Information systems (IS)

Information systems (IS)

A. How leveraging an IS solution will help Soliel Panel Distribution achieve operational efficiency

In the computing and business worlds, information systems (IS) are assets that help collect, process, store and communicate data/information. These assets can be people, computer hardware or software, communication networks, IT services, or procedures. Common types of current IS include enterprise systems (like ERP, CRM and SCM), expert systems, e-commerce sites, data analytics, groupware, databases, data warehouses, and office automation software (Wang, 2013). Businesses are strategically adopting IS solutions to achieve and sustain superior competitive advantages (CA) in the dimensions of information quality, operational efficiency, innovation, and market share. IS solutions have significant consequences for businesses that embrace them to strategically prepare for and respond to evolving internal and external changes (Alshubaily & Altameem, 2017). Therefore, managers stand to gain a sustainable edge against rivals if they carefully consider and implement such systems.

Wang (2013) argues that IS solutions play a major role in helping businesses remain competitive in a number of ways. To start with, IS solutions (such as ERP and SCM) provides employees with consistent, accurate, reliable and up-to-date information and business intelligence. Cash transactions, sales and marketing, human resources management and payroll, manufacturing processes, inventory management, order fulfillment, and other routine business processes become more efficient and cost-effective due to streamlined information-driven operations. For example, reports from an ERP may be used to ascertain the human resources and techniques that contribute most to product or service delivery. Businesses can thus react to evolving internal and external changes more quickly and efficiently; therefore, IS maximizes agility. Secondly, office automation systems facilitate faster and accurate completion of the day-to-day tasks, including word processing, publishing and spreadsheets (Wang, 2013).

Cloud-based business systems, groupware, teleconferencing, and virtual private networks (VPNs) have emerged as powerful solutions to secure and reliable delivery of “anytime, anywhere” access to information and IT services to mobile employees. This means that employees are more connected, productive and efficient within and beyond their offices. Consequently, these resources are crucial to improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of product or service delivery, which bolsters customer satisfaction and competitiveness (Alshubaily & Altameem, 2017). Enterprises leverage secure and reliable IS solutions to establish effective and efficient processes with their partners, customers, suppliers, vendors, regulators, and employees. These business stakeholders can easily and seamlessly interact and collaborate using interactive calendaring, document sharing, email, videoconferencing, VoIP, and other integrated data, voice and video technologies, which boosts job productivity and satisfaction, cost savings, customer service, and product delivery among other operational efficiency performance measures (Wang, 2013). Mohammed and Hu (2015) asserts that converged data, voice and video IP networks minimizes the prevalence of project delays, communication problems, and revenue loss. For example, modern IP communication technologies minimize travel needs, thus more time is spent pursuing core business goals. In addition, reduced travel implies cost savings.

A1. How BPM enables the development of a business process and system configuration concurrently in relation to development and implementation of SolDistHR

Processes are fundamental business assets, thus they must be properly understood, developed and managed to deliver value to stakeholders, especially customers, employees, suppliers and partners. BPM uses different people, technologies and techniques to define, discover, analyze, model, automate, manage, improve, measure or monitor, and optimize business processes (Brocke & Rosemann, 2014). Basically, BPM adopts a lifecycle made up of the following stages:

  1. Design: work with an existing or new process and visualize it to understand the workflows and areas worth improvement.
  2. Modeling: theoretically test different situations.
  3. Execution: develop and automate the process.
  4. Monitoring: continually assess how the process is functioning.
  5. Optimization: adjust the process to meet incorporate essential changes.

Palmer (2014) argues that BPM entails a deliberate and collaborative definition, visualization, innovation, management, and improvement of business processes to drive better outcomes, align business strategy and processes, and create value. BPM advocates for application of a process-oriented approach to development, implementation, optimization and improvement of management systems to meet customer requirements and expectations (Palmer, 2014). As such, BPM is critical to configuration of a system in a way that promotes customer satisfaction.

BPM is sometimes applied in software development to support identification, analysis and prioritization of potential improvement opportunities. The software team at Soliel may use BPM to perform the following tasks (borrowed from Brocke & Rosemann, 2014):

  1. Identify or define existing or new HR processes and functions.
  2. Design and visualize the to-be HR processes and functions, including process flows, standard operating procedures, alerts, and SLAs among other important areas. What-if-analysis and if-else tools may be used to determine where areas of improvement.
  3. Determine the success criteria.
  4. Analyze various options to ascertain and select the optimal improvement.
  5. Develop and implement the selected improvement.
  6. Monitor the implemented improvement to understand performance.
  7. Optimize the implemented improvement to address challenges and exploit opportunities over time.

Therefore, in the context of SolDistHR development and implementation, BPM may be used to help Soliel better “design, model, execute, monitor, and optimize” the processes of HR management and orientation. This way, Soliel could realize improved outcome of the SolDistHR project aligned with strategic business goals.

A2. How each of the 5 steps of change management could be applied to the development of SolDistHR

Change management may have three implications depending on the context of use in software projects. In project management, it means controlling changes to code and documentation among other artifacts – usually called configuration management (like version control). The second meaning applies to implementation of a new organizational change or project. Here, change management necessitates communication plans, stakeholder involvement and acceptance, and user adoption. The last meaning applies to managing change requests in the course of software development process (Francino, 2010). This question focuses on the third context of change management – managing change requests.

Change requests are inevitable in any software development project. Changes in user requirements, specifications, design or code may lead to excessive time and cost overruns if they are poorly managed (H.Kerzner & R.Kerzner, 2017). Therefore, having an effective change management plan is a critical success factor. The following change management steps could be applied to the development of SolDistHR (borrowed from Schiesser, 2002):

  1. Filtering and documentation of change requests: gather necessary information regarding a change request to ensure that later assessment and estimation processes are accurate.
  2. Managing change: assess the objectives and resources (time, cost, personnel and technological tools) required to successfully achieve the change.
  3. Chairing the “Change Advisory Board” or CAB: all the risks and their probability of occurrence and impact levels of the requested change should be adequately analyzed prior to actual implementation. A number of answers must be answered to determine the feasibility of change implementation. For instance, what are the consequences of not implementing the change? What is the impact on the delivery schedule? Is there potential service interruption? Are there adequate resources? Based on the findings, the CAB may approve or disapprove the change and communicate the decision.
  4. Executing the approved change: plan, build, implement, test, deploy, and close the request for change.
  5. Performing post-implementation monitoring: verify that the change has been properly deployed and provide necessary documentation.

A3. 4 key contributors to the project and each contributor’s responsibilities within the development of SolDistHR

Effective identification, involvement and commitment of different stakeholders is one of the major enablers of successful project delivery. It is important to assign clear roles and responsibilities to people engaged in a project. Attention should be focused on business, management, process, and technical interests (DSDM Consortium, 2008). The following are four key contributors to the SolDistHR project in addition to their corresponding roles and responsibilities (borrowed from DSDM Consortium, 2008):

  1. Business sponsor: the senior-most business role at the project level. He/she is the overall project champion dedicated to the proposed project and the delivery approach.  Specifically tasked with the business case, ownership of the project once delivered, and realization of expected benefits. The business sponsor ought to be a person who holds a senior role in an organization so that he/she can resolve escalated issues, including stakeholder conflicts, human resourcing, and financial decisions.
  2. Project manager: responsible for every aspect of IS project or solution delivery, thus he/she will plan, manage and coordinate the entire working environment throughout the development process. The following are the specific responsibilities:
  3. Communicate with other stakeholders, including business management, development teams, business sponsor, and others in regular manner.
  4. Project planning – time and budget scheduling, communication planning, and human resource planning.
  5. Risk management and escalating critical issues to senior roles as necessary.
  6. Manage project configuration.
  7. Motivate teams to focus on and meet objectives.
  8. Handle problems forwarded by the “solution development teams”.
  9. Coach the development teams, particularly when handling challenging situations.
  1. Business analyst: ensure that technical and business needs are decisively and accurately analyzed and reflected in the solution. He/she facilitates communications among stakeholders (especially the technical and business persons) to ensure active involvement in the project evolution process. In addition, he/she ensures that the business and technical implications of everyday decisions are appropriately thought through.
  2. Solution developers: interpret functional and non-technical requirements and translate them into a solution that can be deployed. The role is actively involved throughout the project, working with technical and business roles to develop the solution iteratively and incrementally. They also provide the documentation needed to support the supported upon roll out. They also perform the following tasks:
  3. Record and implement approved change requests.
  4. Participate in all quality assurance efforts.
  5. Test their output before subsequent independent testing.

B1. System development method selected for implementing SolDistHR

Today, organizations face increasing pressure to deliver functional solutions within tight timescales while ensuring quality. As such, the processes used in the development of today’s solutions must be sufficiently agile and iterative to deliver the business needs as quickly as they are required. DSDM and scrum have been applied as viable approaches to IT projects because of their principle of delivering minimum operational products within a short timeframe and then evolving them as more requirements become apparent (DSDM Consortium, 2008).  Evidently, the Soliel scenario is characterized by an urgent need for a HR solution to address emerging challenges triggered by rapid growth in operations and employee workforce. As such, an agile development approach (DSDM to be specific) is the proposed methodology as it will enable Soliel to complete its project successfully within a short timeframe and without critical quality issues.

Other than the benefits described above, DSDM has a host of strengths that make it an ideal methodology for implementing SolDistHR. To start with, DSDM delivers a minimum viable solution within two to three weeks followed by iterative and incremental releases until the final product is deployed (Rao, Naidu, & Chakka, 2011). Moran (2015) asserts that DSDM brings together diverse capabilities in the dimensions of task management as well as continuous coding, delivery, integration, and testing to facilitate faster development. It avoids the high incidence of project failure caused by batch management by adopting focused, continuous delivery while accepting contributions from various stakeholders to better manage change requests, discover and fix bugs, meet stakeholders’ needs, eliminate irrelevant features, and ensure quality. With DSDM you can speed up delivery, learn faster, minimize costs, optimize ROI, and beat competition. Fixing smaller problems at a time may help minimize the error rate and developers tend to experience lower stress levels (Moran, 2015). As such, Soliel may get a working solution within a few weeks and the entire software is built faster.  A lean startup technique is therefore advisable to evaluate and evolve the new solution towards smooth and faster deployment. Furthermore, DSDM would overcome the frustration associated with delivery of a solution that does not meet business and user expectations, thus solution ownership by stakeholders is expected to be higher. It is worth noting that an early partial solution would enable Soliel enjoy valuable features as early and as regular as possible, this driving faster ROI.

On the downside, DSDM involves costs related to development team training. Developers must have version control knowledge and deliver quick release-ready codes and functionalities. Secondly, excessive “unknowns” may lead to predictability issues in the quantification of required time, cost, and workforce (Rao et al., 2011). Thirdly, a lot of interactions are involved throughout the project since agile approaches advocate for close cooperation. While this contributes to meeting user expectations, it may be extremely time-consuming and commitment intensive. Thirdly, potential lack of adequate client participation negatively affects delivery timeliness and product quality because developers may focus on wrong requirements. DSDM promotes a less detailed documentation, thus new team members may experience difficulties as they try to understand certain features (Moran, 2015). Therefore, the software team at Soliel must prioritize the following measures to successfully deliver SolDistHR: focus on business need, never compromise deadline and quality, excellent team structure, team empowerment and collaboration, effective planning, change management, adequate and regular testing, continuous communication, and client involvement.

B2. How each of the milestones in the selected system development method would be executed as it relates to the implementation of SolDistHR

The DSDM lifecycle is entirely iterative and incremental, thus the solution is delivered sequentially. Urgent and critical business needs are delivered early while the less critical features are addressed later. DSDM has several variations of project development stages. However, the framework mainly comprises of the following phases and associated products/deliverables/milestones (DSDM Consortium, 2008):

  1. Pre-Project: a formalized “Terms of Reference” that identifies and describes the business driver or problem, objectives and scope, business sponsor, and solution-business alignment is created and approved to justify feasibility assessment.
  2. Feasibility investigation:
  3. Determine the viability of the proposed project from technical and business perspectives by investigating the costs (like time and funds) and benefits involved.
  4. Possible delivery, governance and organization approaches as well as first-cut cost and timescale estimates are outlined.
  5. Establishing firm foundations:
  6. Identification and prioritization (using strategies such as MoSCoW – Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, and Won’t Have) of high-level project requirements – “Prioritized Requirements List”..
  7. Description of business processes the solution will support.
  8. Identification of data/information that the solution will create, use or update.
  9. Description of solution development lifecycle and associated management and communication techniques.
  10. Solution architecture, including the infrastructural elements and technical standards.
  11. Quality assurance strategies.
  12. Build appropriate project governance and organization mechanism.
  13. Baseline the solution development schedule.
  14. Risk management plan.
  15. Exploration: intended to support iterative and incremental investigation of detailed business needs and translating them into a feasible solution. Specific outcomes include:
  16. A functional preliminary solution as an early demonstration of the final solution.
  17. If necessary, solution models may be created to demonstrate how business needs will be met.
  18. An early provisional delivery may be performed if justified.
  19.  Evolutionally development or engineering:
  20. Iterative and incremental evolution of the preliminary solution to achieve a fully operational system. Time-boxed sprints are adopted to support weekly or bi-weekly functional releases.
  21. Refined products essential to successful operation and support of the final solution in production.
  22.  Deployment:
  23. A review of overall solution alignment with business and technical performance objectives.
  24. The complete solution (or its increment) is deployed and configured into production or live business environment.
  25. End user training.
  26. Solution documentation.
  27. Project closure
  28. Post-project: a continuous reflection of solution performance in terms of created business value, preferably after 3-6 months after deployment.

C. Potential internal and external security threats after SolDistHR implementation

Upon implementation, SolDistHR faces a number of internal and external security threats. Whitman (2003) postulates that there are three major types of insider software security threats, namely negligence, involuntary behavior and human error, and malicious acts. Employees and authorized third-parties (such as suppliers and vendors) who do not understand information security threats may leak, modify or delete data negligently or involuntarily. However, authorized people with sufficient information security awareness may intentionally leak, steal, modify or delete data. Insiders may become victims of social engineering schemes and unknowingly expose confidential data. They may also carry confidential data out of office using USB sticks, CD/DVDs or tablets, increasing the chances of it being accessed by unauthorized parties (Whitman, 2003). Even worse, employees (such as system administrators) with privileged rights may intentionally fail to install essential security updates and patches, exposing the system to security attacks. In addition, discontented insiders or ex-employees may open backdoors into other computer systems using malware codes to persistently steal or delete data. Malware may also be propagated through unsafe use of internet and unprotected personal devices at work (Whittle, 2008). Therefore, Soliel employees and third-parties are potential threat agents and they may perpetrate serious information security breaches negligently, accidentally or maliciously.

On the other hand, security threats may be manifested by external agents such as hackers, criminal gangs, hostile business rivals, or state-sponsored actors. For example, skilled hackers tend to carefully chose lucrative targets in that they can get high financial returns after a successful data breach. State-sponsored agents are usually motivated by data/information as opposed to money.  They may exploit software errors, well-known vulnerabilities, unencrypted data, or default configuration to successfully execute attacks (Schultz, 2001). Hackers and hacktivists may also bring down the infrastructure that hosts mission-critical software systems (like SolDistHR in the current case) for monetary gain, fun or political reasons. Prolonged system outages and severe data breaches imply disruption of operations, customer dissatisfaction, revenue loss, ruined reputation, or even business closure (Takanen, Demott, & Miller, 2008). Therefore, SolDistHR faces external security threats that may be manifested through confidential data theft and subsequent financial liabilities.

D. Protection measures against digital and physical threats after the implementation of SolDistHR

There are several ways through which the above-mentioned security threats may be prevented or mitigated. Intrusion testing technologies may be used to assess the vulnerabilities in networks and software systems. Intrusion detection and intrusion prevention systems (ID&IPS) provide alerts in case of any suspicious activity or traffic on a network (Schultz, 2001). Malicious Web-related threats should be blocked using security tools such as firewalls and proxy servers. Database activities should be monitored and logged to detect potential instances of data leakage and unauthorized data creation, modification or deletion. A strong user authentication and authorization scheme should be deployed and devices kept up-to-date (Takanen et al., 2008). Restricted access to computer systems minimizes both internal and external attacks (Schultz, 2001).

Information security training should be directed at employees to enable them recognize common security threats, especially social engineering tricks such as spamming and SMS-based password requests. Security-conscious work practices and culture should be promoted. Enterprise IT systems and security programs should be regularly updated and patched to tackle potential vulnerabilities and increase their security levels (Whittle, 2008). According to Whittle (2008), excessive system and database privileges should be removed to ensure that every privilege matches a specific job function. Moreover, ex-employees should have their privileges revoked after they exit to avoid misuse of such privileges to wreak havoc. Employees should be monitored closely to make sure that they do not abuse their privileges (Whittle, 2008). Personnel screening should be regularly conducted before and throughout an individual’s career to reduce the threat of insider attacks (Schultz, 2001).

Strong data encryption should be prioritized to ensure that leaked data is not accessed or used by unauthorized actors. It also ensures that data being transmitted and at rest is scrambled and thus worthless to attackers. Software should be adequately tested to remove flaws that may be exploited by attackers. Poor input validation is a common software flaw that can be exploited to launch SQL attacks. All default software configurations should be removed because they are well-known by attackers and thus they may be exploited (Takanen et al., 2008).

Whittle (2008) suggests formulation and enforcement of a policy to control the type of personal devices that may be used at the workplace – BYOD policy. Other policies should focus on acceptable or safe Web/internet usage, Wi-Fi access, and data classification.

E. An effective approach for both troubleshooting and restoring SolDistHR after system failures

Troubleshooting is mainly intended to identify the causes of a system failure and correcting them to get the system back into the desired state of operation. It is important to solve emerging problems efficiently, economically and quickly to prevent instances of prolonged system outage, which could trigger serious operational problems, poor customer service, revenue loss, and other negative impacts (Clarke, Tryfonas, & Dodge, 2012). There are many approaches to system troubleshooting and restoration that may be applied to the SolDistHR following a failure, but the ultimate goal is to find the problem or cause and regain functionality. Clarke et al. (2012) recommend adoption of a clear, systematic approach made up of the following major phases:

  1. Verify that there is an actual problem: a problem is usually indicated by a decline in system performance. Verifying the problem may help determine whether a problem really exists or not to prevent wastage of effort and time on inexistent problems. In fact, some operators raise alarm due to lack of adequate system understanding, thus the need for verification. 
  2. Identify and isolate the cause(s) of the problem: If a problem exists, its cause should be identified and isolated based on how system performance or mode of operation has deviated from normal.
  3. Correct the cause(s) of the problem: one or more causes of the problem may be identified. The actual causes (as opposed to impacts or symptoms) of the problem should be corrected efficiently, economically and quickly to restore the system back to normal.
  4. Confirm that the problem has been successfully corrected: verify that the system operates normally.
  5. Suggest strategies to prevent future failures: follow up to come up with a plan that can prevent or mitigate future recurrences of the problem. The plan should seek to completely address the core causes of the problem.

F. Importance and function of problem management in supporting SolDistHR once it is implemented

Once it is implemented, SolDistHR is subject to several problems that need to be effectively managed. Generally, a problem causes one or more undesired incidents. Problem management basically refers to the process of identification, classification, assessment of the impacts and severity levels, resolution, and documentation of problems that occur or could occur during the life of an IT system or service. It is primarily aimed at the following: preventing problems and subsequent consequences from occurring; eliminating recurring problems; and mitigating the problems that cannot be wholly prevented. Problem management also seeks to ensure that proper control measures are used in the implementation of selected resolutions. Problem management also maintain documentations of resolved and unresolved problems and their appropriate resolutions or workarounds to help organizations reduce the incidence and impacts of incidents in the future. As such, it strongly interfaces with the principle of knowledge management (KM), change management, and incident management (BMC Software, 2016b).

Service or help desk is the major function of problem management because it is the single contact point for service consumers or users to report problems and/or incidents and request resolution. This point helps handle incidents on the basis of their business impact – urgent and high-critical incidents are handled first while instantly and sequentially addressing other low-impact issues. To achieve this, there are separate tiers based on the estimated priority of different issues. Additionally, it promote knowledge transfer (BMC Software, 2016b).

Problem management is an important process in the support of SolDistHR because it would facilitate the timely and efficient identification, resolution and documentation of the root cause(s) of incidents. It will also help ensure effective communication in the course of managing problems and incidents. Problem management will drive considerable value to Soliel by increasing the quality and availability of SolDistHR; therefore, it promotes less service disruption, increased staff efficiencies, and improved user satisfaction. Documenting problems and incidents that have been resolved is equivalent to maintaining a knowledge base that may be used to accelerate future resolution times and efficiencies, identify lasting solutions to prevent recurrences, and reducing the total number of problems/incidents.

G. Steps of incident management and how they would be applied to address issues and mitigate future issues related to SolDistHR

Incident management and service desk are closely aligned. When an IT service fails or is disrupted such that it cannot deliver the intended performance levels, it should be quickly restored to normal operation. Conditions that can trigger service disruption should also be prevented to avoid or mitigate actual service outage. An incident management process may follow the following major steps (BMC Software, 2016a):

  1. Incident identification: users report incidents to the service desk through walk-ups, phone calls, support chats, emails, or service services. System scanning tools may also report incidents. The help desk determines whether the issue is actually an incident or a mere request because the two are handled differently.
  2. Incident logging: if the issue is ascertained to be an incident, then it is logged as a pending ticket with information such as the name and contact of the user, incident description, and the time and date when the incident was reported.
  3. Incident categorization: the category and priority (based on incidence of occurrence, impact and severity levels, and urgency) of the logged incident is assigned to ensure that it is properly sorted, modeled and tracked.
  4. Incident response:
  5. Initial diagnosis: applicable to situations when the user is able to describe his/her problem and answer all troubleshooting questions – first-tier support.
  6. Incident escalation: applied when advanced support is deemed necessary. A skilled technician is sent on-site.
  7. Evaluation and diagnosis: staff applies a solution (such as installing a software patch or changing software configurations/settings) after diagnosing the incident.
  8. Resolution and recovery: the service is restored to the desired SLA level.
  9. Incident closure: the incident is marked as closed, signaling an end to the entire incident process.

The abovementioned steps could be applied to address and mitigate future issues in relation to SolDistHR. The process would ensure quick incident resolution, enhanced incident/problem knowledge management, optimized service availability.

References

Alshubaily, N. F., & Altameem, A. A. (2017). The Role of Strategic Information Systems (SIS) in Supporting and Achieving the Competitive Advantages (CA): An Empirical Study on Saudi Banking Sector. International Journal of Advanced Computer Science and Applications, 8(7), 128-139.

BMC Software. (2016a). ITIL Incident Management: Best Practices & Process Flow. Retrieved from http://www.bmc.com/guides/itil-incident-management.html

BMC Software. (2016b). ITIL Problem Management: Best Practices & Processes Flow. Retrieved from http://www.bmc.com/guides/itil-problem-management.html

Brocke, J. V., & Rosemann, M. (2014). Handbook on Business Process Management 2: Strategic Alignment, Governance, People and Culture. Springer Publishing Company, Incorporated.

Clarke, N., Tryfonas, T., & Dodge, R. (2012). Proceedings of the Seventh International Workshop on Digital Forensics and Incident Analysis (WDFIA 2012). Lulu. com.

DSDM Consortium. (2008). DSDM Atern: The Handbook. Atern.

Francino, Y. (2010). What does “change management” mean in software development and QA? Retrieved from https://searchsoftwarequality.techtarget.com/answer/What-does-change-management-mean-in-software-development-and-QA

Kerzner, H., & Kerzner, H. R. (2017). Project management: a systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling. John Wiley & Sons.

Mohammed, A., & Hu, W. (2015). Using Management Information Systems (MIS) to Boost Corporate Performance. International Journal of Management Science and Business Administration, 1(11), 55-61.

Moran, A. (2015). Managing Agile: Strategy, Implementation, Organization and People. Springer.

Palmer, N. (2014). What is BPM? Retrieved from https://bpm.com/what-is-bpm

Rao, K. N., Naidu, G. K., & Chakka, P. (2011). A study of the Agile software development methods, applicability and implications in industry. International Journal of Software Engineering and its applications5(2), 35-45.

Schiesser, R. (2002). IT Systems Management. Prentice Hall.

Schultz, E. (2001). The worse of two evils — Internal vs. external security threats. Retrieved from https://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/tip/The-worse-of-two-evils-Internal-vs-external-security-threats

Takanen, A., Demott, J. D., & Miller, C. (2008). Fuzzing for software security testing and quality assurance. Artech House.

Wang, J. (2013). Optimizing, Innovating, and Capitalizing on Information Systems for Operations. IGI Global.

Whitman, M. E. (2003). Enemy at the gate: threats to information security. Communications of the ACM46(8), 91-95.

Whittle, S. (2008, March 10). The top five internal security threats. ZDNet. Retrieved from https://www.zdnet.com/article/the-top-five-internal-security-threats

Usability

Usability

  1. Introduction

Usability is one of the most critical elements of a user-interactive system because it enhances efficiency through reduced time consumed in completing tasks (Chisnell 2009). Usability also adds some aspects of the much desired aesthetics, which instils an enhanced positive user experience. Caulton (2001) and Sears & Jacko (2009) argues that systems’ usability is an element that cannot be explicitly determined with finality because users have different perceptions about a particular system coupled with various levels of experience and subjectivity. This implies that what is viewed as a system with high usability by one person may be considered to in a contrary opinion by others. However, there are a number of usability and/or user experience aspects that comparatively state the degree to which a system can be considered to possess acceptable levels of usability. McGovern (2004) claims that there is no threshold to usability level and it is never enough; therefore constant and proper enhancements are necessary to ensure that users are always able to fully exploit a system.

Usability assessment entails testing the user-centred interaction aspects of a product. Major usability principles include the effectiveness and efficiency of an interface, control or interaction module (Barnum 2010; Rogers, Sharp & Preece 2011).

Background

Usability testing evaluates the suitability of a system in addressing the needs of its intended users, and mainly focuses on measuring the efficiency, ease-of-use, user-friendliness, satisfaction and effectiveness (Wichansky 2000). Usability assesses the degree to which specific users complete particular tasks in different operational contexts.  These user tasks are intended to realize specific individual goals, therefore users must be adequately supported by products and systems they use, which constitutes the critical pillars of usability and/or user experience. Barnum (2002) and Juergen & Andreas (2011) suggests that product designers and developers should always work towards delivering products that possess increased levels of efficiency, usability, satisfaction, aesthetics, and effectiveness.

The critical set of features that implements usability includes: efficiency, satisfaction and effectiveness (Booth 2014). Efficiency entails the system’s capacity to enable consumers use proper, minimal energy and resources, while enjoying improved productivity in the cause (Majed & Pam 2009). In other words, a desirable level of usability translates to enhanced productivity with regard to accomplishing the intended goal.  Satisfaction enables product users to fulfil their demands, expectations, and enhanced experience with respect to exploitation of entire feature set. Lastly, product’s effectiveness is the capability to allow users to accurately, reliably and completely achieve specified goals on demand. A system that possesses these attributes can be considered to be sufficiently usable (Breuch, Zachry & Spinuzzi 2001). This implies that, a system that lacks any of the attributes will have undesired degree of usability, and users can be exposed to a negative experience, ranging from prolonged time and consumption of a lot of energy due to poor ease-of-use and lack of user friendliness.

In addition, there are other elements that can be used to assess the usability of a product. For example, Barnum (2010) highlights ease of understanding, ease of learning, aesthetics and operability as fundamental usability attributes. A product that is considerably easy to understand is perceived to be better in terms of usability because minimal actions and time is required in attempts to recognize common and logical concepts, steps and applicability. Ease of learning significantly reduces the time and effort users are required to expend in learning how a system works; therefore systems that are easy to learn possess high usability while difficult to learn systems have low usability (IBM 2011). Operability measures usability in terms of the effort and time required in executing basic operations.  Human beings enjoy engaging with attractive or aesthetic products, making attractiveness another fundamental assessment attribute with respect to usability. Juergen & Andreas (2011) argues that people tend to understand, learn, and embrace systems that are aesthetically enhanced. Other assessment criteria may include:  Conformity to all user expectations, error-tolerance, utility, consistency, and self-descriptiveness.

Evaluation problem

Many technological product manufacturers are faced with the problem of designing and developing user-centred systems in terms of implementing delivering feature richness while adhering to acceptable levels of usability. Chisnell (2009) claims that the major challenge rests in determining best trade-offs that must be undertaken to uphold acceptable usability levels. For example, it is difficult to balance between building superiority systems functionality and ease of use features. Therefore, there arises the question: how can technological manufacturers assess the usability level of their digital products? This research seeks to explore the suitable usability evaluation criteria for an existing digital product used to support TV or film viewing – Nintendo TVii, an in-built tool on the Pink Wii U console designed to redefine how consumers search for and watch their favourite TV, video entertainment and games as well as engage with them.

  • Evaluation approach

2.1 Method used

The purpose of any research is to collect, analyse and report (or draw conclusions) on quantitative and/or qualitative data about a specific area of (Ritchie et al. 2013). Three major research methodologies are usually applied, including qualitative, quantitative or mixed-method approach while using research techniques such as interviews, lab-based testing, questionnaires, inspection method, focus groups, observation, online surveys, desk research, and summative testing (Savage 2000). For this study, the researcher used the expert or inspection method coupled with a structured interview to gather data related to respondents experiences, beliefs and perceptions while using the Nintendo TVii & Wii U.  To gain a deep understanding of how other people perceive the Nintendo TVii & Wii U usability, participatory observation was conducted on users. This provided an opportunity for the researcher to assess the ease-of-use capability among participants using the product in real-time.  

2.2 Procedure

The researcher prepared a checklist of key usability elements to guide in data collection using participatory observations and expert or inspection methods. The researcher performed personal expert-oriented evaluation of the Nintendo TVii & Wii U’s usability based on the checklist, while writing down the findings for later analysis. For participatory observation, the researcher observed the fifteen (15) participants (recruited family members and friends) as they used the Nintendo TVii & Wii U device. The following are the key usability elements that were tested:

  • Utility – the ability to accomplish the product’s intended interactivity goal.
  • Pleasing to the user.
  • Rate of errors in the course of use.
  • Ease of learning to use the product.
  • Ease of remembering having stayed for a period without using the product.
  •  Visibility of different system status.
  • Match between the product interactivity and the real-world situation.
  • Consistency.
  • Minimalist design.
  • Aesthetics.
  • Help and/or documentation to help users identify and recover from system errors.

On the other hand, structured interviews involved the following steps:

  1. Thematising – formulation of usability evaluation elements into major categories – utility, pleasing, error rate, ease of learning, ease of remembering, visibility of various status, degree to which the product’s interactivity imitates the real-world situation, consistency, minimalist design, aesthetic or attractiveness, help and/or documentation.
  2. Then, the interview task sheet was designed and the following tasks were the activities: switching on the device; selecting favourite TV programmes, sports teams and movies; participating in group gaming; and navigating the main menu.   
  3. Designing the interview schedule with respect to time and research questions, starting with the easy-to-answer and general questions and then specific and difficult ones. It was ensured that all the questions modelled the themes specified in step (1). According to Ritchie et al. (2013), transition from general to specific questions is a strategy that helps place research participants at ease and with bolstered confidence, enhancing participation which results into collection of considerably rich data.
  4. Sampling – This involved the 15 randomly selected respondents who had also participated in the observation exercise.
  5. Informing the respondents about the research purpose and other details such as duration as well as aspects of assurance of compliance with study ethical principles (data privacy and confidentiality). Every research should fundamentally seek the respondents’ modatentally #ek ti (), every research pecific questions is a  using alitatitve, written informed consent and assure that participation is voluntary and anytime withdrawal does not attract any consequences (Ritchie et al. 2013).
  6. Conducting interviews by engaging respondents while writing down the major points.
  • The extent to which different usability elements were implemented was tested based on the following research questions:
  • Was it enjoyable completing the activities listed in the task sheet?

                                Yes                       No     

  1. In relation to other TV, gaming, and/or video products I have used, the Nintendo TVii & Wii U is:

                   Difficult to use                            Easy to use

  1. The menu items are:

                    Difficult to understand                Easy to understand

  1. How do you find the interaction capability with respect to task completion?

                   Supportive                                     Unsupportive

  • Which elements do you feel the device possess? (Tick all that apply)

                  Utility                                           Good help and/or documentation

                              Pleasing                                        Aesthetic

                              Easy to learn                                Consistent organization of buttons

                              Task flow easy to remember

                               System statuses are visible

                              Interactivity imitates the real-world situation

                              Minimalist design

  • Converting key participant responses (with respect to perceptions and experiences) gathered from the interviews into broad themes based on the broad themes or usability elements specified in step (1).
  • Analysing and verifying data and then transcription into a MS Word document for reporting (in addition, the qualitative data categorized into broad themes was coded to quantify it).  

2.3 Materials

For evaluation, the following materials were used: an observation checklist, structured interview questions, and a Nintendo TVii & Wii U device.

2.4 Analysis

Based on the open ended questions (i-iv), the device’s usability practices were tested and Table 1 shows the statistics.

Usability evaluation elementNumber of respondents  
  Undertaking the exercise was enjoyable  YesNo
114
In relation to other TV, gaming, and/or video products I have used, the Nintendo TVii & Wii U is:  Difficult to useEasy to use  
312
The menu items are:  Difficult to understandEasy to understand
213
The interaction capability with respect to task completion is:SupportiveUnsupportive
141

Table 1: Responses to usability and user experience evaluation

However, for question (v), all respondents (15) ticked the option for Minimalist design and Consistent organization of buttons as the key features in the Nintendo TVii & Wii U device.  Ten (10) respondents found the device easy to learn, aesthetic and pleasing. All elements listed under question (v) were ticked, an indication that respondents found the device to possess considerable usability levels.

  • Findings & Discussion

In the participatory observation approach, the researcher found that users find it easy to use the device for the various activities in the task sheet. Signs of frustrations or irritation were not observed across the participating population. Through expert or inspection approach, it was evident that the device can be considered to possess a high level of usability which can be attributed to its minimalist or simple design, consistency in its buttons and menus, and its in-depth help and documentation. In addition, respondents cited the pink colour as very friendly and aesthetic.

Nintendo TVii & Wii U enables consumers to play games, enjoy home entertainment and social connections through an integrated show discovery functionality, viewing, touch and remote control, thus presenting better and novel interactivity capabilities. The first impression of the device brings a lot of promise with respect to its possibility to revolutionize TV and video watching. The simple red icon that resembles a TV is placed at the lower part of the Nintendo TVii & Wii U’s touchscreen.  The device has a simple or minimalist setup phase based on an auto spring-up main menu, whereby the user can find and select favourite programmes – TV shows, video or gaming. For videos, every film is accompanied by a brief description of the plot, cast members, and a search tool for exploring extra background information. TV series also come with brief descriptions, including a channel and episode guide.

Nintendo TVii & Wii U is designed in a way that accommodates both single and multiple users. The TV’s channel guide allows an easy scroll up and down through programmes and other options as others watch the TV. One can also play games with the GamePad without interfering with the already running TV or video programmes. The Nintendo TVii & Wii U allows users to flow consistently and on-demand between the TV, video viewing and gaming.
There is new ways for individual and groups to play with an innovative Wii U GamePad controller providing an improved experience of up to 1080 pixel High Definition (HD) via its console. Social interactions with family and friends across the globe are made possible real-time communication, which is provided by Instant Messaging (IM) via a gesture-supported touch screen and video chat.

Nintendo TVii & Wii U makes TV watching more fun and simple, and displays video and gaming content from a wide variety of sources into a single easy-to-use and friendly experience for social TV and second screen. The control system is built in a manner that effectively supports user actions through analogue sticks and gesture and keypad panel that borrows from legacy controller-type remote control. Following a legacy control scheme eliminates the issue of unwanted surprises when a consumer is using the device. The product has a 1080p (or a resolution of 2.1 Megapixels) feature for video output, with support functionality for HDMI. These features provide rich user experiences in the course of using the device.

These features implies that developers must apply innovative designs and technology to ensure that users love visual experiences through holistic features, such as beautiful typography, icons, layout and colour for enhanced emotional connections. Technological products should shift from functionality-first to user-centred designs by creating intuitive interactivity aimed at enhancing the richness of user experience.

  • Conclusions

The area of human-machine interaction plays an integral role in facilitating how consumers use devices and software. The most powerful and fastest products are useless if people cannot easily learn and efficiently use them. Key usability elements include better interfaces and visualization techniques for navigation and understanding respectively. 

Despite the fascinating richness in feature-list and usability capability, the research covered the aspect of being usable, meaning the degree of meeting usability guidelines. Future work will involve exploration of persuasiveness; a product’s compelling functionality to drive sales and referrals.  Basically, this will seek to determine the requirements that can transform a product from being usable and with rich user experience to being highly persuasive. The number of participants (sample) was small and drawn from family members and friends, which may have negatively impacted on the responses in terms of failure to take the research seriously. Future research will involve a large sample drawn from across the globe using online surveys, and face-to-face semi-structured interviews to gain a deep understanding of the usability and user experience aspects of a product.

  • References

Barnum, CM 2002, Usability testing and research, Longman.

Barnum, CM 2010, Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set…Test!, Elsevier.

Booth, P 2014, An Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction (Psychology Revivals), Psychology Press.

Breuch, L, Zachry, M, & Spinuzzi, C, ‘Usability Instruction in Technical Communication Programs’, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol.  15, no. 2, pp. 227–238.

Caulton, DA 2001, ‘Relaxing the homogeneity assumption in usability testing’, Behaviour & Information Technology, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 3–7.

Chisnell, D 2009, Testing in the Wild, Seizing Opportunity, User Interface Engineering, viewed 5 January 2015, <http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2009/10/usability-testing-versus-expert-reviews.php#sthash.3R0UxT0v.dpuf>

IBM 2011, IBM Design, IBM, viewed 5 January 2015, <http://www.ibm.com/design>

Majed, A, & Pam, M 2009, ‘Technical Review: Current Issues of Usability Testing’, IETE Technical Review, vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 403-406.

Juergen, S, & Andreas, S 2011, ‘The influence of product aesthetics and user state in usability testing’, Behaviour & Information Technology, vol. 30, no. 6, pp. 788-795.

McGovern, J 2004, A Practical Guide to Enterprise Architecture, Prentice Hall Professional.

Ritchie, J, Lewis, J,  Nicholls, CM, & Ormston, R 2013, Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers, Sage Publications.

Rogers, Y, Sharp, H, & Preece, J 2011, Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, 3rd edn, John Wiley & Sons.

Savage, J 2000, ‘Participative observation: Standing in the shoes of others?’, Qualitative Health Research, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 330-339.

Sears, A, & Jacko, JA 2009, Human-Computer Interaction Fundamentals, CRC Press.

Wichansky, AM 2000, ‘Usability testing in 2000 and beyond’, Ergonomics, vol. 43, no. 7, pp. 999-1006.

Geography

Geography

To a greater extent, this coursework focused on research strategies in human geography. Human geography involves studying the world, communities, people and cultures, thus I understood the reality of safeguarding people’s rights while researching on human activities which is inclined towards qualitative research strategies. I learnt that interacting with different people in the course of research would raise such concerns as health and safety issues, privacy concerns, and elements related to litigations, stigmatization, reputation, insurability, among others. This coursework offered a platform to build a capability that can guide through theoretical and methodology approaches to human geography research.

In geographical research, it is important for researchers to uphold research ethics in order to ensure the entire study exercise is free from ethical breaches. In research, ethical issues are exhibited in a myriad of research activities, especially when the exercise involves the rights and interests of others. I learnt that ethical practice requires that respondents and legal guardians involved be completely informed, be assured that participation is voluntary in addition to opting out without redress, and be adequately protected in terms of health and safety within the boundaries of acceptable standards and best practice.  I now understand that adoption of a truly ethical position with regard to research requires the researcher to observe and protect the rights of intended participants while systematically acting to allow them exercise those rights according to the laws stipulated in particular regions.

In addition, I was able to get vital insights into the all-too-often neglected research aspects with regard to health and safety ethical considerations as demonstrated by Iain Hay in his work “Ethical Practice in Geographical Research in Key Methods in Geography” (Clifford & Valentine, 2003). Through this work, I was able to learn the important ethical questions for consideration by every geography researcher in the course of their research. These questions are: Informed consent, harm, and confidentiality, transfer of findings and feedback to respondents.

This coursework carried vital insights into key cross-cultural ethical concerns in research and in designing the methodology. Cultural prejudices and potential stereotypes may crop up when findings from one cultural block are applied in an area with totally different cultural views. An example is the America’s view of “time as money to get things done in a straightforward and quick manner” versus Chinese’s “patience and attentiveness to develop a genuine partnership based on mutual understanding”. Therefore, I learnt the need to avoid drawing direct cultural inferences from research findings by including full empirical justification. For example, it would be unethical to apply research findings from a particular culture block (say Chinese) to answer general hypotheses questions, because it may create a bad image about the Chinese culture.

I also understood the means by which as a researcher I can address various ethical concerns. Gaining approval (informed consent) before recruiting respondents is one method of addressing ethical concerns. Other ways may include avoidance to use covert data collection techniques, and assuring participants of absolute voluntary participation and withdrawal, and that their data is kept private and confidential for use within the limits of the particular research only. These approaches to address ethical concerns ensure that privacy breaches and issues of coercion are eliminated.

Using a laptop in a research cause has a number of implications, for example, whether the data will be adequately private and confidential as possible; whether it is well protected; or whether data will be used for other reasons other than the research work. Laptops are also used for a wide variety of personal activities such as joining online groups; therefore, research data might at potential risk of data loss from cybercrime exploits. I have learnt the challenging exercise of participant observation, whereby care must be taken to avoid instances of participants changing their behavior once they discover they are being observed. A possible success action in participant observation approach to data collection involves joining groups of interest to take part in activities which the individuals are undertaking. A logical conclusion free from researcher’s biasness is critical. I understood the importance of gaining the much needed trust of the participants by building strong relationships between them through a good preparatory plan. The plan may cover elements of informing participants about the purpose of the research, duration and an assurance that data will be kept private and confidential. This way, I appreciate that participants are likely to feel free while interacting with the researcher, while at the same time building and maintaining trust and confidence.

In the study of California climate, I learnt the critical significance of selecting the best choice for a methodology to conduct a specific research. For example, in this case, an unstructured interview approach was used to cater for the minimum control the researcher has over the way in which the respondents will answer the research questions. Residents in California with can provide crucial information based on questions included in the unstructured interview. In addition, such a setting where the would-be participants have disparate views about a common theme may render the findings significantly inconsistent further complicating the conclusion. For example, some people may view irrigation to be a contributing factor towards a sustainable production of nuts while others may consider irrigation to be consuming drinking water destined for the city. Therefore, I appreciated the importance of using a guide to research questions in order to overcome the challenging nature of answers derived from an unstructured interview.

In the experiment of Facebook’s controversial emotion, I had an opportunity to investigate the internet as a secondary source of information. The social presence extended by the internet to the global online community has enhanced the way people interacts and get information from books, journals, corporate and governmental whitepapers and others. However, I have learnt that the internet’s power to present enormous information globally from various sources can provide data based on emotions or attitudes making it unreliable for research.  The world has seen an increase in internet research strategies such as online interviews. However, to a greater extent online interviews falls far below the capability of face-to-face interviews. Therefore, I learnt the importance of augmenting online interviews with secondary information from sources such as books, trade magazines, conference proceedings and others. 

How can a researcher use same survey tools for performing a different study? Which different variables would exist in such a scenario? I have realized that as a researcher it is possible to simplify a research exercise by applying proven tools to perform a different study. A number of factors must be kept constant to create a relationship between two research settings to have a common and clear foundation. I learnt that Parfitt (2005) identified four key factors for the researcher to consider in applying same survey tools for performing a different study. First, it was clear that these factors take the form of, the data collected need to have one experimental variable to act as the predictor of the primary impacts being studied. Secondly, there should be dependent variables which are important for creating an understanding on how independent variables may influence them. Thirdly, controlled variables to determine the relationship between research’s dependent and independent variable. Lastly, there should be uncontrolled variables that are not explicitly controlled in the experiment. I understood that such an approach would resolve instances of biasness and assumptions, thus ensuring that accurate data is analyzed and optimal conclusion made.

I cannot forget to attribute my clear understanding of the major differences between modern research methods and traditional ones to this coursework. I learnt that unlike traditional research methods, modern approaches allow the researcher to collect information from participants casually and in a pressure-free manner. Traditional research methods relies on numerical and statistical data thus the researcher must identify various research variables, isolate them, measure and then conclude. Modern research methodologies provide adequate flexibility to gather views from different individuals in a less textual manner. I discovered that today’s research methods may entail setting up a blog presence where comments on various uploaded concerns may be collected; bulletin boards; online focus groups; and social media platforms.

References

Clifford, N., & Valentine, G. (Eds) (2003). Ethical Practice in Geographical Research. In Key

Methods in Geography. Sage.

Parfitt, J. (2005). Questionnaire Design and Sampling in Methods in Human Geography.

Longman.

Fordism and post-Fordism

Fordism and post-Fordism

Introduction

Fordism and post-Fordism are two languages that have woven their way into discussion about the socio-economic transformations occurring in the developed capitalist societies. Tholen (2012) argues that the political economy in the current world has been characterized by Fordism and post-Fordism, mainly in the areas of labour processes, accumulation regime and modes of societal values and regulation. Fordism is the system of true mass production coupled with consumption feature of extremely developed economies experienced in 1940s-1960s. As a period, Fordism saw mass consumption and mass production aimed at delivering sustainable economic growth as well as extensive material advancement. Named after industrialist Henry Ford, Fordism is the idea of a modern socio-economic system founded on a standardized and developed kind of bulk production (Burrows & Loader, 2003).  

From an economist point of view, post-Fordism is the period (especially between 1970 and 1990) that has been characterized by rising levels of income disparity and lesser growth. Burrows & Loader (2003) claims that post-Fordism era have been dominated by economic production and consumption in the industrialized world’s socio-economic arena in the late 20th century. The major characteristics of post-Fordism include: small-batch production, specialization in production and personnel roles and responsibilities, new technologies, feminized workforce, and emphasis on categories of consumers as opposed to traditional emphasis on social status (Baca, 2004).  However, it is important to appreciate the fact that Fordism was applied to enhance productivity, specifically for automobile manufacturing process, but the principle has been successful in other industries. From Vidal (2011), major attributes of Fordism include: standardization of products through use of advanced machinery and technology; use of assembly lines to augment unskilled workers capability to purposely contribute to finished products; and paying workers higher to enable them afford the goods they manufacture.

The change from Fordism to post-Fordism was accompanied by developments in political, economic and technological areas. This work focuses on political, economic and technological trends that are central to the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism. In addition, it discusses the consequences of this transition for regional development in Western developed nations.

Political trends

In evaluation of the political economy of Britain and West Germany, Tholen (2012) identifies the “regulationist” strategy that was started during 1970s where national economies faced political challenges from post-Fordism’s global aspects. Previously, it had been assumed that structures maintain themselves without considerable transformations and social agency. Post-Fordism saw the enhancement of regulation from Fordism’s accumulation regime, with more weight accorded to labour process rather than societalization pattern or the general social structure implemented in accumulation. Globalization of production, trade and cash flows complicated restraining mass production and consumption to national economies. The worldwide crisis caused by post-war capitalists sparked global competition and eventually anti-inflation strategies that slowed down Fordism’s mass production and consumption cycles. Workers also resisted the Fordist mass production process, increasing the level of absenteeism, staff turnover, strikes, manufacturing defects, and worker-employer disputes. These issues prompted remediation or new means of production to overcome the inflexibility of Fordism. Hazel (2001) claims that Fordist trends of bureaucratic controls were the major cause of the growing socio-political unrest, and post-Fordist response to restructure the workforce accompanied by automation was necessary to remedy the problem.

Politically, Wilensky (2002) claims that the post-Fordism world had weakened class-oriented political parties as social-based movements increased with declined hierarchical management systems. Vidal (2011) cements this by claiming that regional, racial and gender-oriented movements have increased with the insurgency of post-Fordism ideologies. Mass unions aimed at collectiveness in bargaining declined and localized plant-based groups strengthened as lesser employees are challenged by inflexible organizational boundaries that contain them to repetitive tasks.

The capitalist ideologies in the world of business hit the world hard and individualistic forms of behaviour and thoughts as well as the entrepreneurship culture emerged (Vidal, 2011).  As a result of the transition from mass production to modern consumer-conscious practices, there has been need for more knowledge-oriented workers and job related complexities, culminating into prominent beliefs that shifted political standpoints of organizations. According to Burrows & Loader (2003), values such as pluralism and urban fragmentation arose and organizations slowly started to adopt post-Fordism principles based on eclecticism and populist methods to culture.

Baca (2004) claims that workers became enlightened with post-Fordism and started pushing for well-specified agreements with the employer characterized by organized labour unions and focused on labour laws and public policy. Hazel (2001) observed that the transition from Fordism’s mass production to post-Fordism’s flexible production changed the political organizations as unskilled labor dramatically decreased in demand as literate workforce with a high capacity to perform numerate tasks took over. Consequently, unskilled workers in developed Western countries have fallen, weakening union movements and influence due to the decreased membership from workers in this category.   

Economic trends

The change from Fordism and post-Fordism led to new ways of studying production and consumption. Saturation of niche markets worked against global mass consumption as well as search for better standards of living. From a production point of view, mass production has ceased to be the means to serve mass markets as the needs of consumer population is viewed as disparate groups pursuing unique goals and can only be better met with small and medium batches of specific products (Amir, 2011). The transition from Fordism to post-Fordism saw mass markets become less significant while demand for custom, luxury, best-fit in matters pertaining individual economic status, and positional gained immense importance.  According to Vidal (2011), the transition can be attributed to the need to abolish standardized and uniform production to a create economies of scope.

Post-Fordism led to the weakening of production and regulation by individual nation states and the increase in global businesses and markets. The change in workforce emphasized internal marketing, sub-contracting, franchising, communication strategies, and increased part-time and temporary jobs. The rising income inequality and slower growth was experienced in 1970s-1990s, and from an economic point of view, the production system and consumption trends have undergone a transformation that can ignite another period of economic escalation. From production point of view, post-Fordism is seen as a system with significant decline in information costs, quality management, lean manufacturing, and just-in-time inventory management (Baca, 2004).  However, Hazel (2001) claims that the consumption side has undergone  tremendous changes with regard to globalization of markets, enhanced product life cycle, and high market differentiation and segmentation.

The transition from Fordism to post-Fordism started with declined craft production as manufacturers adopted mass production practices. Consequently, the market we know today – economies of scope and economies of scale have given rise to multinational companies established from miniature divisions of labor and functional specialization. Economies of scale was created through dissemination of fixed expenses, particularly investments in equipment and management of manufacturing production lines over greater output volumes, thus decreasing unit costs. On the other hand, division of labor resulted to economies of scale, sequentially accumulating specialized units such as supply chains, quality assurance, personnel management and accounting in different ways to reduce the costs required to create several products as opposed to a specialized one (Burrows & Loader, 2003).

According to Amir (2011), products had to be changed to suit specific quality standards as opposed to quantity. More importantly, the economies of scale which featured vastly in Fordism have been replaced by economies of scope. Homogeneous markets could not suit the post-Fordism system as consumers could now be modelled based on niche. Product differentiation was also seen to a key selling factor. Fordism emphasized marketing by social classes and this was replaced by focusing on taste, preferences, culture and age. Wilensky (2002) claims that there was need to make product life cycle shorter, produce small quantities for easier testing and risk mitigation, and widen distribution on-need basis. The economic crisis experienced during and after the first and second world wars spelt failure for Fordism principle as mass production could not match required mass consumption (Tholen, 2012). Consequently, consumer-focused products based on customization found its way into manufacturing to avoid waste and potential losses.

As a macro-economic concept, Fordism system was aimed at sustaining expanded production, mainly in an auto-centric platform – within national boundaries.  Ford used mass production to enjoy economies of scale, which according to Hazel (2001) suited the 1920s markets and stable economic conditions. However, today’s economic turbulence has no room for sustainable mass production. How can organizations respond to growth potential and overcome market saturation due to extension of global reach? Post-Fordism transformed mass production and consumption by segmenting old markets while opening new ones beyond national borders. New organizational forms were necessary to manage strategic internal and external interdependencies for quick response to dynamic demands. External consultants, experts and subcontractors drove joint ventures and innovation which was necessary to enhance flexible production.  Post-Fordism can also be attributed to increased competition from non-price elements such as enhanced quality for products, and increased response to consumer demands and market conditions (Wilensky, 2002).

Technological trends

Post-Fordism era has brought about flexible specialization to replace mass marketing, necessitating communication technology as opposed to command muscle. Consequently, the corporate world took recourse from mass production to focus on pushing their products to niche markets, and IT proved too phenomenal in the transition. IT tools such as mobile and online marketing and automated shipping and logistics enabled businesses to create and sustain their global presence.  Post-Fordism mostly featured flexible production practices by IBM, Toyota and other companies who viewed Fordism system of mass production as loss of competitiveness (Tholen, 2012). In addition, workers are treated like machines, doing repetitive work in production lines. The key attributes of post-Fordism system are price-based costing, lean manufacturing, just-in-time delivery, and total quality management (TQM) (Wilensky, 2002). Introduction of IT and the associated capacity to use it resulted to a comparative advantage as more organizations beyond the giant category were able to integrate it into core business processes. More specifically, computerized design and manufacturing allowed businesses to produce tailored services at competitive prices. It was also possible to shrink head offices, remove bureaucratic layers and focus on key business processes. Organizations started applying new machinery, mainly multi-purpose, easy to operate and economical with respect to switching from creating different products. Such feats can be attributed to advanced computer-controlled systems which constitute flexible technology and specialization, a major feature in post-Fordism.  Computerized systems simplified product adjustments and made specialized production to run in an economically feasible manner. The industrial society of the late 20th century combines the capacity of new technologies to fundamentally shift the nature of market for goods (Burrows & Loader, 2003).

Fordism focused on standardization of components and manufacturing processes to achieve perfectly interchangeable parts. Advancement in machinery and gauging tools made it possible to move products between assembly lines since each assembler performed a specialized repetitive task. As a result, throughput was increased allowing for mass production and price cuts. According to Burrows & Loader (2003), Ford was able to standardize products and manufacture them by mass, thus decreasing the unit cost of production to a level low that lowly and medium paid people could afford to purchase them. However, the demand for powerful information processing capacity increased with time to enable coordination of the production process, and IT systems started to be applied to provide an end-to-end visibility into flow of materials, components, products and sales among other units.

General Motors rendered Ford’s standardization of products obsolete through innovations in organization run by Sloan Alfred in the 1930s. Components and assemblers were made interchangeable to bolster customization. Teams in Fordism system mainly involved unskilled workforce at repetitive assembly line tasks, but post-Fordism under the power of IT has led to new kinds of organization with emphasis on multidisciplinary teams. Team members can work collaboratively from planning to completion because specialized information systems make it sufficiently efficient to drive the judgement exercise into organizational units – teams. Efficiency in post-Fordism operations demands an equal distribution of information, responsibility and authority, which imply breaking down managerial hierarchism that brought greatness in the Fordism system (Tholen, 2012).  Information systems such as expert systems have made it possible to allow teams engaged in organizational work make judgment than it was possible in Fordism system (Amir, 2011).

The major contribution made by Fordism is the breaking down of complex to achieve their equivalent simpler ones. Technological advancements have been made in assembly lines using specialized tools to allow for adaptability and flexibility, establishing a platform for building up components productively and effectively. Ultimately, application of technology in the real world of manufacturing grew in significance during Fordism era when Ford recognized the need to pay his employees “in kind” by enhancing their social life. Later on, most companies especially in the U.S. have inclined their efforts towards profitability and sustainable competitiveness by focusing on strategic use of technological means and cutting down on workforce required to operate daily business errands (Amir, 2011). Fordism implies global economies characterized by deskilled labour force, but technological advancements in terms of IT as opposed to manufacturing assembly lines have promoted the white-collar jobs and specialization (Wilensky, 2002). IT has sparked globalization and propelled service industries to surpass the manufacturing sector, and it is the major enabler of most modern business processes through automation. Enhanced access to data and information resources, especially through advances in IT has presented real-time information about different market conditions to help unearth demand trends and execute proper pricing strategies (Amir, 2011).

Consequences of transition from transition from Fordism to post-Fordism for regional development in Western developed nations

Fordism system could not adequately allow for demand forecasting. Companies must have been very keen on production to avoid losing on consumer satisfaction and market share. However, with post-Fordism, firms could produce flexibly based on the market demands and required customization to meet different consumer needs.  The global economy of the 1970s, for instance, the oil crisis experienced in 1973 led to increased competition especially from Southeast Asia markets, implying that firms had to factor out globalization in their strategic management. Mass production creates generic and cheap goods, which may render a company uncompetitive. Instead, firms find it better to create different product lines unique to consumer demands for taste and preference.  With transition from Fordism to post-Fordism, firms no longer invest heavily on mass production of one product, but build innovative and intelligent labour systems and technologies that can flexibly and rapidly respond to market changes (Amir, 2011).

The integral part of post-Fordism is the mass customization as opposed to mass production and consumption; propelling firms to towards producing required quantity of goods coupled with the option of tailoring them to meet the needs of specific markets. Economic globalization or internationalization of medium to large companies has allowed utilization of global virtual benefits with respect labor and other resources (such as outsourcing, offshoring and mergers), creating networked and more competitive organizations.  According to Wilensky (2002), the increasing role of technology on driving core business areas and promoting innovation have become valuable competitiveness factors for businesses in the post-Fordism regime. The business world have seen integrated value chains with business processes and functional units like research and development (R&D), manufacturing, procurement, distribution, retailing and logistics being components of a permanent chain (Burrows & Loader, 2003). Rapid technological innovations have also ignited extremely shorter product development life cycles than ever before, and with better products being constantly manufactured. In addition, technology-based quality control systems and highly skilled workforce of the post-Fordism system have bolstered release of zero-defect products as today’s customers tend to be intolerant to faulty products in the greatly competitive markets characterized potential substitution to products (Baca, 2004).

Conclusion

Fordism is the period that featured mass production coupled with mass consumption in well-off economies of the 1940s-1960s as opposed to post-Fordism’s flexible production.  Fordism produced sustainable economic growth and extensive material development with its characteristic mass production and mass consumption.  However, cutting-edge demand forecasting capacity was not possible with Fordism as production could not be modelled to meet different consumption needs. In both systems, technology played an integral role: driving the day-to-day business operations. However, there is wide usage and specialization of technology, especially IT that in Fordism.

Fordism de-skilled labour as simple repetitive tasks dominated the mass production process. Workers were required to observe high concentration to oversee repetitive duties. The situation changed with emergence of post-Fordism as workers started being innovative and collaborative in the course of their duties, thus decreasing the number of unskilled labour and union membership and influence.  The transition caused more customization of products to respond to consumer demands. It is clear that the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism is a great gain for regional development in Western developed nations and the society in general as organizations work in better ways to ensure that consumers get products that specifically meet their needs, labour skills and standards are higher, and demand forecasting is optimal.

References

Amir, A. (2011). Post-Fordism: A Reader. John Wiley & Sons.

Baca, G. (2004). Legends of Fordism: Between Myth, History, and Foregone Conclusions.

Social Analysis, 48(3), 169-178.

Burrows, R., & Loader, B. (2003). Towards a Post-Fordist Welfare State? Routledge.

Hazel, K. (2001). Risk, Social Policy And Welfare. McGraw-Hill Education.

Tholen, J. (2012). Labour Relations in Central Europe: The Impact of Multinationals’ Money. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Vidal, M. (2011). Reworking Postfordism: Labor Process Versus Employment Relations. Sociology Compass, 5(4), 273-286.

Wilensky, H.L. (2002). Rich Democracies: Political Economy, Public Policy, and Performance. University of California Press.