Prioritization of the IT Project Portfolio for a University's Information Systems
Advances in information technology continue to change the way businesses and institutions perform their planning and administration operations. Information technology has improved the efficiency of repetitive tasks such as payroll processing, accounting transactions, and financial reporting. However, in order to achieve the best mix of IT functions in any given setting, it is vital to understand who the customers are going to be for the system, and what priority must be assigned to the respective functions including email, databases, Web servers, and so forth. To this end, this paper provides a prioritization of a university's information technology functions, including goals, a support plan for both office and customer functions, proposed communication methods, personnel and training requirements, application and function priorities, and a strategy for prioritizing the IT projects.
Identification and Prioritization of Information Technology Functions.
Support plan for both office and customer functions. A support plan that would allow for both office and customer functions within the university is an enterprise resource planning approach that integrates traditional financial management applications such as accounting, budget control, accounts payable, and payroll with non-financial applications such as purchasing, inventory, and human resources through a common database standard (Miranda, 2001). It is commercial-off-the-shelf software that encompasses the enterprise and focuses on resources, allowing for timely support when and where needed. The tasks provided by this software package include financial control, operational management, analysis and reporting and routine decision support. According to Miranda (2001), ERP systems is comprised of software applications that provide almost any organization with the knowledge to manage its core business processes. These systems differ from previous generations accounting software because ERP relies on a common database for both financial and non-financial applications that is accessible on a real time basis. In addition, it enables organizations to redesign existing processes as they implement new software. Miranda notes that ERP systems generally have the following features:
Modular Integration - ties different operational functions to the overall system.
Common and relational database - facilitates the integration of information into a single information storage facility. It also organizes records into a series of tables linked by common fields.
Client/Server technology - the type of cooperation between the client (desktop computer in end-user department) and the server (networked computer) is described in two, three, or multiple tiers. In the two-tier architecture, the data resides on the server or the client. The three-tier or multiple tier architecture allows the data to reside on the server, the application logic resides on a second server and the client runs an interface to the application.
Workflow capabilities - automates business processes, especially routing of electronic documents within the enterprise system.
Flexible Chart of Accounts - the chart of accounts (COA) supports financial reporting and budgetary requirements. ERP provides flexible COA structure based on relational database concepts.
Advanced reporting and analysis - system wide capabilities for reporting and information analysis (i.e. human resources module would have the same capabilities as those using accounting modules).
Communication methods. Today, the trend is clear that there is an explosion in growth of peer-to-peer applications to facilitate online communications. These new technologies, for example, will allow customers to not only access businesses via computers, wireless customers could access potentially access a Web site from a Nintendo machine, a personal digital assistant (PDA), or a pager. Similarly, people may communicate directly with companies via satellite. High-speed, broadband networks will allow users to transmit enormous amounts of data to each other, including audio and moving images. Dearstyne says it is this capability which will help to improve peer-to-peer communication, which will in effect serve to ultimately reduce the input companies and their Web servers have in the communication loop. From this perspective, information technology may be viewed as a tremendous driver of change, but the challenge is to identify the social responsibilities of the software engineers involved, and to ensure these considerations are incorporated into the design from the outset.
Personnel and training requirements. In this rapidly changing and growing environment, it is important to develop an understanding of the level of technical vs. human support needed in an online community. According to Kollock (1998), the labor required to support a rapidly growing university community and maintain quality interactions is quite intense. Therefore, the university must make arrangements for appropriate training for the IT functions deemed priorities, with such training being accomplished in-house if possible or outsourced if necessary.
Application and Function Priorities. Yi (2002) reports that ERP systems provide two applications that traditional IT systems do not. The first aspect is that ERP systems link standalone systems into an integrated whole in order to share information. For example, the procurement component can check to make sure that a purchase request has sufficient funds in the account to purchase the system. On the other hand, the human resource system is allowed to pull data from the budget component to assure that all positions are budgeted prior to hiring a new employee. Therefore, through an integrated system, public officials and managers can make more informed, timely, and accurate decisions based on a comprehensive view of the organization.
The second aspect is that ERP's also connect standalone departments; for instance, many governmental agencies have independent units that often work independent of other units. A local government redevelopment agency is an example of such an independent unit. Linking all component units of an agency through ERP would be expected to provide managers with more centralized control over the various components through financial and process controls and uniform policies and procedures. According to Yi (2002), ERP programs have both risks and concerns relative to its use. One worry is that it can be an expensive program to implement. The cost of implementation is generally separate from the software cost. A risk involved in the program is the amount of custom code built into the architecture. The more custom code, the more difficult and costly it is to maintain, operate, and upgrade.
Strategy for Prioritizing the IT projects. Prioritizing the IT function requires an assessment of what components are most important to the individual internal and external customers that are going to be using the system. For instance, if email is reported to be an overwhelming criteria for a successful IT application by a majority of the university's customers, this should be given a high degree of priority within the IT goals. According to Mansell and Wehn (2000), email is simply an electronic transmission and reception of text-based message, with attachments being included if they are required or desired. Email is "Computer-based messaging. The transmission of letters and messages from computer to computer over a network" (p. 276). Email uses an email gateway to communicate, which s typically a personal computer (PC) on local area network (LAN). The PC usually has one or more modem and/or fax/modem cards to facilitate communication. Computers employ these cards to send or receive e-mails and faxes for everyone on the LAN. The dominant email protocols are the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and the Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3). These protocols enable the server to send and route text messages over the Internet; further, the POP3 is beneficial for offline Email usage. Another important e-mail protocol is the Internet Mail Access Protocol (IMAP4). This protocol offers users the ability to access their e-mail on the server ass if they are having local access. ECDN is an application network that allows firms high-speed access to deliver static, streaming, and dynamic content to the end-users. Such deliveries must be performed over secure networks, in a reliable and scalable fashion (Luftman, Lewis & Oldach, 1993).
Given the needs identified in similarly situated institutions, the following functions are assumed to be the most desirable and…