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IT System for Business

Summary: This is a 15-page paper on Information Technology Systems. The paper is in APA format.

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IT System for Business

Managing Remote Workers

            In her article “Managing Remote Workers” Stanford (2003) has given some insightful recommendations regarding the management of remote workers. Remote working or telecommuting is one of the most rapidly increasing workplaces in many large businesses and enterprises. The most compelling reason to adopt remote working is the increasingly multinational architecture in many organizations as well as outsourcing and offshoring business processes. Because different units and outsourced or offshored vendors are not normally on the same location it is necessary to create such workplaces. Moreover allowing the remote workers to carry on their jobs from their homes on their computers via Internet is also an appealing option for many users. Telecommuting though provides flexibility and work-life balance, but it also has its setbacks if the managers do not address the issues accordingly.

            In order to ensure that the remote members of the team are working accordingly and are committed to the deadlines and demands of the project it is necessary for the team managers to take certain steps. The responsibility of a remote team manager is to measure his team members on the basis of their accomplishments and achievements. It is also necessary for the team manager to provide them support and ensure that they have all the necessary information and resources to complete their job according to the deadline and requirement.

            Here are some of the major steps, which the managers should take in order to keep the team, integrated, committed and actively participating during the project. One of the major obstacles, which make a remote worker, is that he sometimes becomes purposeless. Therefore it is necessary for the manager to define a specific objective for every remote member. Another important step should be that the manager should measure the output of the remote member not the way he does his job. The most reasonable way to do this is to develop mutual trust, understanding and fill the communication gap by being available on the given meeting times. Because the main concept of a remote working is that the worker has to do his job on his/her own place so face-to-face meetings are not practical approach. But the manager should hold some face-to-face meetings occasionally, as they are helpful to develop better mutual understanding between the team members as they get a chance to know each other. The e-workplace should be developed with the presence awareness technology embedded in it. It is necessary because it will help the team members know when you are available for discussion or that the manager is available on his/her mobile phone.

            In order to implement virtual office practices it is necessary to consider certain organizational aspects beforehand. The major motivating factor behind idea of going virtual is financial, i.e. it will lead cost effectiveness and be economical. But beside cost effectiveness there are other motivating factors also, like flexibility and enhanced productivity. The major organizational aspects needed to be considered when starting to implement virtual offices are IT, HR and real estate as mentioned by Kinetic Workplace. But there are other aspects to be considered like marketing and customer relations’ services.

            It is essential to consider IT before implementing virtual solution because it will server as the core of the whole virtual office solution. All the networking and collaboration tools solely depends of IT therefore necessary upgrade of the IT department including support staff and developers as well as upgrading the IT infrastructure including networking, telecommunication services and collaboration services is necessary. Moreover IT is also considered while virtual office implementation because most of the staff sent to the virtual office are mostly from this department. The job description of IT staff is very flexible thus they can work as a full time home office worker.

            The HR division should also be considered before implementing a virtual office solution. This is primarily because the virtual office environment is entirely different from the traditional office environment, thus it is necessary for the HR department to be ready to train the on going virtual and remote staff according to the requirements of the virtual office. These requirements include educate workers how they can be more effective providers and consumers of information, train and test virtual worker management skills, train remote workers on personal work strategies in the new environment, like effective use of technology, trust enhancement and conflict resolution, educating virtual workers on how to handle work-life balance and family relationships in the changed environment etc. Considering these HR policies are recommended to be implemented prior to moving the project to the critical mass.

            The real estates should also be considered beforehand because it the main area where the organization will gain in the shape of freed office space, cost reduction of business units and offices. The virtualization of business staff of IT, Sales & Marketing and Public Relations departments will reduce a considerable amount of budget expenditure, resulting in the cost reduction and saving company resources. One of the major resources being saved during virtualization is the company’s real estates resource.

            Other important organizational aspects to be considered are the sales & marketing and public relations departments. Virtualization provides the sales executives and marketing executives more flexibility and when they have a complete mobile virtual office solution then they have no need waste their time on commuting to and from the office. They can spend most of their working hours with their customers. This not only releases the company from the load of sales and marketing offices, but also provides efficiency in work resulting in increase of sales. The support and customer service staff can also be completely virtualized as they can provide their support and customer services through their home offices via telecommunicating and collaboration tools. This also reduces operational costs and provides flexibility and efficiency in operations, which in turn results in more satisfaction of customers, and increase in market share and credibility.

            If I get an opportunity and offer from my employer to go virtual I will probably accept this offer because of the nature of my job, which is very adaptable with the virtual office-working environment. As an IT developer I don’t need to go to office and waste my time travelling to and from office. Instead I would prefer to work at home and save all that precious time of mine on making something productive and innovative. Moreover as an IT specialist I am more used to with the modern collaborative and telecommunication technologies like the Internet, video conferencing and chat forums etc. thus I will easily adapt my self to the new virtual office environment. This will further help me maintain equilibrium between my work and life, because as a developer I had to stay at office late very often when we are working hard to meet the project deadlines. In conclusion I would gladly accept any opportunity offered to work in a virtual office environment.

Peer-to-Peer Applications:

            The modern dynamic environment of the business organizations where workplace is no longer simply an office or building, but it is any place where the office workers create, share, store information and collaborate with employees, partners and customers. The most important issue in such a dynamic environment is proper collaboration directly and effectively. Normally teams in such environments rely on mixed set of tools like e-mail messaging, phone calls, instant messages and in-person meetings in order to work together in a collaborative environment. But the problem is that using such diverse methods of collaboration makes it extremely difficult to keep all the team members in sync. The only way to overcome these obstacles is to provide the users a single tool, which will give them the functionality in demand and enable them to work together dynamically.

There are several solutions like VPN, extranets and building collaborative solution hosted by an application service provider (ASP). Unfortunately none of these solutions overcome all the obstacles. Some are either too costly, while other does not provide the functionality of limited access to vendors & partners etc.

Peer-to-Peer applications are a new innovation in the field of networking. They not only provide seamless network solutions like file sharing, video/audio conferencing, online forums, discussion boards etc. This has made peer-to-peer networking an important candidate to become part of the modern virtual office solutions in the form of collaboration software applications. In fact peer-to-peer applications are gaining grounds in the enterprise business currently more than 200 companies have invested around 400 million dollars to develop peer-to-peer network for their respective organizations. The companies are interested in developing peer-to-peer applications which will support not only file sharing, but features like distributed computing, content distribution, e-marketplace, distributed search engines, groupware and office automation via P2P networks. (Wikipedia) In this way they will soon become one of the core elements of the modern virtual office and enterprise solutions.

Moreover many notable software developers like Microsoft has taken the lead in this field. Microsoft has pioneered its famous P2P based collaborative solution i.e. Groove Networks. Grooves Network is a distributed computing and collaborative solution designed to be seamlessly integrated with the enterprise systems of the companies. It not only provides the office workers the autonomy they require to collaborate effectively in the new virtual office environment, but it also gives the IT administrators complete hold over the IS and they can effectively maintain central control. P2P applications like Office Groove help members of small teams to work together dynamically and share information from their computer. The Groove Network provides workspaces to the workers where they can outline plans interactively, jointly design projects, distribute support materials for analysis and can also share their innovative ideas by voice or text chat. Because of the P2P nature of the Groove Client only the client system resources are used without any centralized server involved. All the application logic and data is stored on the client computer so all the data is available to the user whether he/she is online or offline. Even users can create workspace on their own computer thus they are not dependent of any server and neither there are limitations of space. The main concern of the IT managers regarding P2P applications is security. This has been overcome by providing both user and role-based security thus making the solution completely secure and adaptable for enterprise usage.

Apart from Microsoft Grooves Networks many other P2P collaborative solutions have emerged recently and many have gain foothold in the business enterprise for example Yahoo’s Zimbra Collaboration Suite and Collanos Workplace are some examples of new emerging P2P collaborative software application solutions. By big players like Microsoft and Yahoo getting involved in the development of P2P collaborative software applications it becomes very clear that the future of P2P applications is very bright and they will very easily prevail in the competition against non-P2P collaborative solutions.

Companies will embrace P2P not only because of the widespread credibility of Microsoft and Yahoo applications, but also because P2P platform is highly effective, economical and flexible. The main concern of the IT managers regarding security is fully addressed by MS and Yahoo in their Grooves Networks and Zimbra Collaboration suite, therefore it is very likely that now all the security loopholes being filled by big software giants like MS and Yahoo it is very much likely that most of the business organizations will adopt these solutions. Moreover there are other peer-to-peer applications, which offer similar functionalities with a much low cost like vypress chat and vypress messenger. Vypress also provides instant messaging, conferencing and presence solutions for small-to-medium businesses.

The current business scenario where more and more businesses are adopting virtual enterprise solutions, outsourcing and offshoring, it has become vital for all the organizations to adopt collaborative solutions.  P2P applications have offered an efficient, low cost flexible and viable solution for business enterprise in this regard. Therefore it is very likely that the mainstream of the business organizations is very much likely to adopt P2P collaborative solutions in the near future.

Focus of IT Initiatives:

            The decision to implement IT solutions in the company is critical one. The primary motive behind implementing IT and computerizing the organization is to achieve efficiency, flexibility, increased productivity, cost reduction and competitive advantage. Before practically implementing the IS in the company most organizations tries to determine the core processes where IT support is most needed and will prove to be value added and will result in the achievement of competitive advantage for the company. These IT solutions are called primary activities. Moreover in order to run these primary activities smoothly and continuously without any error support activities are also necessary.

Now when a company initiates implementing IT in the organization for the first time it has two options, either to start with the primary activities in the first phase of implementations, while defer the implementation of support activities in the later phase. Conversely companies can initially deploy support activities in the initial phase and start implementing the primary activities later. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Implementing the primary activities will provide the maximum business value from technology at once, as it is the primary objective of the company. Conversely building primary IT applications for core business processes without any overall support infrastructure will create problems, mainly because the idea of implementing IT applications without support infrastructure is impractical in nature. On the other hand if the company focuses initially on support infrastructure, it would be a wise decision, but the management would become frustrated that the companies resources are going to nowhere and there is no business value achieved from the computerizing process at all. This would lead to the questioning of the wisdom behind the computerizing of the organization and these entire heavy spending.

According to my perception most companies start the primary IT activities right away. This is because the major concern of the top management is to achieve business advantage from the implemented technology as soon as possible. They often ignore the support infrastructure value in the initial phase and are compelled to consider the foundation of a support infrastructure later when problems arise during IT applications’ operations. Moreover companies have several other options regarding support activities. As the support activities are not regarded as the core business processes they are often regarded as a burden. Most companies avoid building an overall support infrastructure in the premises and preferring to outsource the entire support activities. Some companies keep a minimum support staff on ad hoc bases, which provides support and troubleshooting for normal daily hurdles and problems. For highly technical and complicated problems they usually outsource the support to an external vendor.

Most companies also initially ignore building a support infrastructure in the initial phase because the supplier and the vendor, which provides the primary IT hardware and applications, offer troubleshooting and support services for their products initially. These support service programs are also purchased on yearly bases from the vendor and the manufacture regarding the key applications and hardware. This facility also helps the management to postpone building an overall support infrastructure in the initial phase of IT implementation.

Another important factor, which plays an important role in making this decision, is the output of Strategic IS Planning. SISP plays an important role in the decision making of the IT managers regarding the priorities of the IT projects and installations. The overall process of SISP is only to align the IT functions according to the business strategy of the company. The eventual target of the SISP is to determine the recommended IT applications and processes for the core business processes of the company which will consequently lead to achieving competitive advantage in the highly competitive market.

During the initial phase the planners had to ensure the top management about the goals, objectives that would be achieved by this entire activity. The top management always wanted to see the result of the entire activity in the form of business advantage as a SISP output. Therefore the IT managers prefer focusing on the primary activities in the initial implementing phase to present the tangible output to the top management in order to satisfy them initially. On the other hand if the IT managers focus on the support activities in the initial phase there is a very high probability that suspicions and doubts will arise among the top management regarding the viability and usefulness of the SISP exercise.

Therefore in my opinion the majority of the companies target primary activities in the initial phase of their implementation. Support processes are either outsourced or are carried out on ad hoc bases. The major motives behind this decision is the pressure on the IT managers to justify their spending of companies resources on IT as soon as possible in the form of achievement of maximum business value from IT. The same is done when the IT managers perform strategic Information System planning. They have to justify the whole exercise by showing the top management that the immediate output of this costly exercise results in the achievement of value added services and competitive advantage.

Case of Shanghai Bell Corporation:

            Shanghai Bell is a high tech organization and thus required an extensive IT infrastructure and applications to support its core business processes. The company lacks a central IT department and most of the IT staff was part-time support personnel. There was no IT vision or application and technology architecture planning formulated before the SISP was carried out. The current organizational change has also made the existing IS solutions and support inappropriate for the new organizational structure. Moreover many departments have very low or no IS support to enhance their operation processes and efficiency. This was the scenario in which the company started its SISP project.

            In the initial phase the SISP team formulated an IT vision. In order to draw enough knowledge to formulate the IT vision the team member interviewed with the top manager and retrieved from them information regarding strategic and organizational issues regarding short-term and long-term goals and objectives. After getting and analyzing all the information the team formulated an IT vision, which emphasized on the strengthening of the Research and Marketing and change the focus from manufacturing to research and marketing. The vision also suggested changing the structure from the spindle type to dumbbell type, where the main focus would be on research and marketing at both ends. The vision also stressed on aligning IT with the business strategies

            The entire IT vision seems well formulated and has identified the core weaknesses of the company regarding IT. The emphasis on strengthening Research and Marketing was based on sound judgment because as a telecommunication company it is necessary for it to introduce new innovations and products in order to gain competitive advantage, remain competent and become a global leading high-tech company in the current global business environment. The current high-tech environment is led by only those companies, which have been introducing new advancements and innovations in technology. Marketing is also an important department neglected, as there was no IS support currently available for it. Moreover aligning the IT strategy with the entire business strategy is the core objective of every SISP project. Thus it can easily be concluded that the IT vision of SBell SISP team was well formulated.

            The SBell SISP team initially conducted the formulation of the IT vision and then they started their efforts in order to understand the current business. During this phase the project team worked to identify the critical business processes and their current business needs and the gap between the current functionality provided by the current IT applications. During this stage the team collected documents regarding business processes and also got information regarding undocumented critical activities. The whole process of 6 weeks gave the planners a better idea about how the business processes work? What are the weaknesses, requirements and gaps between the needs and current IT applications?

            In order to formulate a better IT vision it was advisable for the planners to conduct this activity in the first phase and then formulate the IT vision. But because the planners got a thorough information regarding business strategies and objectives from the top management during the they got enough information to formulate a sensible IT vision for the company. After formulating the IT vision the planners decided to find out the core businesses processes and devise a plan for providing them better IT/IS applications support according to the vision. In this scenario it seems to me that formulating IT vision beforehand was a better idea as it helped the planners to know what they have to determine and identify during the phase 2.

            The planners took only 6 weeks to carry out the phase two completely. During the understanding of the current business process the planners felt that in order to get detailed information of day-to-day operations in such a big company the 6-week time was very short. They also found instabilities in the business processes with respect to ownership. After a thorough discussion the planners decide that it would be enough for the planners to get information about core business processes, get knowledge of general activities of these processes and realize activities not supported by IT applications. For this they felt that the 6-week time was enough. I also agree that in order to get this core information a 6-week phase was quite enough.

            The overall SISP process was carried out successfully. This is because the process not only led to the development of a well established application architecture and technical architecture planning, but it also provided an IT vision. The team members help educate majority of the employees of the company about the importance of IT as an important part of the business infrastructure. The company that did not have a proper IT department and CIO before the project opted to develop an extensive IT department led by a CIO. The research and development department which does not have any IS support was going to have proper IS applications for the first time, which would help the department foster its research activities and provide new ideas and innovations in technologies.

            The senior management of SBell really benefited from the SISP project as they got a thorough knowledge about the importance of the IT in providing the company maximum business advantage and competitive advantage. They also got a well-formulated IT vision and IT strategic planning and also the knowledge of their weaknesses and neglect in certain departments of the company regarding IT. They also knew that establishing an extensive IT department is also essential for the success of the company.

            In the current scenario where the technological advances and business dynamics have taken a new turn, I would like to advise the SISP planners to keep in mind new business environment like virtual office, new marketing and sales technologies like using mobile sales executives instead of establishing entire sales offices and incorporating latest IT technologies to make these scenarios feasible and seamlessly working.

            The main weakness, which I see in the entire SISP process, was little time spent on technical architecture issues. This was the area where the planners made their most recommendations. Because the company was too big the 6 weeks time was apparently insufficient to identify detail knowledge and information regarding issues related to technical architecture. Moreover the time spent on formulating the technical architecture planning was also very short. The entire time given for the entire third phase of which technical architecture planning was a part was only few weeks. This was not enough to analyze and assess the data and information collected in this regard with much more precision and accuracy. The analysis and assessment process is very delicate and requires a high level of accuracy and precision otherwise the entire SISP exercise will become futile. The lack of precision and accuracy normally appears during the implementation phase when many recommendations made by the planners turn out to be impractical in nature. Thus the companies are normally compelled to revise the strategic plans and suspicions and doubts arise regarding the SISP viability.

            The same occurred here when the company tried to implement the CPC in the research and development department and CRM in the customer relation department. Problems emerged and the company was forced to modify its technical architecture. The overall conclusion is that complete reliance on the consulting companies is not a feasible option. They are helpful in providing rich knowledge and awareness regarding the IT importance and SISP viability and credibility, but an inside official should be the one who makes the key recommendations regarding the application and technical architecture.

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