Introduction to the ICT systems life cycle

 

The stages of an ICT system life cycle

The life cycle of an ICT system can be broken down into nine stages. These stages are:

  1. Definition
    This first stage is quite simply defining the problem(s) with the current system and then carrying out a feasibility study to determine if a new system is justified or if the current system will suffice. 
  2. Analysis
    The current system is observed in action and the processes documented, interviews with staff are carried out and system documentation is reviewed all to solutions to the current system problems and requirements for the new system. 
  3. Design
    This is the planning phase, planning the details of the project and its requirements along with the ways it will be tested. Any prototypes necessary will also be created during this phase. 
  4. Implementation
    This is just the creation phase and involves the complete creation of the software side of the system including any databases, built features required. It is important to note that the actual installation of the system cannot take place yet as it has not yet been tested and deemed fully functional. 
  5. Testing
    The test plans that were created in the design phase are now carried out and any errors, bugs or incomplete features must be amended. The testing will then be carried out again and this cycle repeated until it is clear the system works exactly as intended.  
  6. Installation
    Now that the software has been developed and thoroughly tested it’s time to transition to the new system by whichever method the business prefers e.g. the direct method where you just switch everything over or the parallel method where you run both systems alongside each other and slowly replace the old one with the new one.
    Staff training can also be required in this phase. 
  7. Documentation
    The system documentation is created at this point as testing has now been finished meaning there should be no more changes to the system. This can also be created during the implementation phase to use it to assist in staff training. 
  8. Evaluation
    This phase is key to understanding if the newly implemented system meets the original requirements and fixes the problems that were originally outlined in the definition phase. During this phase, any shortcomings, issues or required maintenance is also outlined. 
  9. Maintenance
    This phase can’t be completed and must be continued for the lifespan of the newly implemented system. There are three types of maintenance that are carried out in different ways and result in different changes. These types are corrective, adaptive and perfective.

 

Reasons for needing new ICT systems

There are many factors driving the need for new ICT systems such as improving system efficiency, reducing system costs, improving system reliability and improved system scalability. It’s arguable that the primary driving factor for new ICT systems is growth, as all previously mentioned factors are commonly associated with the growth of the business/organization.

As a business or organization grows it is extremely common for flaws in the current system to become increasingly apparent. Existing flaws that were trivial enough to previously ignore can also become increasingly costly leading to the need of a system more suitable to scalability with fewer flaws thus costing the business less overtime. An example of this would be a paper-based order system for a growing company. Paper-based orders must constantly be filled out by hand which slows the process down and reduces the number of orders that can be processed thus costing the business money. There’s also the chance that paper can be misplaced, costing the business money and human error means order sheets can be filled out incorrectly, again costing the business money. While a small business might put up with such issues this is a system with poor scalability that won’t make sense to implement as the business grows.

Other factors driving the need for new ICT systems include the requirement for businesses to keep up to date with rapidly advancing technology. Aging systems can become a nightmare for growing business as support for old technology is dropped making it difficult to seek help with technical issues and can cause compatibility issues with new technology their suppliers/customers might implement. Out of date systems are also a massive security risk for businesses as the advertising of newer, more secure systems that can prevent certain attacks also alerts criminals to the fact that these attacks are possible on older systems providing them with targets to seek and a guaranteed method of attack.

Finally, technology advances so rapidly that it’s entirely possible, and increasingly common, for newer systems to be capable of things previously believed difficult or impossible. This advancement in technology means it’s possible a new system might be available for your business that can offer things your current system can’t. There’s also the chance that this system is being used by your competitors meaning they can offer your customers a service you can’t and you need this new system to become competitive again.

 

Evaluating two systems for large hypothetical organizations

For this part, I’m going to evaluate the functions of ICT systems of two large, but otherwise different organizations. The two organizations I have chosen for this task are a bank that must store account details and manage transactions and a global charity that must store membership details, accept donations and manage various projects across the globe. For each organization, I will sum up a list of the functions they require, describe the complete process and then display that process visually using a document flow diagram.

The bank functions:

  • Keep a database of customer accounts along with relevant account info such as account holder name and address, account funds, and account overdraft limit.
  • Process deposits in various forms e.g. paycheck, order refund, cash deposit.
  • Process withdrawals in various forms e.g. cash withdrawal, card payments, check payments, account transfers.
  • Manage recurring transactions e.g. monthly direct debits
  • Process account overdrawn charges.
  • Apply interest and/or rewards to accounts that qualify.

 

The process:

A potential customer will enter the bank and express their interest at setting up a certain type of bank account. The bank will be able to easily add this new account to their system after gaining the required info such as personal and contact details thus quickly converting potential customers into new customers. The bank will then be able to process all forms of withdrawals and deposits on this account whilst keeping an accurate record of the account funds. The bank will also have the option to add overdrafts, interest rates, and reward schemes to accounts of their choosing. Finally, the bank must be able to close accounts should a customer wish to.

 

The charity functions:

  • Keep a database of membership accounts along with relevant info such as members name and address, monthly membership payment and join date.
  • Process one-off donations.
  • Record fluctuations in current charity funds pot like regular outgoings.
  • Manage various projects across the globe and the details associated with this such as the location of the project, description of the project, members of staff sent to oversee the project, project budget, and current project expenses.

 

The process:

The charity will have a record of all monthly members, all the relevant information regarding these customers, the amount each member is paying into the pot each month and an easy way of adding or canceling members should the need arise.

There will also be the possibility of processing and keeping a record of all one-off donations into the pot.

As well as managing everything being put into the pot the system also needs to be able to manage what is leaving the pot, so a record of all company expenses needs to exist such as contractor costs and advertising, etc.

Finally, the system needs to be able to manage all the projects the charity is carrying out across the globe. There needs to be a database containing all the relevant information such as the name and description of the project, which country the project is in and which members of staff have been assigned to each project. There also needs to be a record of how long the project is expected to take so an expectation of how long each member of staff will be away for is possible. There also needs to be a record of the budget each project has, it’s current expenses and whether the charity will be able to afford any further expenses if the project looks like it is likely to go overdrawn. This means an up to date record of the charity funds is a must at all times.

 

Why clear documentation is crucial

Creating correct and clear user documentation is one of the most important parts of the system life cycle. All business need to train staff of new systems, the longer they are in training and using the new system ineffectively the more of an impact the system transition has on the business. It is important to keep this impact to a minimum and clear documentation can provide great assistance during the training phase greatly speeding up the whole process. All new staff will also have to go through the training process before they can start effectively adding value to the business, meaning it is crucial to get them through this process quickly but correctly and clear documentation can be of great benefit in these situations.

Technical documentation is perhaps even more crucial than user documentation as it helps system administrators get to grips with the inner workings of the new system quicker meaning not only will the training they can provide will be of a higher quality, but they can also start to offer technical support for the new system a lot quicker.

Technical documentation also helps system administrators effectively perform system maintenance without having to rely solely on their own memory reducing the risk of human error. Having studied the inner workings of the system through the documentation they will also be able to modify any of the features that don’t perhaps meet their required role or even add new features that become required further down the line.

 

Why evaluation and maintenance are crucial

Evaluation is a crucial part of the system life cycle as it is at this point that the whole system is reviewed to discover if it meets the original requirements and solves the problems outlined in the original definition phase at the beginning of the life cycle. Without the evaluation phase, the business would be unable to know for sure if the system had completed all its intended goals. Evaluation of the new system also helps reveal if the project had any shortcomings such as going over budget or estimated time frame or if any further functions were needed to completely replace the current system.

Maintenance is another crucial part of the system life cycle as small problems and bugs can reveal themselves later down the line even after extensive testing. This can commonly occur over time as more load is put on a system than originally intended such as hiring more members of staff than the system was originally intended for. As rules and regulations within both a company and its industry can change over time it may also be necessary to adapt the system to reflect these changes. A business can also change or expand its original goals meaning the system will need to be adapted for this.