Informatics Planning Model essential to maximize the effectiveness of it in supporting program goals.
The use of informatics isÂ an extremely important strategy that enables nearly all public organizationsÂ to achieve their missions. Informatics provides the applications that processÂ transactions in both program-specific and administrative functions. It providesÂ the tools necessary to ensure the personal productivity of individual staffÂ members and the means for effective collaboration and coordination of programsÂ and services with other staff, clients and suppliers. It facilitates the developmentÂ of business strategies and innovations by exploiting unique technological advantages.Â It provides the information necessary to make both strategic and operationalÂ decisions.
There are, however, problemsÂ that impede its most effective use in public sector organizations, especiallyÂ at the branch level.
Lack of an informatics plan
Often, there is no current,Â long term informatics plan that encompasses all technology strategies and plansÂ for all groups within the organization. Further, there is usually no definedÂ and established informatics planning process to update said plan on an annualÂ basis to adapt to new priorities/needs and advances in technology. Limited provisionÂ for the inclusion or participation of all stake holders in a coordinated, organizedÂ and timely fashion – to update informatics strategies and establish new prioritiesÂ – is also lacking. This results in an inability to maximize the power of informaticsÂ in enabling the achievement of the program or business goals.
Poor organizationalÂ structure
Often the informatics structureÂ is fractured, with more than one informatics group in the organization. ThisÂ structure does not permit development of the clear lines of authority requiredÂ to exercise the necessary degree of control over technology and roles and responsibilities. UsuallyÂ this results in poor coordination and communication among the various informaticsÂ groups and across lines of authority.
The analysis of informaticsÂ needs requires the active participation of informatics staff to determine compatibilityÂ with existing informatics architectures/infrastructure, and to obtain the bestÂ prices possible.
In many organizations, 40Â to 60 percent of informatics purchases occur without informatics consultationÂ or approval. This issue is especially prevalent in the purchase of hardwareÂ and software for under $5,000 (e.g., workstations, printers, plotters and software).Â This lack of a thorough informatics needs assessment results in serious problemsÂ affecting productivity, such as downtime due to network configuration; insufficientÂ computer memory; software incompatibilities; inability to provide adequate supportÂ or to properly train users; and an inability to provide planned service to clients.Â Further, some servers tend to be organization-specific and are not optimizedÂ for service and cost savings.
Lack of coordination amongÂ informatics staff often results in other employees acting as their own systemÂ administrators. They attempt to fix problems with servers, operating systems,Â workstations, peripherals (such as printers, plotters, external storage), andÂ try to install hardware/software themselves , often with disastrous results.Â In some cases, clients attempt to configure and use their workstations basedÂ on personal preferences rather than business considerations. This tendency toÂ use workstations as personal computers rather than business computers createsÂ additional problems such as difficulties diagnosing and solving the problem;Â incompatibilities of hardware and software; network failures or other formsÂ of downtime at workstation; and generally overall poor service.
Combined, informatics staffÂ in some public sector organizations spend 30 to 40 percent of their time attemptingÂ to solve these problems.
There are many examplesÂ of unlicensed software or too many unneeded software licenses for the numberÂ of users. Often no central registry of software licenses exists and no businessÂ processes are in place to enforce licensing discipline. And to compound theÂ issue, there are no standards for common software needs.
Human resource issues
As a result of a poor organizationÂ structure, informatics staff are often isolated with little opportunity forÂ career progression and/or lateral transfer. There is little cross-fertilizationÂ of ideas and an inability to keep up with latest technological developments.Â Training is provided on an ad hoc basis or scheduled months before the implementationÂ of the desired technology, resulting in wasted instruction. These typical conditionsÂ result in low motivation and morale, which in turn lead to high staff turnoverÂ rates. This situation is especially critical given the long lead time to recruitÂ and train (estimated at 6-18 months) new staff in the knowledge of the clientÂ business environment and the technology.
The description of theseÂ informatics problems/issues in the public sector is not intended to criticizeÂ or downplay the dedication, efforts or abilities of these staff in performingÂ their duties. Rather, the focus is on determining solutions to provide the meansÂ to improve the effectiveness of informatics staff. Diagram 1 provides a graphicalÂ illustration of the informatics problems encountered in many public sector branches.
FigureÂ 1: Typical Public Sector Informatics Problems
Many of the other problemsÂ identified will be addressed in future articles in this series.This article, the first of a series, focuses on an informatics planning modelÂ and process that will provide a framework to address these typical planningÂ problems previously described. It will serve as a best practice that can beÂ used to develop and maintain a long term informatics plan.
There are three principleÂ reasons to develop a long term informatics plan.
Figure 1 provides a planningÂ model for a public sector informatics plan. It is based upon a balanced approachÂ to informatics growth and development and provides the means to set the objectivesÂ and strategies related to finances and quality of service. But, it also focusesÂ on both the concerns of clients and of the employees who provide these services.Â Finally, it recognizes the importance of continuous improvement as a basic premiseÂ of modern informatics effectiveness.
These five basic perspectivesÂ – finance, quality of service, client/employee satisfaction, and continuousÂ improvement – provide the means to develop the informatics plan from multipleÂ points of view. The strategies and plans developed in these five perspectivesÂ represent the strategic, tactical or operational elements necessary to improveÂ informatics decision-making within the organization, to enable proactive problemÂ correction and to promote continuous improvement.
Mission Statement: This is a brief, clear statement of the goal of the organization, defining theÂ need it will fill, the clients it will cater to and how it will provide itsÂ services. The mission statement provides a frame of reference for the entireÂ informatics plan where the overall objectives, strategies and plans are developedÂ and implemented to contribute directly or indirectly to the realization of theÂ mission.
Objectives: In orderÂ to achieve the mission, objectives in the five areas focus the strategies andÂ plans for informatics, including:
Strategies: Once overall informatics objectives are set in each of theseÂ perspectives, strategies are developed to define the tactics needed to moveÂ forward to attain these objectives and the overall informatics mission.
Critical Success FactorsÂ (CSFs) are those elements that must function effectively to ensure highÂ performance of informatics within the organization. CSFs are used to prioritizeÂ operational initiatives so that they are addressed systematically and scheduledÂ most efficiently for the planned period. The CSFs thus become criteria to helpÂ management choose the most crucial strategic elements of a plan to begin implementationÂ at an operational level.
The Implementation StrategyÂ is completed to ensure a smooth transition to the more proactive mode of informaticsÂ operation. To accomplish this objective, the implementation strategy must containÂ a number of elements:
Operational InformaticsÂ Plan: In this section of the informatics planning model, strategies areÂ translated into operational services and projects for the upcoming year usingÂ the CSFs.
FigureÂ 2: Informatics Planning Model
Informatics Planning Process
The long-term organizationalÂ informatics plan must be developed and/or updated on an annual cycle using theÂ informatics planning process. This process is composed of a number of stages,Â each of which is described below. Stages 1.0 through 7.0 are used to developÂ a long-term informatics plan from scratch. Only Stages 1.0 and 2.0 and 5.0 andÂ 7.0 are used to update or enhance an existing one.
Stage 1.0 InformationÂ gathering stage
Determining business requirementsÂ is the start of the informatics planning process. A number of internal and externalÂ requirements must be identified and captured in each area of the informaticsÂ plan.
Stage 2.0 SituationalÂ assessment stage
Situational assessment refersÂ to the analysis of data, past and present, from the Stage 1.0. The data is derivedÂ internally from the performance within five perspectives (financial, qualityÂ of service, client/employee satisfaction and continuous improvement). It isÂ also derived from a consideration of external influences within the organization.Â Assessment of informatics performance both internally and externally leads toÂ the identification of four or five strategic informatics issues (SII). TheseÂ are fundamental questions affecting the organization’s mandate, values, programs/services,Â and finances. It is important to deal with these SIIs if the organization’sÂ informatics function is to succeed. The situation assessment provides the basisÂ to carry out strategy formulation (Stage 4.0) and operational planning (StageÂ 6.0).
Stage 3.0 MissionÂ statement development
The mission statement isÂ developed by informatics staff, working closely with organization management.Â It is a brief, concise statement of the informatics mission and is developedÂ using a process-oriented approach. All informatics staff are given ample opportunityÂ to participate in its development and approval. This mission statement mustÂ support the business objectives of the organization.
Stage 4.0 ObjectivesÂ development
Objectives are developedÂ for each of the five perspectives of the informatics plan using a process -orientedÂ approach to ensure full participation and agreement of informatics staff. TheÂ informatics objectives for each of the five perspectives of the organizationÂ informatics plan include:
Stage 5.0 StrategyÂ formulation stage
The results of the situationÂ assessment stage are reviewed including progress of initiatives in all fiveÂ perspectives of the informatics plan (financial, quality of service, client/employeeÂ satisfaction and continuous improvement). Based upon the input from the situationÂ assessment stage, strategies and plans in each of the five perspectives of theÂ informatics plan are developed or updated to effectively deal with these strategicÂ issues.
Management must approveÂ these strategies/plans before the informatics plan is revised to reflect theseÂ updated or new directions.
Stage 6.0 OperationalÂ planning
The strategies/plans developedÂ or updated during the strategy formulation stage in each of five perspectivesÂ of the informatics plan are analyzed to determine opportunities in the formÂ of new or existing projects, services or other initiatives.
Stage 6.1 ManagementÂ review
During this stage ofÂ the informatics planning process, a management committee rates all potentialÂ informatics services/projects as documented in SLAs or PAs against a setÂ of CSFs. Each potential informatics service or project is given a ratingÂ of 1 to 5 on each of the CSFs. This provides the means to determine theÂ relative importance/priority of each potential informatics service or project.
Five sets of operationalÂ informatics priorities are developed, one for each of the five planningÂ perspectives. This then becomes the first draft of the informatics operationalÂ plan.
Stage 6.2 Client/ManagerÂ assessment
Informatics staff andÂ business managers review the informatics operational priorities in eachÂ of the five categories and provide comments on any schedules, missing tasks,Â and dependencies. Based on these comments the second draft informatics operationalÂ plan is prepared.
Stage 6.3 ResourceÂ leveling
Stage 6.3.1 BudgetÂ allocation
The second draft ofÂ the informatics operational planning initiatives are compared to the operationalÂ and capital budget for the organization. Adjustments are made based uponÂ existing budget levels. Informatics initiatives are granted funding in orderÂ of priority until the budget is completely allocated. This results in theÂ third draft of the informatics operational plan.
Stage 6.3.2 StaffingÂ adjustments
The third draft informaticsÂ operational plan is presented to all informatics employees to determineÂ any desire for staff movement across projects or services. Changes are incorporatedÂ to produce the fourth and final version of the informatics operational plan.
Stage 7.0 Mid-yearÂ review
The mid-year reviewÂ of the informatics operational plan is used to provide an assessment ofÂ progress across its five dimensions. The results of this examination, inÂ conjunction with ongoing monitoring, provide the means to adjust informaticsÂ operations to deal with current issues. It also provides the informationÂ required to begin the informatics planning cycle again.
FigureÂ 3: Informatics Planning Process
This long-term informaticsÂ planning model and process provides the direction needed to maximize the effectivenessÂ of informatics in enabling the achievement of program or business goals of theÂ public sector organization. More specifically, use of this approach providesÂ the following benefits: