The Informatics Planning Model

Bryan Shane

Informatics Planning Model essential to maximize the effectiveness of it in supporting program goals.

Introduction

The use of informatics is  an extremely important strategy that enables nearly all public organizations  to achieve their missions. Informatics provides the applications that process  transactions in both program-specific and administrative functions. It provides  the tools necessary to ensure the personal productivity of individual staff  members and the means for effective collaboration and coordination of programs  and services with other staff, clients and suppliers. It facilitates the development  of business strategies and innovations by exploiting unique technological advantages.  It provides the information necessary to make both strategic and operational  decisions.

There are, however, problems  that impede its most effective use in public sector organizations, especially  at the branch level.

Problems

Lack of an informatics plan

Often, there is no current,  long term informatics plan that encompasses all technology strategies and plans  for all groups within the organization. Further, there is usually no defined  and established informatics planning process to update said plan on an annual  basis to adapt to new priorities/needs and advances in technology. Limited provision  for the inclusion or participation of all stake holders in a coordinated, organized  and timely fashion – to update informatics strategies and establish new priorities  – is also lacking. This results in an inability to maximize the power of informatics  in enabling the achievement of the program or business goals.

Poor organizational  structure

Often the informatics structure  is fractured, with more than one informatics group in the organization. This  structure does not permit development of the clear lines of authority required  to exercise the necessary degree of control over technology and roles and responsibilities. Usually  this results in poor coordination and communication among the various informatics  groups and across lines of authority.

Service issues

The analysis of informatics  needs requires the active participation of informatics staff to determine compatibility  with existing informatics architectures/infrastructure, and to obtain the best  prices possible.

In many organizations, 40  to 60 percent of informatics purchases occur without informatics consultation  or approval. This issue is especially prevalent in the purchase of hardware  and software for under $5,000 (e.g., workstations, printers, plotters and software).  This lack of a thorough informatics needs assessment results in serious problems  affecting productivity, such as downtime due to network configuration; insufficient  computer memory; software incompatibilities; inability to provide adequate support  or to properly train users; and an inability to provide planned service to clients.  Further, some servers tend to be organization-specific and are not optimized  for service and cost savings.

Lack of coordination among  informatics staff often results in other employees acting as their own system  administrators. They attempt to fix problems with servers, operating systems,  workstations, peripherals (such as printers, plotters, external storage), and  try to install hardware/software themselves , often with disastrous results.  In some cases, clients attempt to configure and use their workstations based  on personal preferences rather than business considerations. This tendency to  use workstations as personal computers rather than business computers creates  additional problems such as difficulties diagnosing and solving the problem;  incompatibilities of hardware and software; network failures or other forms  of downtime at workstation; and generally overall poor service.

Combined, informatics staff  in some public sector organizations spend 30 to 40 percent of their time attempting  to solve these problems.

Technology issues

There are many examples  of unlicensed software or too many unneeded software licenses for the number  of users. Often no central registry of software licenses exists and no business  processes are in place to enforce licensing discipline. And to compound the  issue, there are no standards for common software needs.

Human resource issues

As a result of a poor organization  structure, informatics staff are often isolated with little opportunity for  career progression and/or lateral transfer. There is little cross-fertilization  of ideas and an inability to keep up with latest technological developments.  Training is provided on an ad hoc basis or scheduled months before the implementation  of the desired technology, resulting in wasted instruction. These typical conditions  result in low motivation and morale, which in turn lead to high staff turnover  rates. This situation is especially critical given the long lead time to recruit  and train (estimated at 6-18 months) new staff in the knowledge of the client  business environment and the technology.

The description of these  informatics problems/issues in the public sector is not intended to criticize  or downplay the dedication, efforts or abilities of these staff in performing  their duties. Rather, the focus is on determining solutions to provide the means  to improve the effectiveness of informatics staff. Diagram 1 provides a graphical  illustration of the informatics problems encountered in many public sector branches.

Figure  1: Typical Public Sector Informatics Problems

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Many of the other problems  identified will be addressed in future articles in this series.This article, the first of a series, focuses on an informatics planning model  and process that will provide a framework to address these typical planning  problems previously described. It will serve as a best practice that can be  used to develop and maintain a long term informatics plan.

Informatics Plan and Planning Process

There are three principle  reasons to develop a long term informatics plan.

  • It addresses many of  the typical concerns identified earlier.
  • It defines the informatics  directions, objectives and strategies that the organization wishes to pursue  during the first one to three years of the new millennium in support of its  business goals.
  • It ensures that the day-to-day  informatics activities and allocation of resources are geared to meet the  business and informatics objectives.

Informatics Planning Model

Figure 1 provides a planning  model for a public sector informatics plan. It is based upon a balanced approach  to informatics growth and development and provides the means to set the objectives  and strategies related to finances and quality of service. But, it also focuses  on both the concerns of clients and of the employees who provide these services.  Finally, it recognizes the importance of continuous improvement as a basic premise  of modern informatics effectiveness.

These five basic perspectives  – finance, quality of service, client/employee satisfaction, and continuous  improvement – provide the means to develop the informatics plan from multiple  points of view. The strategies and plans developed in these five perspectives  represent the strategic, tactical or operational elements necessary to improve  informatics decision-making within the organization, to enable proactive problem  correction and to promote continuous improvement.

Each of the components  in the plan will be briefly described.

Mission Statement: This is a brief, clear statement of the goal of the organization, defining the  need it will fill, the clients it will cater to and how it will provide its  services. The mission statement provides a frame of reference for the entire  informatics plan where the overall objectives, strategies and plans are developed  and implemented to contribute directly or indirectly to the realization of the  mission.

Objectives: In order  to achieve the mission, objectives in the five areas focus the strategies and  plans for informatics, including:

  • Finance objectives outline  the purpose of the informatics plan and organization in terms of cost effectiveness,  cost recovery or profit.
  • Quality of service objectives  outline the service standards to be delivered.
  • Client satisfaction objectives  delineate the company’s purposes as related to serving its customers.
  • Employee satisfaction  objectives state the organization’s purposes in maintaining an effective workforce.
  • Continuous improvement  objectives outline the aims of the organization regarding the need for continual  learning and growth.

Strategies: Once overall informatics objectives are set in each of these  perspectives, strategies are developed to define the tactics needed to move  forward to attain these objectives and the overall informatics mission.

Critical Success Factors  (CSFs) are those elements that must function effectively to ensure high  performance of informatics within the organization. CSFs are used to prioritize  operational initiatives so that they are addressed systematically and scheduled  most efficiently for the planned period. The CSFs thus become criteria to help  management choose the most crucial strategic elements of a plan to begin implementation  at an operational level.

The Implementation Strategy  is completed to ensure a smooth transition to the more proactive mode of informatics  operation. To accomplish this objective, the implementation strategy must contain  a number of elements:

  • Orientation and training  sessions with informatics staff, clients and management regarding various  elements of the informatics plan.
  • The approach for institutionalizing  the informatics planning process and integrating it with the organizational  business/operational planning process and budgeting cycles.
  • Methods for maintaining  and improving the organizational culture among informatics staff relating  directly to items described in the plan.
  • Development/enhancement  of an informatics performance measurement function within the organization  to assess and monitor performance in the five areas of the informatics plan  (finances, quality of service, client/employee satisfaction and continuous  improvement.). This information must then fed back into the informatics planning  process on an ongoing basis.

Operational Informatics  Plan: In this section of the informatics planning model, strategies are  translated into operational services and projects for the upcoming year using  the CSFs.

Figure  2: Informatics Planning Model

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Informatics Planning Process

The long-term organizational  informatics plan must be developed and/or updated on an annual cycle using the  informatics planning process. This process is composed of a number of stages,  each of which is described below. Stages 1.0 through 7.0 are used to develop  a long-term informatics plan from scratch. Only Stages 1.0 and 2.0 and 5.0 and  7.0 are used to update or enhance an existing one.

Stage 1.0 Information  gathering stage

Determining business requirements  is the start of the informatics planning process. A number of internal and external  requirements must be identified and captured in each area of the informatics  plan.

Internal Organizational Informatics  Requirements

      • Financial review of technology  life cycle replacement and ongoing staff, service, project and maintenance  costs.
      • Quality of service review  of service level agreements and project agreements to determine performance  against service standards and performance measures.
      • Employee satisfaction  review of staff satisfaction issues.
      • Client satisfaction review  of customer fulfillment issues.
      • Continuous improvement  review of all ongoing and potential informatics research/development projects.

External Organizational Informatics  Requirements

    • All organizational business  and informatics strategies/plans that may affect the organization informatics  operations are identified.
    • External informatics  environmental scan all new informatics technologies and processes that may  affect the informatics operations are identified.

Stage 2.0 Situational  assessment stage

Situational assessment refers  to the analysis of data, past and present, from the Stage 1.0. The data is derived  internally from the performance within five perspectives (financial, quality  of service, client/employee satisfaction and continuous improvement). It is  also derived from a consideration of external influences within the organization.  Assessment of informatics performance both internally and externally leads to  the identification of four or five strategic informatics issues (SII). These  are fundamental questions affecting the organization’s mandate, values, programs/services,  and finances. It is important to deal with these SIIs if the organization’s  informatics function is to succeed. The situation assessment provides the basis  to carry out strategy formulation (Stage 4.0) and operational planning (Stage  6.0).

Stage 3.0 Mission  statement development

The mission statement is  developed by informatics staff, working closely with organization management.  It is a brief, concise statement of the informatics mission and is developed  using a process-oriented approach. All informatics staff are given ample opportunity  to participate in its development and approval. This mission statement must  support the business objectives of the organization.

Stage 4.0 Objectives  development

Objectives are developed  for each of the five perspectives of the informatics plan using a process -oriented  approach to ensure full participation and agreement of informatics staff. The  informatics objectives for each of the five perspectives of the organization  informatics plan include:

  • financial objective
  • quality of service objective
  • client satisfaction objective
  • employee satisfaction  objective
  • continuous improvement  objective

Stage 5.0 Strategy  formulation stage

The results of the situation  assessment stage are reviewed including progress of initiatives in all five  perspectives of the informatics plan (financial, quality of service, client/employee  satisfaction and continuous improvement). Based upon the input from the situation  assessment stage, strategies and plans in each of the five perspectives of the  informatics plan are developed or updated to effectively deal with these strategic  issues.

Management must approve  these strategies/plans before the informatics plan is revised to reflect these  updated or new directions.

Stage 6.0 Operational  planning

The strategies/plans developed  or updated during the strategy formulation stage in each of five perspectives  of the informatics plan are analyzed to determine opportunities in the form  of new or existing projects, services or other initiatives.

  • All new or ongoing informatics  services are documented in a standard service level agreement (SLA). The SLA  specifies its objective, duration, roles/responsibilities, problem reporting/tracking  process, escalation procedures, service standards and performance monitoring/reporting.
  • All new or ongoing informatics  projects, including those related to quality of service, employee/client satisfaction  or continuous improvement, are documented in a standard project agreement  (PA). The PA specifies the goal/objectives, work plan/deliverables, schedule,  budget, benefits and resources.
  • Financial requirements  for informatics staffing, technology, services, and project requirements are  provided in traditional formats.
  • The operational informatics  planning stage interfaces with the organizations strategic/operational planning  and budgeting cycles.

Stage 6.1 Management  review

During this stage of  the informatics planning process, a management committee rates all potential  informatics services/projects as documented in SLAs or PAs against a set  of CSFs. Each potential informatics service or project is given a rating  of 1 to 5 on each of the CSFs. This provides the means to determine the  relative importance/priority of each potential informatics service or project.

Five sets of operational  informatics priorities are developed, one for each of the five planning  perspectives. This then becomes the first draft of the informatics operational  plan.

Stage 6.2 Client/Manager  assessment

Informatics staff and  business managers review the informatics operational priorities in each  of the five categories and provide comments on any schedules, missing tasks,  and dependencies. Based on these comments the second draft informatics operational  plan is prepared.

Stage 6.3 Resource  leveling

Stage 6.3.1 Budget  allocation

The second draft of  the informatics operational planning initiatives are compared to the operational  and capital budget for the organization. Adjustments are made based upon  existing budget levels. Informatics initiatives are granted funding in order  of priority until the budget is completely allocated. This results in the  third draft of the informatics operational plan.

Stage 6.3.2 Staffing  adjustments

The third draft informatics  operational plan is presented to all informatics employees to determine  any desire for staff movement across projects or services. Changes are incorporated  to produce the fourth and final version of the informatics operational plan.

Stage 7.0 Mid-year  review

The mid-year review  of the informatics operational plan is used to provide an assessment of  progress across its five dimensions. The results of this examination, in  conjunction with ongoing monitoring, provide the means to adjust informatics  operations to deal with current issues. It also provides the information  required to begin the informatics planning cycle again.

Figure  3: Informatics Planning Process

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A number of principles must  be included to guide the development and use of the informatics plan. The organization  must:Informatics Planning Principles

  • Ensure the plan supports  and enables the achievement of the business goals of the organization.
  • Ensure that the plan  and strategies are coherent and support the organization’s informatics policies,  standards, architectures and guidelines.
  • Ensure this planning  process interfaces with the department’s strategic and operational planning  and budgeting cycles.
  • Ensure that the organization’s  information holdings and transactions are protected at the appropriate level.
  • Ensure that the plan  is developed with the full input and cooperation of all informatics staff  and management.
  • Ensure that the development  of the informatics plan is based upon a balanced and complete view of the  organization as a whole, including its financial, quality of service, client/employee  satisfaction and continuous improvement dimensions.
  • Adopt a process-oriented  approach to developing or updating the plan. Development or updating of the  informatics plan must be done cooperatively with informatics staff and management  using structured interviews, straw dogs and facilitation. These techniques  will ensure complete and multiple opportunities for input from all concerned  parties (structured interviews), the development of draft plan elements in  a non-threatening manner (straw dogs) and group acceptance (facilitation).
  • Use a planned and phased  approach to developing or updating the informatics plan. Each phase must be  successfully completed and agreed upon by all relevant parties before proceeding  with the next phase.

Benefits

This long-term informatics  planning model and process provides the direction needed to maximize the effectiveness  of informatics in enabling the achievement of program or business goals of the  public sector organization. More specifically, use of this approach provides  the following benefits:

  • The ability to ensure  that the day-to-day informatics activities and allocation of resources within  the organization are optimized to meet both business and informatics goals.
  • A framework for informatics  decision-making throughout the organization that provides guidance to all  staff in making decisions that are in line with the organization’s aims and  strategies.
  • The ability to identify  the strategic informatics issues, opportunities and threats from multiple  points of view which can seriously affect both informatics and business functions.
  • Improved motivation and  morale among informatics staff by providing them with an opportunity to participate  in decisions which directly affect their ability to carry out their daily  tasks.
  • Facilitates improved  communication with informatics staff, clients, and management about objectives,  strategies and plans.
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