Information Management Systems Planning Using a Synthesis of ModellingTechniquesA Discussion1. The PlanThe JISC funded Smudie project came from a general agreement that the studentinformation system at Swansea Met was not managed in a coordinated way across theinstitution. There was a feeling that the different stakeholder groupings independentlymanaged their own student information needs with limited intercommunications andthus created data silos. An expectation of the project was that a unified system could beplanned that eliminated such independently managed silos. The actual conclusion drawnfrom the exercise was not that the whole system should be centrally managed, only thatthe silos should be avoided by appropriate communications and data sharing betweenthe functional sub-systems.The student information management system modelling process began with anevaluation phase that involved interviews with all system stakeholders. Thiscomprehensive body of information was used to build an ‘as is’ Enterprise Architecturemodel of the existing systems and processes.The second phase involved analysing the ‘as is’ model and identifying areas for processand performance improvement with the goal of designing a more effective and efficient‘to be’ EA model. This was then coupled with an assessment of system control andcommunications capacity using Viable Systems modelling. Finally, the real world view ofSoft Systems modelling was added to create practical and achievable solutions.2. The ModellingThe purpose of management modelling is to encourage and contribute to a systematicand structured approach to management systems planning. It aids the planning processby presenting existing and proposed management systems in an easily assimilated way.The models are designed to assist systems thinking by providing routes through theplanning process that generate consistency and lead to realistic and achievablesolutions. They are used as visual aids to assist systems design discussions.Improved system designs do not come from models. They come from the conceptualideas of systems designers who use structured modelling techniques to aid them inarriving at their design goals. Furthermore, modelling methods do not guaranteeefficiency and effectiveness in new systems design, but they do provide a structured wayof examining just how effective and efficient a new system is likely to be.3. The OutcomesThe stakeholder evaluation and systems modelling carried out through the Smudieproject led to the conclusion that the existence of information management sub-systemswas both inevitable and desirable in a complex organisation involving differentfunctional areas with different information needs and responsibilities. The key toeffective and efficient management was to ensure consistent and optimal processeswithin each functional area and the adequate sharing of core data between thefunctional areas.
4. The Case StudyThe student attendance monitoring system was shown to be inconsistent across theinstitution and at the time of the project was in the process of being evaluated with aview to improving data capture, consistency and accuracy of reporting. It was thereforechosen as a case study to evaluate the effectiveness of synthesising the modellingmethods in information systems design.Soft Systems ModellingA Root Definition: The creation and implementation of an information managementsystem that accurately and consistently records and reports on the participation ofstudents in planned learning activities.A Conceptual Model:1. A data capture system that records individual student attendance at scheduled,location specific, learning activities;2. An online information management application that receives attendance data andpresents it for management use at module, course, faculty and institutional levels;3. The management of data capture being the responsibility of the individual sessiontutor and that automatically populates the online management application;4. The student attendance information being used at tutor and course team level totrigger student support actions where problems are indicated;5. The student attendance information being available to appropriate levels ofmanagement for internal and external performance reporting.The conceptual model indicates what is to be done without stating how it is to beimplemented. Having said that, it does need to be based on achievable goals, andtypically makes assumptions about system features. In this case, for example, theconceptual model implies that the data capture is electronic and can directly populatethe online information management application.The conceptual model can be used to construct a viable management model thatrepresents the sub-system that delivers its intended outcomes. This is still at a level ofabstraction from the practical implementation, but it does begin to consider the actorsinvolved and the way the processes are managed through adequate communicationsand control channels.Viable Systems ModellingThe VSM schematic below shows how the student attendance monitoring systemoperates independently of its programme management environment, but interacts withit; relying on the provision of data capture and recording systems and feeding backattendance data and issues.
Several assumptions have been made in this model which now needs to be turned intopractical reality. Enterprise Architecture techniques can be used for this purpose.Enterprise Architecture Modelling
It can be seen how the EA model effectively presents a design brief. It has adopted theproximity card reader as the most pragmatic way of capturing attendance dataelectronically and makes the assumption that a client application will be in place toautomatically populate the attendance spreadsheet with this data. It also assumes thatthe module tutor will have access to Moodle during the session and that this will link tothe spreadsheet for monitoring purposes.5. Conclusions and DiscussionThe overall conclusions arising from this work can be summarised as follows:1. The student information system in a typical institution serves the needs of a numberof functional areas and each area uses a combination of core student data andfunctionally specific data;2. The system needs to ensure the appropriate sharing of core data, but thatfunctionally specific data should be locally managed;3. The local variations in student activity, particularly between different curriculumareas, assessment methods and attendance patterns need to be optimallysupported. A one-size-fits-all information management model is unlikely to work;4. The three stage modelling method demonstrated in this paper shows that, by takinginto account the need for flexibility, recognising the sub-system structure and usingthis to design a practical management solution, consistent and pragmatic designscan be achieved.A discussion about the project outcomes may consider:1. How realistic such systematic modelling processes are in practical institutionalmanagement systems design?2. How could such an approach become embedded in a consistent way in all theinstitutional functional areas?3. Would there need to be centralised planning support? Can it be added to theexisting centralised planning systems?4. How likely is that it will actually happen even if it is adopted? How will it bemanaged, monitored and evaluated?Although the Smudie project was focussed on the student information managementsystem, the modelling processes apply to all management systems planning. It is clearlysomething that would happen at the beginning of a systems design/re-design processand it can be seen to result in a design brief.The answer to the last question above might be that for any systems design to be signedoff by senior management for implementation, the design brief presented for approvalneeds to be constructed and verified through such systematic analysis before beingaccepted.Tony TooleMay 2013