Acquisition of computer resources
A detailed exercise may be necessary for most organizations
wishing to evolve a strategy for adoption of information technology. The
exercise would include study of requirements, design of a suitable
configuration, scheme of acquisition and selection of systems. The following
sections describe these processes.
Requirements analysis and configuration
Design of a suitable computer configuration is fundamental to
the use of computer in management. Computer services departments, if they exist,
or expert consultants should be invited to design a suitable configuration, with
approximate cost estimates. The alternatives discussed in the earlier sections,
such as stand-alone systems, work stations, minicomputer with terminals, PCs in
a LAN or WAN, etc., will have to be evaluated in the context of organizational
needs. Application needs and availability of suitable software generally become
vital factors in configuration design. It is always desirable to start with a
good software base, since it determines the pace at which applications can be
developed and users can be involved in the computerization process. A reliable
hardware-software combination is essential for successful computerization.
Requirements analysis is an elaborate exercise, involving almost
all the members of the organization. The professional group entrusted with the
task of designing a suitable computer configuration should hold discussions with
all the relevant members of the organization and try to understand the practices
of information management as they exist in the institution. Methods to improve
these practices with the help of appropriate information technology will be
worked out by the group. Any special computing requirements will also be taken
into consideration at this stage. A detailed exercise of this nature is
necessary to develop a strategy for the use of information technology in the
organization as a whole. This ensures proper introduction of information
technology and effective use of the system.
A phased approach to acquisition and introduction of computers
is normally adopted in cases where experience in the use of computers is limited
within the organization. Unless it is estimated that the full configuration will
be utilized within a year, it is not desirable to acquire a large configuration
of hardware and software, since the rate of developments in technology may
render these systems obsolete before the organization is ready to use them.
Selection of computer systems
The effort necessary for the selection of hardware and software
depends upon the configuration decided upon. While the prime consideration for
selecting a PC may be limited to the availability of good after-sales service,
it is quite complex for mini- and large computer systems, and for systems
involving use of recent processors, peripheral devices and software products.
Even in the case of PCs, the software selection exercise may have to be done
extensively for advanced software products.
It is perhaps the power of the machine and how well the
operating system and application software can exploit it in a desired
configuration which determine the selection of minis and large systems.
Data on comparative performances of hardware and software
products can be obtained independently from standard computer magazines. Any
user experience, if available, in the neighbourhood will be a valuable input for
evaluation. These inputs along with vendor supplied information may be tabulated
to prepare a short list for detailed consideration.
Data may include hardware characteristics such as speed,
capacity, expandability and method of interconnection of processor, memory and
input-output devices. The model and make of these units are equally important
Ease of use, features supported, ease of data conversion,
efficiency of implementation, etc., are some dimensions by which data on
software may tabulated for comparison. These inputs will have to be collected
for each important software package, including operating systems, language
processors, end-user packages and special purpose application software systems.
Vendors offering comparatively superior hardware and software
products for the specified computer configuration can be shortlisted for
detailed performance evaluation.
To evaluate the performance of shortlisted systems, a detailed
study using benchmark test programs will have to be carried out.
These studies involve development of a large number of prototype
programs (around 20 to 30) running in the proposed hardware-software
environment. These benchmark programs will have to be run in several experiments
on the proposed equipment.
Observations such as smooth performance of the system (easy
navigable, no breakdowns, no hang-ups, etc.) and knowledge of system engineers
concerning the hardware and software may be given equal importance to elapsed
and execution times required to run the test programs.
Benchmark data may be used to evaluated the vendors using either
of approaches. Either
· assign interval
scores to each vendor on each criterion and multiply this score by the weights
of the criteria. Add these weighted scores to produce a final weighted total.
Use these totals to rank order the systems. This scheme works right when the
weights are judiciously chosen and the resultant totals are not too close; or
· prepare a brief scenario of
how the organization would function with each proposed system. These scenarios
would illustrate efforts required in using the proposed system along with the
associated costs and benefits. The decision making body can then rank these
scenarios and choose the most desirable one.
In addition to benchmark results, the market image and service
reputation of the vendor are other important points to be considered while
selecting computer systems. Detailed techno-economic evaluation may be necessary
after this stage.
Since computer selection is a specialized task, it is advisable
to engage professional consultants to select complex hardware/software systems
involving large budgets.
Performance monitoring and expansion
Monitoring the performance of computer services is as important
as monitoring other functions. It is perhaps more complex because of the several
· the manager of the
computer services function has a wide variety of subordinates, ranging from
highly technical computer personnel to clerical personnel;
· the department is responsible
for a broad range of activities, from creative system design to routine clerical
· the department has an impact
on many areas of the organization; and
· the manager is responsible for
major investment in hardware and software.
Given these points, top management should see the manager of the
computer services department as a change agent and give support to the manager's
activities within the organization.
Management will have to evolve policy guidelines for data
retention, privacy and security. These areas have significant bearing on cost,
legal and societal implications.
Auditing computer procedures is essential to ensure adequate
control for computer-based systems. Some illustrations of audit controls are:
maintenance of control logs for input and output; records of job run, beginning,
ending, errors, re-starts and re-runs; file back-up procedures; program back-up
procedures; back-up arrangement for processing with another organization;
insurance for re-creating bad files; disk and tape library controls; system
documentation; user documentation; and operator documentation.
Performance of the computer services department can be
influenced by reviewing the performance of existing systems, including users, in
the design of new systems and training of the staff of user departments.
Based on these inputs, an expansion plan may be worked out. The
plan could include the expansion of the computer services department in terms of
augmentation of manpower or equipment. A detailed exercise may be necessary in
the case of equipment expansion to take advantage of developments in information