware components. The software specifications should include specific software features, functions and capabilities required from a user perspective. The specifications also should identify interface requirements to existing hardware and software systems, benchmarks related to processing speeds and volume of the system, and conversion issues. In addition, it is important to specify the requirements for technical and user documentation, and the type and amount of training to be provided.

Prepare the RFP. The vendors should be provided with the basic information required to prepare a specific proposal. The RFP should include the following considerations:

* proposal instructions for responding to the RFP;

* organization background information, such as a description of present processing methods;

* estimated processing volumes developed previously;

* hardware and software bid specifications developed previously;

* electronic data processing control considerations, such as access and security capabilities;

* reference information for existing users;

* cost information, including the initial acquisition costs and annual recurring costs to facilitate life-cycle costing analysis; and

* proposal evaluation criteria that will be used to compare vendor responses.

Analyze and Evaluate Proposals. The selection committee should review the vendor proposals and prepare comparisons of the proposed hardware and application software. A summary of each system's expansion capabilities should be developed along with cost summaries. Vendor references also should be checked to ensure that the vendor's technical, installation and service support is adequate. Software demonstrations and user site visits should be performed for the finalists.

Select Hardware, Software and/or Related Services. The selection committee should develop a list of criteria to be used in evaluating automation alternatives. These criteria should assist the selection committee in prioritizing and quantifying those criteria to best fit the needs of the governmental organization. The criteria will then be used to evaluate the vendors' proposals and assist in making the systems selection decision.

Based on the above evaluation, each vendor should be ranked according to management's criteria for selection. A list of advantages and disadvantages for each alternative also should be developed. The selection committee should then recommend the best overall solution, given these findings and conclusions.

A written report containing a summary of the above information should be presented to management. The report should be supplemented by descriptions of each alternative and recommendations relating to contract negotiations and implementation activities.

Negotiate Hardware, Software and Service Contracts. Once the finalist(s) have been identified through the evaluation process, contracts for hardware, software and services should be negotiated. During the initial phases of contract negotiations, the government may choose to work with more than one vendor in an effort to improve its negotiating position with the best vendor. Contracts should include provisions that protect both parties and should be reviewed by legal counsel with experience in the technical aspects of hardware, software and related services.

Implement the System. The implementation process should be a combined effort potentially involving government personnel, vendor personnel and outside consulting personnel as needed. The implementation plan should provide specific details regarding the activities, responsibilities and target dates for the implementation process.

Perform a Postimplementation Review. When the implementation process has been completed, a postimplementation review should be performed. This typically entails a review of the new system to verify for management that requirements are being satisfied and that the system is functioning satisfactorily. Specific strengths and shortcomings should be identified and a plan developed to address any serious weaknesses.

Tools to Aid the Process

Recently, personal computer expert systems, such as computer-aided systems selection software, have been developed as a logical and economical technique for selecting a system: they automate the process and provide the analytical tools needed to make a documented and informed decision. Features of such systems could include surveying the information and technology needs of an organization; documenting processing and reporting requirements; preparing an electronic RFP on disk for vendors; automatically analyzing vendor responses; and generating comparative reports, charts and graphs of the responses to the RFP. Computer-aided systems selection software can significantly reduce the time of all parties involved in the selection process, both purchasing and vendor personnel.

GEOFFREY H. WOLD, CPA, CMA, CSP, CISA, CMC, is the national director of information technology consulting services for the CPA/consulting firm of McGladrey & Pullen. He specializes in providing a wide range of planning, operational and EDP-related services for government. He has written books on disaster recovery planning, computer crime and the systems selection process.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Government Finance Officers Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:management information systems
Author:Wold, Geoffrey H.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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