The Lifeblood Organization Of Information Systems Information Technology Essay

Introduction

Information is the lifeblood of any organization. Information systems, which comprise hardware, software, data, applications, communication and people, help an organization to better manage and secure information on its various business operations, improve integration and work processes as well as give meaningful reports on critical business activities. An information system’s main objective in an organisation “… is to produce relevant and quality information” (Executive Board, WHO, 2006). This helps to monitor, document and accurately report on the operations of other systems within the organisation.

An essential step in strengthening a health information system is to bring data producers together with data users – those people implementing project activities as well as those responsible for policy-making, management, planning and financing within the organisation. All users need different levels of detail and technical specificity. A good information system should therefore be able to present and disseminate data in formats that are appropriate for all the various users and that allow data to be translated into knowledge for action.

Background

African Medical & Research Foundation (AMREF) is an international African organization headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. AMREF’s vision is Better Health for Africa and the mission is to ensure that every African can enjoy the right to good health by helping to create vibrant networks of informed communities that work with empowered health care providers in strong health systems. AMREF is an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1957 and has country offices in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia, and programme presence in Somalia and the Southern Sudan. The Kenya country programme implements project activities under four programme areas namely; HIV/AIDS and TB, Child and Reproductive Health, Environmental Health, and Clinical & Outreach. Training and Development of Health Learning Materials is a major component of each of the programme areas while Health Policy and Systems Development/Support is a cross cutting area within AMREF Kenya operations.

AMREF’s strategy seeks to strengthen health systems and to design and enhance interventions that improve people’s access to health through their active participation.

Problem Statement

AMREF has in the past made efforts to put in place a functional information system aimed at standardizing information collection, processing, storage and reporting on project activities and results. Notably, in 2000, a quarterly planning and reporting (QPR) database system was developed and installed in AMREF Kenya Country Offices and operational projects, and in 2007, the AMREF Kenya Country Office Projects Database (KPD) was commissioned and is currently in use. Although it has gone a long way in meeting its mandates, a review revealed weaknesses in the areas of system configuration, accessibility, and linkages between various output requirements and this adversely hampers its intended functionalities to generate comprehensive reports for the KPD. Specifically, the KPD lacks a user friendly interface, is not comprehensive enough in reports output, and is not interoperable with some information systems being used within some projects in AMREF KCO. Consequently, it does not adequately play its role of informing decision making as well as resources allocation.

Project Goals and Objectives

Project Goal

To enhance data management for decision making

Purpose

To enhance data capture and reporting of AMREF Kenya Country Office (KCO) projects activities and results

Specific objectives

Establish control structures in data entry to improve accuracy and completeness

To improve usability through redesigning of the existing M&E information system

To develop appropriate user guides for the upgraded system

To enhance user skills in utilizing the system through training

To improve access to newly generated knowledge products

Scope

AMREF KCO operates in four program areas. These are HIV/AIDS and TB, Child and Reproductive Health, Environmental Health, and Clinical & Outreach. Each program area has several projects bringing to a total of thirty nine (39) projects in the organisation. Due to limitations of time and money, the project shall be implemented in a maximum of eight (8) projects. The Technical Team shall assist in developing suitable criteria that shall be used to select the eight projects (Attachment IV) on which the project shall be implemented from the four program areas. This shall form phase one of the project that shall be implemented with the fellow’s project initiative.

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The project solution shall be designed in such a way that it can be upgraded by the organisation to include the other projects in later phase(s).

Justification/Significance

Introduction

An information system is any combination of information technology and people’s activities using that technology to support operations, management, and decision-making. According to (Kroenke, 2008), in a very broad sense, the term information system is frequently used to refer to the interaction between people, algorithmic processes, data and technology. In this sense, the term is used to refer not only to the information and communication technology (ICT) an organization uses, but also to the way in which people interact with this technology in support of business processes. Although the current system (KPD) aimed to address the organizational processes in meeting data and information management needs of the various projects wells as the decision making functions of the whole organisation, several factors hampered its smooth operation and challenged full implementation of the system. These factors included;

System operating speeds – data access times are slow

Interoperability – Some projects continued to use their own systems that were not interoperable with KPD, e.g., the Grants Management Information System (GMIS) use by Maanisha Project

Reporting – the scope and types of reports produced by KPD are not sufficient to meet the user needs.

System requirements – the system requires to be installed on each machine it is to be used.

Client/User interface requires prior knowledge to operate and lacks help features

Proposed solution

In order to overcome the challenges found in the existing system, a new application is proposed. This will be achieved by upgrading the existing system from a desktop based system to a web based application. A web application is an application that is accessed over a network such as the internet or an intranet. Developing web based information system solutions entails coming up with an application “designed to perform a specific function directly for the user of for another application program over the web” (Bar-Gad & Klein, 2002). Web applications are popular due to the ubiquity of web browsers, and the convenience of using a web browser as a client. The ability to update and maintain web applications without distributing and installing software on potentially thousands of client computers is a key reason for their popularity, as is the inherent support for cross-platform compatibility. According to (Taivalsaari, 2009), web applications require no installation or manual upgrades, and they can be deployed instantly worldwide. This instant worldwide deployment aspect is incredibly powerful, and allows for worldwide application development and instant deployment without middlemen or distributors. It is these key advantages that the new system targets to exploit in order to come up with a user friendly and secure web based M&E Information System that will meet the data management and reporting needs of projects and units in AMREF KCO.

Expected Benefits

Improved operational efficiency

Improved user friendliness and ease of access leading to increased system usage – Users have a browser which presents a familiar interface – encourages use.

Centralized data is secure and easy to backup

Updates can be made quickly and easily with minimum inconvenience to the users or consumers since it is done centrally

Minimized software/hardware requirements – no installation or special configurations needed at user end and any computer with internet accessibility can be used without special installations.

Information is accessible to a wide target audience regardless of geographical location or distances at the lowest possible cost

Project Implementation Methods and Management Plan

According to the (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 2008), a system development methodology refers to the framework that is used to structure, plan, and control the process of developing an information system. Different types of system development methodologies are used in designing information systems depending upon the actual requirement of the system. In System Development Life Cycle (SDLC), a variety of methodologies are available such as Waterfall model, Prototyping, Rapid Application Development (RAD), Joint Application Development (JAD), Agile methodologies among others.

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The development of the system shall adopt the traditional life cycle (the water fall model). This is a “phased approach to building a system dividing systems development into formal stages” (Laudon & Laudon, 2010). According to (Bender RBT Inc., 2003), a waterfall system has three primary objectives;

Ensure high quality systems are delivered,

Provide strong management controls, and

Maximise the productivity of the systems staff

The Waterfall System Development Model

“The waterfall model is a sequential software development process, in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design (validation), construction or development, testing and maintenance.” (Ragunath, Velmourougan, Davachelvan, & Kayalvizhi, 2010). The relationship of each stage to the others can be roughly described as a waterfall, where the outputs from a specific stage serve as the initial inputs for the following stage. During each stage, additional information is gathered or developed, combined with the inputs, and used to produce the stage deliverables.

The choice of this model was made based on its various advantages which include;

It is a linear model making it easy to be implemented.

The amount of resources required to implement this model is very minimal.

Documentation is produced at every stage of the waterfall model development. This makes the understanding of the product designing procedure simpler.

After every major stage of software coding, testing is done to check the correct running of the code.

Figure 1: The Waterfall System Development Model

System Investigation

System Analysis

System Design

System Coding/Construction

System Maintenance

Source: Kuchta, J., Software Life Cycle, BioInforBank Library

To this end therefore, the activities in the development life cycle shall be carried out as follows;

System investigation,

This process is also known as feasibility study. It “involves studying the existing system and work processes to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement” (Stair & Reynolds, 2010).

The result of this phase is “a defined development project for which business problems or opportunity statements have been created” (Stair & Reynolds, 2010). In this phase therefore, it will be important to determine the need and to define the problem that needs to be solved.

System analysis,

The primary objective of system analysis phase is to understand the users’ needs and develop requirements for system development.This phase will involve gathering information from the users, defining software requirement, prioritising requirements, and reviewing recommendations with management. The process will allow an understanding of the exisitng system, its operation, its context within the organisation, as well as its strengths and weaknesses.

An assessment targeting system users shall therefore be carried out to establish AMREF KCO information management needs including data capture, processing, storage, reporting and information sharing needs as it relates to programme management. Data will be collected to establish AMREF KCO information needs mainly through key informant and focus group interviews involving a cross section of the users of the proposed system.

System design,

The main result of this phase is “a technical design that details outputs, inputs and user interfaces, specifies hardware and software requirements, databases, personnel and procedures and shows how these components are related” (Stair & Reynolds, 2010). (Wang, Saemann, & Du, 2007) identifies system design as comprising two phases;

Logical design – involves a detailed draft of tables, forms, interfaces, and dialogues which will eventually be used in the implementation phase, and

Physical design – the specific structure of tables and the interrelationships bwtween tables are set forth.

Following this definition therefore, the components of the finished solution are as outlined in Attachment VI.

System design shall be carried out based on the users and management needs and requirements generated in the system analysis phase.

Coding

This is the code generation step which will be responsible for translatingthe design into a machine-readable form. Coding creates data tables, establishes links between tables based on defined data relationships, and user interfaces.

Once the design is complete, most of the major decisions about the system will have been made. A well written code reduces the testing and maintenance effort. The goal of this coding phase will therefore be to translate the results of the system design phase into code in a given programming language. In this case, Microsoft Visual Studio, Microsoft SQL Server and ASP.NET will be used for constructing and revising the database and the user interfaces for this project. Other Third Party softwares, e.g., Java, MySQL, etc shall be used to complement Ms Visual Studio where necessay.This phase will therefore endevour to implement the design in the best possible manner.

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Testing

System is the process used to measure the quality of developed information system.It is designed to make sure that computer code does what it was designed to do and that it does not do anything unintended. This phase assumes that the system contains errors and hence it aims to to identify as many errors as possible so they can be eliminated. Testing also seeks to ensure that all interacting units and subsystems in a system are interfacing correctly with one another to produce the desired results.

Testing shall invole two steps;

Unit testing – Unit testing shall be used to ensure that the smallest testable parts of the system (called units), are individually and independently scrutinized for proper operation. Unit testing shall be integrated throughout the entire project cycle so that each work product is tested as it is created.

System Testing – System testing shall be performed once unit testing has been completed for all units contained in the subsystems being tested and shall cover cover the testing of interface points between units and subsystems.

System implementation,

System implementation refers to post-coding process of guiding a client to use the system. The implementation phase shall include hardware and software installation, users training, and documentation. The primary objectives of this phase shall be to ensure that;

The system is installed and made available so that users can access it

The users are well trained. A suitable training package shall be designed targeting various user levels within the organisation. The main mode of delivery shall be through workshops and onsite training.

To ensure that the organisation benefits from the system

System maintenance and review

System maintenance shall include activities like keeping the system up to date with the changes in the organization and ensuring it meets the goals of the organization by:

Building a help desk to support the system users.

Implementing changes to the system when necessary.

This phase shall involves monitoring, evaluating and modifying the system to make desirable or necessary improvements to ensure that the system is kept functioning at an acceptable level. This shall be an ongoing process and while the initial part of the phase shall be undertaken as part of this project, subsequent maintenance and support activities shall be carried out by the organisation after project hand over.

The project management and implementation team

In order to be responsive to the system needs of the organisation, there shall be a project management and implementation team comprising of the technicl team, the fellow and the consultant programmer. The technical team (Attachement VI) shall comprise of individuals representing various stakeholder needs within AMREF in Kenya. Specifically, this shall include the M&E Manager (chair), the ICT Manager, the Mentor to the fellow (M&E Expert), three staff from selected projects within the organisation and any other persons who shall be co-opted into the team from time to time as the need arises. This team shall work with the fellow to provide support and link the project with the organisation and the management of other projects within the organisation as well as the targeted system users who make up the system consumers and users respectively. On the technical side, the fellow shall work with a programmer to develop the system. The role of each group in the team shall be clearly defined and stated (Attachment III).

Conclusion

The phases outlined in this implementation process shall be executed within a defined work plan (Attachment II) that spells the order of activities as well as highlighting what activities shall be done within what times frames.

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