This article is the third and final part in the series suggesting ways that an enterprise can work on solving their Data Rich Information Poor issues. Last month, the discussion focused around the system's audit and how that could assist. This month, the focus will be on the master organizational plan. In review, the master organizational plan is a comparison between the original designs of a company's systems and what they do now.

When operational systems are originally implemented, they are geared to service specific tactical business functions, such as order entry or payroll. Those issues - generally referred to as the "business requirements" - are carefully designed to solve a particular need. Periodically, an enterprise should perform the system audit which will identify any discrepancies in intended and current functionality. The result of the system audit is the master organizational plan, which is the tactical road map that reworks the current systems to ensure they fit into the long-term strategic plan for the organization.

What Does the Plan Contain?

Included in this plan are: 1) identification of key personnel; 2) process changes that are required to allow the current applications to work within the current organizational environment; and 3) a set of prioritized tasks. This plan also sets schedules for future reassessment of the systems, taking into account that a company's IT group is an ever- evolving and changing environment dictated by changes in the business requirements. New lines of business, additions and deletions of personnel and management, and acquisitions all play a vital role in determining the final needs. These are assessed and compared to what the needs of the enterprise were at the time the requirements analysis was originally completed.

The master organizational plan then becomes the road map that the organization follows to ensure that their IT group is adequately meeting the needs of the enterprise. The plan will clearly outline the time frame and criteria for any changes. It may, for example, outline additional hardware and software procurements, or it may identify that a new requirements gathering exercise is required. Organizations that follow a precise methodology that includes a review of their systems and their IT functionality on a regular basis will find that the business and IT users are much more in sync with one another. Traditionally, the chasm that develops between IT and the rest of the organization can be avoided by following the methodology outlined.

Identification of Key Personnel

Allocation of personnel from the business side and from IT is always a major issue. With a master organizational plan in place everyone can assess what functions the key personnel are currently performing and what additional requirements on their time are coming. This allows everyone to plan accordingly to ensure that no one is assigned work that must be performed at the expense of another equally important task. The plan will also identify if any additional personnel are going to be required to complete the identified modifications. This allows for the allocation of budget if any additional permanent or temporary personnel are required. For IT, this means that they will be able to do a much better job of estimating their workload without having any major surprises.

Identification of Changes Required

If changes in systems have been identified then it is likely that there will also be changes required in the business processes or business rules that are currently in place to use the current systems. Changes in one aspect of a system go hand in hand with the others. As requirements for new data surfaces, the process that collects the information - be it paper or electronic media - needs to be reviewed. Also, if data becomes obsolete then the requirements depending on that data must be reviewed, as well as the processes used to collect it. Since very few changes in systems are done in a vacuum, the organization must do an impact assessment to determine the effects of gathering new or retiring obsolete data, and how it will impact all of the existing systems in an organization.

The processes need to identify reports, business rules that may combine selected pieces of information to derive new pieces, and any other sources, such as downloads and downstream systems that may use the information. Retiring data should be a carefully thought out process that has examined all possibilities. Before finalizing any such plans, a complete impact analysis must be done to ensure no part of the organization is going to be affected adversely.

Prioritized Tasks

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the master organizational plan is that it can be combined with the purely operational needs identified by IT to give the enterprise a tool to get a consolidated view of what it takes to keep their IT systems up to date and functionally in line with the organizational requirements. Because the plan lays out a consolidated timeline and a set of priorities, it becomes a very good tool to have a total picture of what and how IT must grow in order to provide the required IT services for the organization. Everything can be laid out in one place and everyone can see based on the priorities of the enterprise what IT is doing and what the plans are for a given timeframe. Additionally, any new requirements can be added; and management is able to gauge the impact of adding new projects or shifting priorities will do to IT's ability to function adequately. It also gives IT the ability to bring to management's attention what additional workloads and shifting priorities do to manpower and scheduling requirements.

Organizational systems change over time. If IT is not aware of the changes in business, does not completely understand the designs of their systems and does not update the systems as necessary, the systems will be modified overtime by the business users. It seems that if IT won't make the programmatic changes necessary, users will adapt their business processes to use the systems as they exist even if it contradicts with the systems' designs and purposes. Unfortunately, as the organizational requirements grow IT has to eventually deal with the byproduct of what the users do to the systems. Without maintaining adequate controls and without constantly weighing the systems against the needs of the enterprise, the resulting gaps will eventually cause a serious DRIP issue. As the systems continue to operate, they will gather disjointed information that will become a real nightmare for IT to deal with. Enterprises that fail to do ongoing monitoring will not discover the problems until they are in the middle of an upgrade or, worse, trying to move or use information into a new system or tool. By being ever vigilant, an organization can save itself a lot of grief and avoid the DRIPs.

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