There are five stages in the information systems development process. These are initiating stage, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and completion stages. It is these stages that form the systems development life cycle (SDLC).It is the role of the systems analyst to act as the project manager of the information systems project. Throughout the system development lifecycle, it is the responsibility of the project manager to initiate, plan, execute and close down the systems development project. Management of the project is actually the most important phase of an information system development project. Efficient and effective management of the project ensures that systems development achieves customer expectations and that these expectations are provided within time and budget constraints.
With a shift in the types of projects that most companies are undertaking, project management has been made more difficult and critical to project success. This is exemplified by eBay which due to the fact that their business transactions occur over the internet, new interfaces based on the website are being occasionally added to the existing legacy systems to ensure that the often globally distributed range of users can access business information and systems. Global outsourcing partners also develop software that has to be incorporated into the company’s collection of applications that exist. Such firms and others that deal with a wide range of customers, users and suppliers require a well-managed information system and hence thorough understanding of the project management process is critical.
The process of project management involves five phases. There are several activities that must be performed in each stage of the formal process of project management to increase the possibility of project success. One of the phases is initiation phase of the project. During this stage the project manager undertakes several activities in order to assess the scope, complexity and size of the project and also to establish processes to support successive phases. The project initiation activities include the establishment of the project initiation team. These involve organizing members to help in undertaking the project initiation activities. For example, during the initiation of a user registration and membership fee project and the PayPal project at eBay, some members including a user representative and an Information System development group member, were assigned to support the initiation. EBay Project Mercury Data Center also had the project initiation team. This activity is followed by establishment of a relationship with customers. A full understanding of customers helps build a stronger partnership and high level of trust. EBay appointed a user representative in their projects to represent customer interests.
Another activity is the design of the project’s initial plan. This includes setting of goals, scope, deliverables, project steps and deadlines of the project. This is followed by the establishment of management procedures. In eBay, these management procedures were laid out as standard operating procedures by the information system development group. Establishment of project workbook and management environment is then initiated. This involves collecting and organizing tools that will be used while managing the project. Finally the project charter, which is a short document prepared for both external and internal stakeholders to announce the formal establishment of the project and describe its stakeholders, assumptions and objectives, is, developed.
The second phase in information systems project management is project planning. This involves defining discrete and clear activities needed to finish each process within the project. Effective planning will ensure positive outcomes of the project. Due to the repetitive nature of project management process, the plans must be monitored constantly and updated periodically based on the most recently gathered information. This phase includes several activities. These include describing project alternatives scope and feasibility. The aim of this activity is to understand the complexity and content of the project. This is well illustrated by eBay where the aim of the membership registration project was to avoid fraudulent activities in their site. The unique problems, assumptions and constraints in the project are clearly stated. The project is then divided into manageable tasks. This will ensure smooth evaluation and interdependence of the tasks. Simple tasks are solved first followed by complex tasks.
Another activity under the planning phase is the estimation and creation of a resource plan. The activity aims to estimate resource requirements of resources for each of the project activity and then use this information to establish a resource plan. This resource plan helps deploy and assemble resources in an effective manner. In making these estimates of project costs and size, project managers use different tools. The widely used tool is known as COCOMO (constructive cost model) which utilizes parameters derived from preceding projects of different complexity. A communication plan is then developed to outline necessary communication procedures among customer, project team members and management. This communication plan entails how and when oral and written reports will be provided by the team. Project standards and procedures are then determined to indicate how deliverables are tested and produced by the project team. It is also important in the planning phase to identify and assess risks. This will help identify risk sources and estimate their consequences. EBay identified that it would be risky to introduce the online registration and membership fee as many customers may withdraw from their sites.
A preliminary budget to outline the project’s planned revenues and expenses is created. This helps identify whether the benefits are worth the project costs. EBay was very keen on this when undertaking the PayPal and the MasterCard project. A project scope statement is finally given to customers to describe what the project would deliver. EBay explained to customers what the member registration and membership fee project would do in reducing fraudulent and fake businesses in their site.
The third phase in project management is project execution. This involves the implementation of all the previous steps. It entails execution of baseline project plan, monitoring progress of the project, managing changes to the baseline plan, maintaining the project workbook and communicating the status of the project. This is the actual design of the project.
The final phase in project management is project close down. It entails closing down the project, conducting project reviews and closing the contract with customers. This focuses to bring the project to an end either naturally or unnaturally. A natural close down occurs when all the project requirements have been met and the project is successful. This was the case with the eBay PayPal project where the project was completed to a successful end. Unnatural closedown occurs when the project is terminated before completion. This can be caused lack of time or money or if the project requirements are no longer valid or relevant. The system maintenance phase occurs throughout the project.
EBay’s mission is to offer a global trading podium where practically everyone can trade practically anything. The accomplishment of this mission would only be possible through the use of automated information systems. It longs to provide the community with a user friendly platform in the internet where its customers can trade anything with each other.Therefore, their objectives and goals of their IT projects are focused towards achievement of this mission. The acquisition of PayPal and half.com by EBay has helped expand the support and primary activities since it made processes decrease in costs for PayPal because it became the controller of the financial dealings. PayPal services enable money exchange between traders over the internet. It has added EBay with transaction fee revenue.
On the other hand, with the attainment of half.com it gained a larger market share by directly going into the media business to compete against firms like Amazon. In 2005,EBay also an online site for shopping comparison known as Shopping.com and Skype Technologies which offers low cost voice calls and free services over the internet. All these IT projects have enabled EBay to penetrate markets which require more communications between buyers, sellers and suppliers such as new-car sales, expensive collectibles and real estate. EBay has also purchased ProStores software whose technology assists users and customers to establish online stores. It has also bought a percentage stake in Craigslist, a classified ad site. Furthermore, it has obtained Stub Hub, a ticket-reselling website. EBay through strategic alliance and collaborative partnership with other organizations like Providian National Bank and MBNA which is a credit card issuer, have introduced a new MasterCard, a credit card which earns points upon purchase from their website. These are some information systems developed and managed by EBay.
The issue of information misrepresentation and fraud by unserious buyers or sellers is a main challenge for EBay. It has very slight control over difficulties that arise from this challenge. A major issue that arises from this is that of customer service. Most customers who criticize EBay are very discontented with its customer service system. Most complainants complain that they are not able to contact with a human customer representative once the need arises. These users feel that they usually undergo long procedures that should be eluded by them being capable of directly talking to a human customer representative. The firm in its development of these IT systems have faced this challenge of fraud and cost management. System integration is also one of the biggest software problem faced.
The solution to some of these challenges would involve the company obtaining advanced automatic systems that would be ensuring more interaction or likewise more human. These systems should identify themselves with the concerns of discontented users and help address their concerns better. Consequently this step should provide them with improved and better services. This solution of making automatic response information systems more collaborative will be a better idea if it really does value the users. The difficulty in it is that it is costly and the query of whether the investment would pay off comes into consideration. There is need to work out if this will really add importance to the customers. Even though it makes users satisfied; does it help solve the fraudulent and fakeness problem?.
Another solution presented is that EBay initiated online one time or an annual membership fee and registration project for all users. Collection of the fee is done though the modern EBay PayPal. For the success of this solution EBay has tried to develop an information system that ensures all members and user are registered accordingly. This is enhanced in their user friendly website; SWOT.This strategy should create sufficient income for EBay to be capable of improving customer service by employing customer representatives and also extending the working and site access hours. Through improved customer service the value of the service to customers improve and can profit the business in various ways. A main limitation is that most of the users will withdraw at the introduction of the online membership fee project. The restraint is that this might in fact reduce the number of potential future users. When developing these IT projects EBay risk losing their users and customers to their close competitors such as Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, Overstock, Craigslist, and other key search engines such as ask.com and mamma.com and therefore higher project costs than benefits. This is what they fear most in the development of their IT projects.
EBay operates in a constantly and rapidly changing customer environment and hence they have continued to develop, revise and maintain new information systems resources. It is due to this fact that it requires efficient future and recent project management. With the use of these information system resources like PayPal, EBay has become successful. It also has the Project Mercury which is designed to use pre-fabbed data IT containers in cooling technologies for computer servers. It has also developed Safe Harbor which is an online customer support. This success of their information systems and IT projects can be attributed to their strict adherence to the system development lifecycle and the project management cycle.
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