The AA and the Symons case study show us to what extent SISP can affect the outcome of the organisation. Both try to implement a Strategic Information System in place but with two very different results. In AA’s case, their new SIS called AAHELP not only won the BCS award in 99′ but also helped AA to reduce operational costs and improve customer service to the extent of ï¿½25 million per year.2 More importantly, it had been vital in re-establishing their market leadership.
But in Symons’ case, it was a complete disaster. When they tried to implement the system, they were faced with problems after problems. Not only did the project go over time and budget, but it ended up being completely useless because after 6 years from when they initiated the plan for the SIS, they had still had not got to where they wanted to and in the end a complete revaluation of the system was initiated.
Circumstances of Change The first difference between the two organisations comes from their circumstances of change. Symons was limited in choices from the beginning. They only realised that they had to change, when they realised that their existing system was no longer adequate. In other words, they had no formal or informal vision/plan that they were following. AA on the other hand already had a successful IS in place called ‘Command and Control’. It met their business needs but because of their forward looking nature, they could see that the system was inflexible in nature and also approaching the end of its useful life. Because they had time, AAHELP was not a project in the traditional IS project sense, but a part ongoing process.
In a nutshell, AA chose to change their IS, while Symons had no choice but to change. Management Involvement The main difference between the two organisations is shown here. In Symons, the senior management had no understanding and experience of computers. They just viewed computers as a tool for automating business processes. This was the case 15 years ago, but nowadays when we are living in the era of Strategic IS, it is vital that senior management people are trained and interested in IS. ‘Interested’ doesn’t mean paying lip-service and hiring consultants to take over the job. The relationship between senior management and IS is crucial for successful undertaking of SISP.
After an in-depth investigation of 14 large organisations in 1992, Feeny, Edwards, and Simpson stated few of the attributes that successful Chief Executive possessed. In general, they state that the Chief Executive has had some sort of training on IS/IT, experienced IS/IT project success, and therefore perceives IS/IT to be critical to the business. In AA’s case, there was high management involvement from the start. Led by the Director of Operations (Alistair Cheyne), there were a diverse group of managers (IT, Operations, General, Roadside) who shared the vision and commitment of AAHELP.
This brought people of very diverse blend of skills together. It can also be seen that the AA board of directors took much more of a serious interest than those of Symons. AA Board of Directors demanded constant convincing and explanations throughout development, whereas in Symons the Directors mostly left the decisions for their Project Leader to sort out with the consultants they had hired. He says that ‘it was really the project team approving and management nodding.’ But this wasn’t the same as delegating. The board simply just didn’t appreciate the extent of organisational change involved. It also didn’t help that their project leader lacked leadership skills, experience in Information Technology, and ultimately power and authority.
User Involvement The next main difference between the two case studies comes from the level of user involvement during Design and implementation of the system. In AA’s case, the level of user involvement and input were very high. It was seen to be driven by users and was all based on teamwork between the users and the IT team. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. The system has to be driven by the users.
They set up a team called the Project Assurance Team (PAT) which assessed the quality of the system at many different stages of development. The group consisted of not only the IT people, but also the operational people who were in the end going to be the users of the system. According to the AA’s IT Director of Member Services, this is ‘because it is easy to think you know what the business wants and produce it, and find that it isn’t what the customer needs’ The rest of the operational staff was not limited to passive acceptance of the system In other words, they weren’t just told of the new system and given training. They were consulted throughout the project. They hired a full time user manager just to co-ordinate and gather user requirements from the user.
The attention paid to the involvement of user may well be the key reason why AAHELP was well received by the users. Because most of them had some kind of an input into the system, they all felt like AAHELP was ‘their baby’ rather than AA’s.
However in Symon’s case it is completely different. When the system was finally implemented, it was soon greeted with negative feelings from the users. This was due to a number of reasons of which were caused mostly by lack of organisation and commitment of the management. Because the board member didn’t think that the system would and should create a major change to the organisation, they weren’t too bothered about the need of user-involvement. Therefore, during testing of the system, they picked only one ‘key user’ from each department. Due to lack of the Managerial commitment, the ‘key users’ were according to their availability rather than their experience or skills. This resulted in users who were unwilling to change procedures, and unused to the system.
During the Design and Analysis phase, there was even less user-involvement. Symons Management decided that they needed computer-based techniques to increase their decreasing sales. They hired external consultants who drew up the Invitation to Tender (ITT) of the proposed system. The first mistake is here. No matter how good some Consultants are, there is no way that they are going to know more about the Operations of the organisation better than the Operations people. Even if they did, the final users are going to be the operations people. The consultants needed to have incorporated the staff’s views in the ITT in order for the staff to be more accepting towards the system later on.
Approach to Design and implementation I have already introduced above their main reason for their two different approaches to design. In the Symons case study we saw that it was a system-led approach. When drawing up the ITT, which was also their first stage of evaluation, it turned out to be more of an issue of functional specification. The Board of Members who had no experience in IT thought the change was to automate previously manual processes for added efficiency.
This idea, as discussed before, was fitting till the 70s and perhaps 80s. Nowadays, due to the increased power of computers, IS has emerged as an agent of integration and the enabler of new competitiveness for today’s enterprise in the global marketplace. It is important that your IS strategy is linked closely to your Organisation, and Human Resource strategy in order for your organisation to prosper.
The board viewed the IS as a technical system separable from its organisational context, history, and infrastructure. They thought that once the system was built, it would just automatically be implemented without any problems. This might have happened had the IS been a simple system. However, the IS that Symons were implementing was a Strategic Information System. In other words, it was an important system that affects the organisational performance but is also directly linked to the organisational strategy. The list of areas where the system was to be implemented shows that the system was anything but simple.