INFORMATION SYSTEMS AND SOFTWARE SELECTION

Systems Software

Software is detailed step-by-step sequence of instructions known as programme which guide computer hardware. A computer programme is a sequence of instructions that tell the computer hardware what to do. A programme must be in main memory (RAM) to be executed. They are invisible, intangible components of a computer that direct and control the operations of the hardware when processing data.

Project systems software can be defined as a set of programs which have been developed and installed in a computer system for the purpose of managing all project management tasks. This makes it easier for the user to develop projects and run them on the computer system. Project system software are developed and installed by the manufacturer of the computer system’s hardware. Some of the project system software is held permanently in the ROM section of the computer’s internal memory. The program routines that are permanently maintained in the computer’s memory are known as resident software.

Software is classified into two major types: System and Application software.

System software

System software consists of programmes that coordinate the activities of hardware and other programs. System software is designed for a specific CPU and hardware class. The combination of a particular hardware configuration and operating system is called a computer platform. These programmes manage the “behind the scenes” operation of the computer.

Examples

  •  Operating systems
  • Utility Programmes – Utility programmes often come installed in computer systems or packaged with operating systems.  They are special programs that perform commonly or frequently used tasks like sorting, merging, core dump list, debugging and copying, file handling and disk management.
  •  Utilities can also be purchased individually. They perform useful tasks, such as virus detection, tracking computer jobs and compressing data.
  •  Language processors – Compilers and interpreters

Operating systems

The functions of an operating system include:

  •  Performing common hardware functions – Accepting input and store data on disks and send data to output devices.
  •  Providing a user interface.
  •  Providing hardware independence.
  •  Managing system memory.
  •  Managing processing.
  •  Controlling access to system resources – Protection against unauthorised access using  logins and passwords.
  •  Managing files; Physical storage location, File permissions, File access

Examples of operating systems include:

  • DOS – Disk Operating System
  • Windows 3.1, 95, 98, NT, 2000, ME, XP, 2007, 2008, 2010
  • Linux, Unix, MAC OS, System/7

Application software

Applications software include programmes designed to help end users solve particular problems using the computer or to perform specific tasks.

Proprietary Software

Is a computer software which is legal property of one party. The terms of use for other parties is defined by contracts or licensing agreements.

Advantages of proprietary software

  •  One can get exactly what one needs in terms of reports, features etc.
  •  Being involved in development offers a further level in control over results.
  •  There is more flexibility in making modifications that may be required to counteract new initiative by a competitor or to meet new supplier or customer requirements. A merger with another firm or an acquisition will also necessitate software changes to meet new business needs.

Disadvantages of Proprietary Software

  1. It can take a long time and significant resources to develop required features.
  2. Inhouse system development staff may become hard pressed to provide the required level of ongoing support and maintenance because of pressure to get on to other new projects.

There is more risk concerning the features and performance of the software that has yet to be developed

Off-the-Shelf Software

Off-the-shelf is a term for software or hardware, generally technology or computer products that are ready-made and are available for sale, lease or license to the general public.

Advantages of off-the-shelf software

  • The initial cost is lower since the software firm is able to spread the development costs. over a large number of customers.
  • There is lower risk that the software will fail to meet the basic business needs.
  • One can analyse existing features and performance of the package.
  • Package is likely to be of high quality since many customer firms have tested the software and helped identify many of its bugs.

Disadvantages of off-the-shelf software

  • An organisation may have to pay for features that are not required or never used.
  • The software may lack important features, thus requiring future modifications or customisation. This can be very expensive because users must adopt future releases of the software.
  • Software may not match current work processes and data standards.

Application software is further classified into general-purpose software and applications which include:

  • Word processing – Create, edit and print text documents, e.g. MS Word and Word Perfect.
  • Spreadsheets – Provide a wide range of built-in functions for statistical, logical, financial,
  • database, graphics, data and time calculations, e.g. Lotus 1-2-3, Excel and Quattro Pro.
  • Database management systems (DBMS) – Store, manipulate and retrieve data. e.g. Access, FoxPro and dBase.
  • Online Information Services – Obtain a broad range of information from commercial services. e.g. America Online and CompuServe
  • Communications – Ms Outlook for email
  • Browsers e.g Internet Explorer and Eudora
  • Graphics – Develop graphs, illustrations and drawings. e.g. PaintShop, FreeHand and Corel
  • Project Management – Plan, schedule, allocate and control people and resources needed to complete a project according to schedule. e.g. Project for Windows and Time Line.
  • Financial Management – Provide income and expense tracking and reporting to monitor and plan budgets, e.g. Quicken
  • Desktop publishing – used to create high-quality printed output including text and graphics; various styles of pages can be laid out; art and text from other programmes can also be integrated into published pages, e.g. PageMaker and Publisher.
  • Presentation packages like MS PowerPoint

Note: A software suite, such as Microsoft Office, offers a collection of powerful programmes including word processing, spreadsheet, database, graphics among others. The programmes in a software suite are designed to be used together. In addition, the commands,  and procedures are the same for all programmes in the suite.

Networking Software

This type of software is mostly used to establish communication between two or more computers by linking them using a communication channel like cables to create a computer network. Networking software enables the exchange of data in a network as well as providing data security. Network software may come as independent software or integrated in an operating system. Examples of networking software include novel Netware.

 FUNCTIONS OF PROJECT INFORMATION SYSTEM SOFTWARE

  1. Managing and monitoring project management time schedule.
  2. Ensuring all project management elements and tools are working properly.
  3. Performing special operations such as loading and executing user saved projects.
  4. Storing and retrieving project management files and projects
  5. Performing variety of system utility function such as automatic saving of projects details.
  6. Facilitating project security through assigning of passwords

CRITERIA FOR INFORMATION SYSTEMS SOFTWARE SELECTION

  1. Authenticity The term authenticity refers to genuineness, validity or legitimacy of an item. Always acquire software from known vendor making sure it is an original copy that is accompanied by the developer’s license and certificate of authenticity.
  2. Documentation This refers to the manuals prepared by the developer having details on how to install, use and maintain the software. These include installation guide, maintenance guide and user guide.
  3. User needs User needs dictates the type of operating system and application programs that should be considered for acquisition e.g. If the user needs to type documents most often he would go for a word processor.
  4. Reliability and security Data security is paramount. Good software especially its operating system should have security mechanisms that protect data and information from illegal access.
  5. User friendliness This is the measure of how easily the users can be able to operate the compute software. The user of a program will most likely influence whether the user will prefer it or not.
  6. Cost Software tends to be more expensive than hardware. The cost of acquiring software product must be carefully considered before acquiring them against the benefits that it is likely to bring.
  7. Compatibility and system configuration Software should be compatible with existing hardware operating system or application programs and should be readily upgradable.
  8. Portability Portability refers to the aspect of whether a program can be copied or installed in more than one computer. Project management software are usually complex programs which use a large part of the hardware resources for its own function. For this reason, many project management programs lack efficiency in terms of managing user resources.
  9. Appropriate to Project Complexity Simple projects can be tracked using general purpose word processing and spreadsheet software Medium-complexity projects benefit from dedicated project management software such as Microsoft Project and OpenProject. Complex projects require software that can track the interactions of thousands of tasks and produce sophisticated reports such as Oracle’s P6.
  10. Currently Used Software Software that is already in use and with which most team members are already familiar is suitable. It is also valuable to know what software is used by key vendors or project partners so files can be exchanged electronically in the same format.
  11. Basic Features There are several considerations for selecting a project management software besides price. Any software that is selected must have the ability to track and display basic features such as the following:
  • Durations
  • Relationships
  • Milestones
  • Start and end dates
  • Resource calendars
  • Graphic displays using Gantt and network charts

12. Collaboration

Team members should be able to view the project schedule while restricting the use of the software to team members who have access to the company’s computer system. Other software products use a server on the Internet that is open to team members and vendors who have valid passwords.

13. Advanced Features

The software should have dvanced features, such as the following:

  • Issue tracking that tracks problems, actions, and resolutions
  • Project portfolio management that tracks and compares groups of related projects
  • Automatic resource leveling and alerts when a resource is overscheduled
  • Document management feature that tracks contracts, bids, scope changes, and incidents

CHALLENGES IN SELECTING PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

  1. Cost of acquiring the software The high initial cost of purchasing and installation of project management software affects which kind of program can be acquired. This challenge would limit the type of project management software since the better the software the more expensive it becomes.
  2. Establishing how Reliable the software is The software program should be at least as reliable as the hardware on which it runs. It is difficult to determine if the software technical error occurs the system should detect the error and either try to correct the problem or at worst try to minimize the damage to the users of the system from the error.
  3. Poor security mechanisms to protect data The software should protect users from being affected both by each other’s errors and by malicious attempts at tampering. Many project management software lack this important feature which makes user’s data insecure.
  4. Lack of Efficient and effective project management software
  5. Poor Predictable nature of project management softwares User demands on the system are generally unpredictable. Users prefer to get service with a rough idea as to when the user will get his input or output. Many of project management programs lack this utility.
  6. Dynamic changing software technology The global village presents an ever changing technology. It is difficult to establish how easy project management software may be versatile in terms of updating with the changing technology.

HOW TO OVERCOME THE PITFALLS IN SOFTWARE SELECTION

Use of IT experts when making software selection It is important to consult software developers when selecting critical project programs. Their in-depth knowledge and technical skills are important when acquiring the program.

Increased budgetary allocations for software acquisition It is essential to increase more funding towards purchase of better and convenient project programs. Prior planning and subsequent funding enables acquiring of the latest version of project software.

Use of 3rd party application integration 3rd party developers extend core system functionality. Significantly, developers of base platform systems are putting more work than ever into developing, documenting, and publicizing application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow 3rd party providers to pass data to and from project management software.

Comprehensive functionality Comprehensive project software packages offer a few major benefits. The breadth of functionality means less need to support complicated inter-module integrations, which can greatly help to reduce support costs. Single systems also provide a consistent data-set, so that changes in one area of a system are reflected in real-time in others.

Remote implementation support Project software systems are complex by nature therfore require outside assistance from technology specialists to properly install, configure, and support. Access to remote implementation support services is greatly expanding the amount of choice buyers have when it comes to selecting a company to assist with software set up.

Use of Cloud software Cloud computing refers to outsourcing software services at a monthly subscription cost. The emergence of cloud technology is a hot trend in project management software that allows an easy extension of system access to remote users and branch offices.

AVAILABLE SOFTWARE APPLICATIONS IN KENYA

  1. Microsoft project management tool software ( 2007, 2010)
  2. Assembla project management tool
  3. Droptask project management software
  4. Target process project management software
  5. Game plan project management software
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