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Informatics Roles and Responsibilities in Public Sector Organizations

Bryan Shane

The roles and responsibilities of each of these groups are briefly described below.

Introduction

The first article in  this series of papers on best practices in informatics in the public sector,  published in the previous issue of Optimum Online, dealt with the informatics  planning model. In this issue’s paper, we deal with the problems created  by the lack of a clear definition of informatics roles and responsibilities  in the organizational structure, and we describe the key roles and responsibilities  that must be put in place to effectively support informatics in the public  sector. The model  informatics organizational structure is graphically illustrated in Diagram 1. In  this organizational structure all informatics support functions are divided into  four sets of responsibilities: help desk, application support, office system  support, and server support. Each of these support functions is staffed with a  manager and employees. All four informatics support managers report to an  engagement manager who in turn reports to the highest management level in the  branch. Detailed descriptions of these informatics support functions are  outlined later in this article.

Diagram 1 – Model Public  Sector Informatics Structure

A number of informatics roles and  responsibilities must be carried out to effectively support the objectives and  personal productivity activities of a typical public sector branch. The key  committee and participants in the model informatics organization, along with  their roles and responsibilities, are described below.

Informatics Advisory Committee (IAC)

The IAC includes appropriate  representation from all stake holders and ensures that branch informatics  requirements and concerns are well represented. The primary purposes of this  committee include:

  • making recommendations  on strategic issues and situations where there are competing priorities  for informatics resources;
  • reviewing, revising  and recommending approval of the long range informatics plan to management;
  • reviewing, revising  and recommending approval of the annual informatics budgets to management;
  • reviewing the progress  of approved informatics services and projects based upon a quarterly status  reports and providing recommendations to management where corrective action  is required; and
  • ensuring management  and clients are kept well informed of any informatics activities and decisions  rendered by the IAC.

Informatics  Engagement Manager (EM)

The EM has the following responsibilities:

  • providing informatics  advice and support to senior management;
  • developing and  maintaining the long term and operational informatics plans/strategies;
  • developing and  maintaining a performance measurement function for all informatics support  functions;
  • maintaining, monitoring  and reporting on informatics budget and recommending adjustments;
  • developing  career/training plans for all informatics staff;
  • negotiating and  implementing service level agreements and project agreements with clients;
  • ensuring informatics  roles/responsibilities and reporting relationships are clear and understood;
  • ensuring all projects are  consistent with relevant organizational informatics  policies/standards/architectures and sound project management practices; and
  • managing the informatics  organization within a public sector branch, which includes, as a minimum:
    • Server Support  Specialist,
    • Office System  Specialist (OSS),
    • Line of Business  Specialists (LBS) for Production Applications, and
    • Help Desk (HD).

Server Support Specialists (SSS)

The SSS has the following responsibilities:

  • managing the technology life cycle: solution  design; identification/evaluation of technologies; acquisition, delivery,  installation, configuration / setup; and tools upgrades/repairs;
  • maintaining an inventory of all hardware,  software and peripherals;
  • providing technology support through servicing  and/or using maintenance service contracts to deal with problems concerning  servers, operating systems, workstations, or peripherals;
  • providing a preventative maintenance program  for hardware/software using automated and manual tools / procedures;  and
  • providing Internet/Intranet support through  the provision of technical support for Web sites and ensures conformance  to corporate standards on development tools, presentation format, copyrights  and security.

Office System Specialists (OSS)

The OSS has the following responsibilities:

  • acquiring suite-oriented software products  such as word processing, spreadsheets and graphics;
  • fixing all suite office system software  problems;
  • providing remote support;
  • maintaining a multilevel disposal program  for informatics holdings; and
  • maintaining license agreements for suite  desktop software.

Line of Business Specialists (LBS) for Production  Applications

The LBS has the following responsibilities:

  • participating in the development/maintenance  of legacy applications;
  • providing database support through developing,  maintaining, and enhancing databases for production applications;
  • providing archival/backup/restore for  production applications data;
  • providing support for commercial-off-the-shelf  software including managing maintenance contracts, managing out sourcing,  configuration management, change management and maintaining standards;
  • Providing informatics security for PCs,  workstations, networks, and operating systems; and
  • maintaining a risk management process,  including emergency preparedness plans/procedures.

Help Desk (HD)

The HD desk is a distinct organization-wide  function reporting directly to the engagement manager and is the single  point of contact (SPOC) for clients reporting a problem or requesting  information. The HD receives all calls from clients requesting assistance  and resolves their problems, where possible. Where problems cannot be  easily corrected, the HD collects information regarding the problem (problem  categories may include server related problems, OA related problems or  line of business related problems); determines level of severity; and  records it in an automated tracking system. The client request is then  escalated to proper level of support. The HD notifies clients when problems  are resolved, reassigned, escalated, or simply provides regular status  updates on scheduled maintenance or shutdowns.

Implementation Strategy

All of the informatics support  roles and responsibilities inherent in this informatics structure can  be carried out wholly within the branch, by the departmental informatics  organization, or it can be completely outsourced. Each option will be  briefly discussed:

Complete Branch Support Option: This option provides customized, integrated and complete support for  production applications, office system tools, and servers, as well as  a Help Desk, by branch staff who are highly familiar with the unique  business environment and its requirements. It is the preferred informatics  support option for those providing direct, front-line service to the  Canadian public.

Complete Departmental Informatics Support  Option:This option provides complete informatics support for production  applications, office system tools, and servers, as well as a Help Desk,  by a centralized departmental informatics organization. In order to  be most effective, staff should be relatively stable with effective  transitioning for new support staff, especially related to production  applications. This informatics support option is most suitable where  informatics support requirements are less stringent and time sensitive.  It is a popular and effective support option for public sector branches  providing services to internal departmental clients.

Out sourcing Option: This  option provides informatics support as contracted to an external private  sector service provider. All informatics support services and projects are  documented in a contract specifying roles/responsibilities, duration, service  standards, performance measures, hours of support, problem management process,  severity levels, escalation procedures, costs etc. This is an expensive and  often difficult to manage option. It should only be used if the  other options prove unworkable.

In any of these  implementation options, all the informatics support roles and responsibilities  must be effectively planned, implemented and monitored under the control of  the engagement manager reporting to the highest level in the branch. As well,  cooperation and support from the departmental informatics organization is  required to ensure conformance to corporate policies, standards and  architectures. All support requirements for programs and services should be  described in a service level and/or project agreement(s) or a contract. The  service level and/or project agreement(s) must be assessed according to  service standards and project performance measures.

In order to ensure that  support services are provided effectively, organizations considering  implementing this informatics structure need to pilot it. Piloting will allow  development of many of the support processes, provide evidence of the  effectiveness of support and allow the support functions to be tailored to the  unique requirements of the organization at the branch level. At the completion  of the pilot phase, a formal evaluation is conducted. A positive evaluation of  the pilot will result in a decision to extend the informatics structure across  the branch.

Benefits

The effective use of such an  informatics organizational structure provides the following benefits:

  • It permits  the establishment of lines of authority that enable management to  exercise a necessary degree of control over the informatics organization.  Specifically, it eliminates duplication of effort in developing applications  or other informatics solutions that are needed across the branch by  all core business lines. The cost savings realized by combining or  eliminating overlapping informatics projects can be applied to other  pressing organizational needs.
  • It facilitates  the coordination and synergy among informatics activities in the branch  in order to develop and implement cross-functional informatics solutions.
  • It facilitates  improved communication across lines of authority, thereby reducing  the risk of conflicts and inefficiencies.
  • It improves  the ability to plan and organize informatics work.
  • It improves  motivation and morale among informatics staff by providing them with  an active and important voice in decisions that have a direct impact  on their ability to successfully complete their assigned tasks and  giving them the freedom to shape their career growth horizons.
  • It facilitates  the development of a highly innovative organizational culture, which  values and effectively supports organization informatics strategies,  plans and activities.
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