Written by Adedeji Adewola
Information Systems in Aquarius Marketing
This report describes the project undertaken for Aquarius Marketing; a marketing company specialized in producing marketing reports for its clients. Due to competition and concerns by its customers to offer a better service, the management of Aquarius decided to employ information technology to manage administration functions, carry out marketing analysis, produce marketing reports for its clients and member staffs and to challenge its numerous competitors for market share.
Assuming the Aquarius Marketing is located in the Middle East while the services of the IT consulting firm being rendered is in the United Kingdom. Also one of the reasons why it takes time for the marketing specialist to produce marketing report is that the PCs and standard packages being used are too slow and obsolete for modern day use.
After reviewing all the information gathered through interviews and questionnaires from all the twenty-five staffs of Aquarius marketing, the project team came up with the possible information system requirements which are listed below:
Information system constraints
- The new system must embed itself within the user's activity.
- The system must integrate all departmental work together.
- It must contribute to the work of end-users.
- It must be able to perform agile and correct marketing reports.
- The system must be able to perform its core functionality.
- The system must be easy to use (user friendly).
- It must process data inputted into reports quickly.
- The system must be able to track all unauthorized access and changes to already completed transactions.
- It must not increase the work load of users.
Platform / Hardware Requirements
- The system must be able to manage administrative functions, carryout marketing analysis, and produce marketing and managing reports.
- The system must transform valuable marketing data into shared information for insightful timely decision.
- It must be able to provide a paper-based and web-based report solution for marketing specialist, management and prospective clients.
- The system must be time efficient.
- It must be flexible to produce flexible and accurate data to meet customer's need.
- The output produced must be high quality.
- It must keep detailed record of computer access and usage.
- The system must be able to perform backup operations and provide recovery method to minimize the effect of system failure.
- The system must conform to all the regulatory bodies and international standards.
- The system must be secured against fraud and hackers with adequate security such as firewall, VPNS, IPSEC and Radius.
- Computer systems with 300 megahertz; 233MHZ minimum required( single or dual processor system), Intel Pentium/Celeron family, or AMD k6/Athlon/Duron.
- 1.5 gigabytes.
- 128 Megabytes(MB) of RAM or higher recommended(64 minimum supported).
- Super VGA (800 x 600), CD-ROM or drives.
- Mouse and Keyboards.
- Switches, Ethernet cards, routers and server.
- Printers, Scanners, photocopiers and faxes.
To develop a new information system under the budget of $90 000 may seem to be a very daunting act. The cost of acquiring new computer systems, recruitment of java/oracle programmers to develop marketing software, network engineers to network the systems in the company and all the other activities for successful completion of the project may exceed the total amount budgeted for the project. Working within the budget of $90 000 may affect the final output of the information system.
Given just eight weeks to deliver the system might be too short of a time to carryout the project of this magnitude, with the project team needing valuable time to communicate with the end-users to document the system specifications, and the programmers also need time to develop bug- free software which will require several test processes to get a good end product might push the project team working round the clock to meet the project deadline. This may affect the final output of the product because fire brigade approach for an IT project might have an adverse effect on the project (PMBOK Guide, 2003).
Performance / Quality:
Delivering the system quality required by the stakeholders might be a very difficult task, because of the resources allocated to the project. The quality and performance of the project is mostly determined by the cost and timing of it.
The issue of compatibility with the legacy and existing IT infrastructure can also be a major hurdle to cross. The new developed software might not align with existing operating system or does not support it. There might be need to buy or upgrade the hardware which is an integral part in the information system implementation. This will definitely affect the capital structure of the project.
Scope / Team:
The amount of work to be done to make this project a success using the resources available might be too much. Also finding the right people to perform all this activities is also an issue (PMBOK Guide, 2003).
The team might face organization politics by its top management or low level employees due to interest or lack of interest shown for the new systems
Using Soft System Methodology (SSM), the project team developed a project plan that covered all the aims of the entire project. This is tabulated below:
|Requirement Analysis (Investigation Analysis)
|Implementation (Testing, Integrating)
|Change Management (Training)
|Review & Maintenance
The plan developed for the project aims to identify and outline the project deliverables to make the project 100% success. The plan is divided into a number of stages which are followed in sequence from the beginning to the end of the project are well tailored to meet the specifications of Aquarius Marketing. Using Soft System Methodology (SSM), the plan will ensure the root problem is well defined; system models built and recommend action to help provide solution to the problems faced by the company. The plan will help the team define what is required in each stages of the project which determines the input and output of each phase.
Key Stages of Project Plan
The key stages in the project plan include the following:
(1) Feasibility Study:
Resource Allocation & Timescales
This phase reviews the present system in detail, problems associated with it, and the possible solution to it. It assesses whether employing a new information system for Aquarius marketing would be practical in terms of cost benefit analysis, technical and non-technical requirements, and the company's information system objectives. Research will also into the marketing companies that have employed the use of information system in recent times, how they did it and the benefits reaped from the usage of information system in the business. At this level, decision would have to be made whether to proceed with the project or not.
(2) Requirement Analysis:
The requirement of the new system will be defined in detail at this phase, the main reason for the phase is to ensure that all the possible information system requirement are well captured and documented in a precise and unambiguous manner. Cadle & Yeates (2004) emphasized that "good requirement specification is the foundation of all the rest of the development stage, the work of the project manager should from then on be relatively straightforward, at least in the sense that the target has been defined. Gathering of relevant information from the end-users such as the marketing specialists, support staffs, marketing directors will be done by interviewing, observation, and setting questionnaires.
(3) Root Definition:
After gathering all the relevant information from the end-users and management of the company, it will be ideal to name the relevant systems for the project because it will provide useful insights into dealing with the demons of system failure. The root definition is a concise, tightly constructed description of human activity system which the system is (Checkland, 1981). The root definition of this project is to develop an efficient and effective information system which will give the best possible service to Aquarius customers on time and budget. Catwoe analysis is also used to create the root definition, the Catwoe analysis of this project is illustrated below:
(4) Design Stage:
- Customers (of Aquarius Marketing that will benefit from the system)
- Actors (Project team undertaking the project work)
- Transformation (Converting the marketing data into reports)
- Weltanschauung (System outlook or perspective to stakeholders)
- Owners (of Aquarius sponsoring the project)
- Environment (External constraints beyond team's control such as war)
This stage will address how the requirement of the project can be met. It translates the company's specification for the automated parts of the system into a design specification of the computer processes. The design documentation will contain details of data inputted, how its being captured, output of the system, processes, structures, security & backup, system testing, implementation parts, and networking. This stage is a backbone of the project because the programmers will need to design software that makes the work of the marketing specialist easier, faster and most importantly produce agile marketing reports for Aquarius clients.
After a successful design phase, various procedures are needed to be met for the project to reach fruition. After hardware has been purchased, installed and networked, the software will be tested by stakeholders and business analyst to ensure that the system conforms to the stakeholder's requirement and are free of bugs and viruses, users trained, customer database imported to the new system.
(6) Change Management:
Implementing a new Information system in the company will bring a lot of associated changes such as change to procedures, business processes, new roles and responsibilities, restructure of organization or new skills. Due to all this changes, it will be paramount to involve the marketing specialist and other end-users in the organization who are key to success of the IS implementation. The users will be involved in all the planning and implementation stages so as not to bombard them with too many changes at once. The change management plan for the project will ensure good communication and training during and after the project has been implemented because no matter how designed or planned an IS, only with proper consideration of the end-users will the project succeed (Senior & Fleming, 2002).
Setting timescales and allocating resources when planning a project is very essential because it ensures that projects are delivered on time and budget. Resource allocation is a technique of allocating resources among various activities in a project, this will enable the project manager to monitor and control various tasks better, due to the fact the work is broken down into different activities for a particular resource. Estimating time duration helps to a project manager to identify whether the project is going on course and which activity will take more time when planning the project. Basically, timescale represents commitment to achieve a specific performance target at a particular time. It helps to know how much performance target will be achieved during various stages of the project and it helps provide a form of benchmark for assessing a project or organizational performance (PMBOK Guide, 2003).
Identify Resources & Timescales in Activities
||Stakeholders and Team
|Interviewing & Observation
|Purchase Hardware (PC'S, Switches, Router)
|Install & Networking
|Import Customer's Database
|Write Training Manual
|Review & Maintenance
Developing a well designed and testes system is a great achievement for the project team but making the system operational at the organization will determine the overall success of the project (Martin & Powell, 1992). There are various problems that could be faced when implementing an Information System (IS).
In relation to this project, the technical problems are identified below:
- System failure due to lack of pilot testing.
- Interface problem due to richness in functionalities.
- Damage or hardware malfunctions during system networking.
- Undetected software bugs during testing that can cause distorted management and specialist reports.
- End-users resistance to change.
- Lack of skilled IT personnel that will understand how the system works at Aquarius Marketing.
- Incorrect IS requirement given at the initial stage.
- Problem in exporting and converting database and files from the existing legacy system into the new system.
- Bad implementation and installation plan.
- Failure of not involving end-users at former stages.
- Difficulty in collaborating the IT professionals and the marketing specialists.
- Security problems.
They include the following:
- Powerful top management executive who had been supporting the project had left.
- Lack of good training facilities and manuals.
- Health and fire risk.
- Lack of effective communication between the project team and stakeholders.
- End-users project obstruction due to their fear of losing their jobs to machines.
- Accidental damage to physical facilities & equipment.
- Team and Organizational conflict.
- Lack of effective coach and mentor.
- Misplaced priorities.
- Lacked management support.
- Lack of interest shown by end-users.
Hunsaker (2005) described leadership as the process of providing direction, energizing others, and obtaining their voluntary commitment to the leader's vision. Although not all managers are leaders, as the project manager of this project it will be essential to have good leadership skills to make this project hundred percent success. Leadership effectiveness can be regarded as the success of a leader's group in achieving its goal (Fiedler, 1967). As an effective leader, the project manager will found ways to motivate and monitor the project team in achieving its main goal which is developing and implementing an effective and efficient information system for Aquarius marketing. This will de done by showing considerable interest in each task and activity by team members, demonstrating confidence in their ability and integrity in their task allocated to them and creating some form of incentive or reward to team members that meet projected targets. The problems that can occur when implementing plan and how effective leadership can overcome them is well highlighted below:
Using all relevant leadership skills, the project manager will ensure that the limited and scarce resources available for the project are well distributed which includes money, material and manpower. The appropriate resource will be given to each activity to ensure that a problem like software failure does not arise. A good example is assigning an oracle programmer to construct and write the codes needed to design the software required. The manger will also provide necessary resources or negotiate with management of Aquarius to get more resources if team members are unable to perform to an acceptable level because of inadequate resources.
Communication problems that might arise when undertaking the project between team members or stakeholders can be well dealt with by ensuring various channels of communication, filtering messages, creating feedbacks, and conducting regular meetings. This will also help in change management because communication with all the stakeholders and are involved in the various stages of the project so end-users will not need to be scared that they might not be able to use the new system because they will be heavily involved and their ideas and view on how the system should operate will be consulted. As Adair (1984) emphasized that we need to be more interested in our own ideas than those of others, if end-users are more involved, they will not resist change.
System Requirement Clarity
Project team may misunderstand the requirements of the proposed system or may not work on the important requirements of the project when undertaking their various task, such as the quality standard expected to be delivered to the clients. The manager will ensure to give some kind of reminder or guidance to the team members on the particular issue, the importance of task in the overall project and setting standards to enhance the performance of the team.
The problem on team members and end-users lacking the technical knowledge or skills to perform their work successively might occur during implementation. Various techniques will be set out to make sure team members and stakeholders perform their task effectively, such as providing a formal or informal training, effective coaching and mentoring to over come this problem. The project manager will also identify when a task is too difficult or entail a shorter timescale than the team member can cope with. The task can be broken down into several task or reduce the workload by adding another team member to help out. A good example of this can occur when one Java programmer is allocated to write the codes for the software design might be a difficult task to do.
Project Team Inefficiency
Poor performance might also occur when team members carryout their task if they not receive adequate feedback on their performance to know if they are working efficiently or need to improve. As an effective leader, the project manager will make sure that they get constant feedback by having regular meetings and speaking personally to all the team members and stakeholders. He will ensure that there is team cohesiveness and member cooperation so that team conflict does not arise and he will also have a contingency plan if the initial plan fails to meet the aims of the project.
Unfavorable Working Conditions
The manager will negotiate with the company management so as to provide a safe and good working environment for his team especially for those involved in delivering all the relevant hardware for the information system, installing and networking the computers. Wight & Taylor (1994) further supported that poor working conditions can adversely affect physical, psychological, health and work performance. The manager will also ensure that Aquarius marketing conforms to the minimum standard concerning the provided working condition for the team such safety, light, heat and noise.
Bovee and Thill (2000) described communication as the process of sending and receiving messages, and effective communication occurs when individuals achieve a shared understanding, stimulate others to take action and encourage people to think in new ways. As we all know, communication is as well important in every day human life as it is in management of project because it involves human beings. The principles of effective communication are hereby identified below:
- Non-verbal Communication
Researchers identified that forty-five percent of the time we spend communicating is spent listening, nevertheless listening is one of the most under-rated skills. Nichols and Stevens (1999) further supported that with practical no qualification, people generally do not know how to listen. Communication is only effective when an individual comprehends and obtains a message when been spoken to, and this is done by listening. A good example of effective listening was used when project team were gathering the information system requirements from the users during the interviewing process. Good listening skills increases the impact when communicating with the stakeholders and it also gives a good negotiating advantage, nevertheless effective listening will support the relationship within the project team, enhance the development and implementation of the new information system. A major factor to effective listening is the ability to concentrate when communicating because the probability of success will be high when communicating.
This could be the first process in communicating effectively in this project because the project manager will need to speak to the stakeholders' and the team members at the beginning and throughout the project. It involves addressing and giving others information verbally. This activity is very essential to communicate effectively. Speaking is such an ingrained activity so people tend to do without much thought but this casual attitude will be a problem when communicating especially in projects (Bovee & Thill, 2000). The foundation of giving an effective speech by all stakeholders is competent preparation because once information has been passed out, it can not just be erased and started from the beginning except by addressing the audience over again and this may slow down the time required to complete the project. In this project, the project manager communicated effectively by speaking with team members and stakeholders on various issues so as to update on what is going on through meetings and feedbacks. Speaking skills is required to communicate effectively because it is a tool for accomplishing project objective. 30% on time spent communicating is spent speaking.
This is easier to understand than the former, because the stakeholders will be able to study any difficult information passed on to them by the project team as many times as possible. Written communication is as well as useful means of communicating, especially when documenting the requirements of the information system and it is mostly used to inform, persuade or collaborate with the different parties in the project. It is less prone to errors because writers can compose, edit and correct well in advance before sending the information. Written communication can take any form such as memos, letters, reports, proposals and electronic mail, scribbled notes, and it is mostly appreciated when the information shared between stakeholders is complex and ambiguous and when there is need to retain records for future referencing.
It is essential to have good reading skills to be able to comprehend and act on the information. Information passed from a team member to another needs to be read well.
There is also a need to screen out the slang's, abbreviation, unnecessary jargons before information is passed to the receiver.
Problems associated when communicating are identified below:
There are various ways which top management communicate with the low level staffs but is equally important that low level staffs provide accurate and incisive reports when the communication flow goes in the other direction. Due to bureaucracy and bottlenecks, it might be impossible to for all the team members to communicate directly with the project manager so the information is passed through its immediate boss who in turn passes the message to higher ranked personnel till it reaches top management. Due to this long process, the message may have being distorted along the way due to bad listening skills and having a good listening skill will affect the flow of communication upward positively. Although there is no communication channel without it flaws but it can always be improved by better listening starting from low level employees to top management because it only takes one bad listener to distort the communication flow.
Since most decisions are made by top management down to the low level employees who will implement the plans of an organization or a project. The ability to express and make god speeches can arise during when using this communication channel, having a good speech technique will enable the project manager communicate his thoughts, project plan, feedbacks and changes to team members. A well structures e-mail can also identify the objective of the project, instructions on how to perform various tasks, feedback on member performance on motivational pep talks.
Language problem may occur when undertaking the project because a message might not be understood. This is caused by the foreign speech or accent that exist between IT consulting firm which is based in United Kingdom and Aquarius marketing company based in the middle east. The two groups will have to rely on their listening skills to understand each other because of the difference in accents.
There might be a personal problem or emotional problems that can prevent a communicator from giving a clear message and the listener hearing it (Simons & Stables, 1997). The marketing specialist and the support staff might pass unclear or untrue information because of the fear of losing or changes to their job when communicating with the project team. Giving a listening ear, reading body language and speaking to them politely about their concern can reduce the effect or impact it may have on the project.
The team can also face the physical distractions during communication such unnecessary interruptions, poor timing and health problems. Ability to read the body languages might alleviate this problem.
Communicating with someone from another country with different cultural and social background may impede communication between the two groups (Bovil & Thill, 2000). Considering the fact Aquarius Marketing is based in the Middle East where the majority if the population is mostly Moslems may increase the tension when communicating with the stakeholders with the fear of saying anything that might be offensive to them. Speaking about unclear issues and listening well will alleviate this problem to a reasonable extent.
Mentoring & Coaching
Mentoring can be described as a process whereby two persons work collectively to develop the protégé's dormant abilities. Parsloe (1995) further described mentoring as the ability to help and support people to manage their own learning, in order to maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance, and become the person they want to be. It is also viewed as a way where one person passes their greater knowledge and wisdom to another person but in most cases the mentor is always a professional person who is very wise and knowledgeable individual in a particular field.
Coaching on the other hand, is seen as a relative directive means of helping somebody build up core competences. International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as, " an ongoing partnership that helps people produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives and deepen their learning, improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life". Rosinski (2003) further emphasized that coaching as the art of facilitating and unleashing people's potential to reach meaningful, important objectives.
Mentoring Versus Coaching
It is tricky to differentiate between these two terms because they share approaches in common because effective mentors should have good coaching skills. Coaching is primarily immersed around a short term and lays more emphasis on the development on skills while mentoring on the other hand is mainly concerned on long term achievements and on developing capabilities. The key differences between mentoring and coaching are identified below:
Usefulness of Mentoring and Coaching in Aquarius Marketing
- Mentors gives advice and recommendation on arising issues while coaches act as facilitators.
- Mentors work together with their protégé to discover and develop their protégé's latent abilities while coaches drive the pupil forward to achieve maximum goals.
- Mentors are mostly found within an organization while coaches are external.
- Mentoring relationship can last for a long period of time while coaching relationship mostly have a specific duration of time.
- Mentors are mostly professionals in their chosen field while a coach does not have to be an expert in the field they are coaching.
- A mentor is a person to learn from while a coach is a person to learn with.
- Effective mentors generally do have good coaching skills but coaches do not necessary have mentoring skills.
- Mentoring focuses more on personal development and career while coaching focus more on development issues.
Mentoring and coaching can help in solving communication problems that can arise when implementing plan. A coach's awareness and sense of listening will enable him to understand, ask correct questions, make judicious suggestions and stimulate others to take action on arising issues when monitoring the performance of project team members. Coaching also helps in change management, especially during this period where a new information system is being implemented in Aquarius marketing, a good coach can help in integrating, facilitating and reduce the period it will take to adjust to the new system (Parsloe, 1995).
Efficient mentoring skills will help end-users that are formally trained apply their new IT learnt skills to their former routine work thus enhancing career growth and improving all stakeholders' satisfaction by teaching them all professional and technical knowledge gained from past experiences during training. Since mentors are known for transferring knowledge, the knowledge transferred to end-users will enable them deal with any challenges that may surface during post implementation period.
Through mentoring and coaching, the employees of Aquarius will learn to work together to achieve the goal of the project. The team will learn to use their initiatives to perform their tasks efficiently, learn to become more self directed and assume greater responsibility to make the system operational. It also ensures there is good communication between the project managers and stake holders.
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