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Describe appropriate techniques for gathering the information needed to arrive at a workable solution.


Teaching Note:

Examining current systems, competing products, organizational capabilities, literature searches.

S/E Intellectual property.


Sample Question:


JSR Notes:

Recall that 1.2.5 was how you get information about needs from the stakeholders. Now, this is how you gather information about IT ways to meet those needs. So this is no longer about communication with stakeholders, rather it is going out into the IT world and investigating potential solutions you will need.

I. Examination of the Current System

A. Current systems

It should be obvious that you first need to examine current systems, but sometimes this is not given enough attention. It can be easy to think that anything new is better than anything old/current, but this is not the case.

A comprehensive and detailed analysis of the current system is essential to developing a quality, new IT system. The analysis needs to understand and document how the current system uses hardware, software, and people to accept and manage input data and to convert such data into information suitable for decision making. This can be done by:

Example (Introducing a laptop program to a school): Paper and books and computer labs is the current system, but some students may already be bringing their laptops to school. Are they Windows or Mac primarily, and if so, maybe that makes a difference in your planning.

B. Suggestions and Problem Reports from the current system

Requirements can come from change suggestions and user documented problems. Most organizations have a form for reporting system problems or software defects. These can be thoroughly examined and sorted into common themes, which identify key areas that need improvement. Users can be queried to clarify the actual situation.

C. Improvements Made by Users in the current system

One should realize that many problems have been addressed and innovations created in the current system, and these should not be lost. So these existing improvements make for an excellent source of continued requirements.

For example, users of a standard company spreadsheet may have added a few fields, or related different sheets together, or drawn a graph, that exactly meets their individual needs. You need only ask: Why did you add that? Their answers help you get to the heart of the actual requirement. This applies equally to all hardware elements of the system, which may have been tweaked in a non-standard way to help achieve something which was lacking to that point.

Curiously, another thing to keep an eye out for is unintended uses of IT software or hardware; a worker on the ground may very well find an alternative use for something already within the system, and this good idea could be applied further.

D. Organizational Capabilities of the current system

Finally, looking at the current system, you need to appreciate that the organization can only do what their IT and IT staff are able to do, and equally, what their IT budget supports. So you have to examine everything they presently have, which can be used toward the new solution, and deal with those in control of the budget to come up with realistic spending limits. (See the "extra" section below on feasibility reports.)

Laptop program example: Is the staff savvy with either windows or Mac? And even before that, are they savvy enough with computers to have a successful laptop program? Will they have to hire new, younger teachers, who are more digital natives?


II. Analysis of Competing Products

This is another area that may not be given enough attention, in this case through the bias of a company or institution, which thinks highly of themselves, and negatively about the competition.

Almost always, there will be comparable products and systems contain working versions of good ideas for solving user problems. You can save time lost reinventing the wheel by looking at systems already on the market, whether they are systems installed at the user's site or products made by rival organizations. Even if they are trying to solve slightly different problems, they often provide valuable clues as to what you need to do.

It can be useful to come up with a list of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, and do the same of competitors' systems. A fair and judicial comparison of the two will help lead to current short-falls and desired specifications.

Laptop program example: Macbook vs Windows laptops vs ChromeBooks - what are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Mac: Easy to use, less viruses. Windows: more applications, cheaper. ChromeBooks cheaper still, but lacking capabilities.



III. Literature Searches

A literature search involves reviewing all readily available published materials - and we can use the term "literature" to mean all forms of information, be they paper or digital, journals or videos. These materials can be documents produced by the company itself, relevant trade publications, newspapers, magazines, annual reports, company literature, on-line data bases, and so on. It is a very inexpensive method of gathering information, although be careful to note that it often does not necessarily yield timely/current information.

One important point to make regarding literature searches is that a most of the good information and sources mentioned above are not necessarily public and/or easily accessible by a quick Google search. A good example of this, even for us and our IA, is the subscribed to databases that school libraries often have available.

Laptop program example: Look up what other schools have experienced, and what professional education journals on-line say, many of which have done surveys over the years.



 Importance of "Going To ALL the Sources"

For any given project, "going to the source", and indeed ALL the possible sources, both physically, and through proper literature searches and so on, is invaluable. Such thorough information gathering can not only save you from reinventing the wheel, it can prevent you from having to learn certain lessons the hard, expensive, time-consuming way; lessons that may have already been learned by other people and organizations other places.



IA Solution Connection and Considerations

The main place for you to look in your information gathering stage is the current situation/organization. You will want to, as thoroughly and completely as you can, figure out how the problem you are looking at is currently being addressed. Surely there will be some many good ideas you can adopt and/or modify, and as well, you will see hints of the pitfalls that may await your own solution.

And certainly you will also want to look up alternative IT solutions. And just because there are other IT solutions out there for similar problems doesn't mean you can't do our IA making something similar. So you'll not want to be scared off or intimidated by those other solutions; rather look at them to see how they could be either adapted, simplified, or indeed expanded upon, to solve your client's particular problem.




One of the biggest hurdles to doing good research is understanding what the company does, or how that realm of endevour works. For example, if designing software for deep water oil exploration, you need to have someone who understands both petrochemical energy engineering, and the programming needed... hence the beauty of interdisciplinary degrees - a CS/Chemical engineering expert.... etc., etc., etc

In other words, somebody has to be able to "look both ways", and facilitate translation almost between IT and client teams....


----------------------------- BEYOND WHAT IS REQUIRED, BUT GOOD TO KNOW -----------------------------


Feasibility Studies

This is something related to the internal examination of this assessment statement. It is an important part of system design, though no longer addressed in the IB curriculum, so I include a bit on it here. (And it is repeated, in brief, one other place in this website.)

feasibility report/study determines whether or not a proposed plan is feasible; i.e. within the current realities of finances, capabilities, and resources, it can actually be carried though. So the feasibility report is the result of a detailed examination of all aspects of the proposed solution to determine if it is likely to be successful. It needs to be an unbiased, factual inspection of what an IT solution will means for an organization/business. Each one of the multiple aspects of the plan it examines could "make or break" the project.

Common aspects to include in an IT system feasibility report:

In the process of determining the feasibility of the project, the study also identifies potential risks and defines mitigating solutions. So beyond just determining that the project "can be a go", it will helps prevent unplanned costs, delayed schedules and lost customers.