ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

The Automation Plan

By: Mike Flyntz

Just as it has become common business practice to formulate a comprehensive long term business plan it has also become evident that an agency Automation Plan is an important and useful tool that can be used to control the costs and growth of your agency's automation systems. As part of a series of articles, the following outlines the Automation Audit which is the first necessary step to developing an overall Agency Automation Plan.

The Automation Audit

The first question to be addressed must be what is automation and how does it apply to your agency. The answer is as unique as your individual organization and is probably one that you yourself can only answer and define after a comprehensive organizational automation audit.

Automation in most peoples minds is something that has come to be described as their computer system and associated hardware and software. This is an idea that has come to be limited in scope. As technology moves forward there becomes a finer line between the value of the computer system, the voice, or telephone system, Local Area Network, and any in-house systems that are used on a regular basis to increase the productivity of your agency employees. As the components of your agency's Automation systems are defined the ability to control cost, growth and management of these devices become a more realistic task.

In defining what a system is, the end-user's mind set must be open to looking at any system as being made up of many components such as a system mainframe or server, system software, peripheral devices, modems and multiplexors, system cabling, voice and data carriers, and support and maintenance agreements.

In performing an agency Automation audit, one item that is as critical as hardware and software identification is that of the individual cognizant of each systems management. One of the most common problems seen in development of an automation plan, is that responsibility of various systems is frequently delegated to personnel in different departments of varying technical abilities.

The primary recommendation as pertaining to responsibility is that all of the organizations automation should be the responsibility of the MIS department, and that any of these departmental personnel must be technically capably.

Automation Audit

The following is a general description of items to be identified while performing an Automation audit.

1a - Mainframe system type (Manufacturer, model, configuration)

1b - Peripheral devices (terminals, printers)

1c - Mainframe system operating system

1d - Mainframe system application programs. Cognizant personnel

2a - Midrange system type (Manufacturer, model, configuration)

2b - Peripheral devices (terminals, printers)

2c - Midrange system operating system

2d - Midrange system application programs. Cognizant personnel

3a - Telephone system type (Manufacturer, model, configuration)

3b - Voice system backup system

3c - Local telephone Co. configuration

3d - Long Distance Carrier(s)

3e - Data communications support

3f - Fax(s) incoming/outgoing. Cognizant personnel

4a - Local Area Network(s)

4b - LAN Topologies (connectivity methods)

4c - PCs (manufacturers, models, configuration)

4d - Wide Area Network (WAN) equipment. Cognizant personnel

5a - Modems / Multiplexors (Manufacturers, models, configurations)

5b - Digital communication lines. Cognizant personnel

6a - In-house dictation devices (Manufacturer, model, configuration). Cognizant personnel

In defining the above system configurations (hardware and software definitions) some of the following important issues can be addressed.

Configuration control - While developing a comprehensive equipment list hardware and software serial numbers should be compiled, as well as applying agency security tags to every piece of agency owned equipment. This and any hardware inventory compilation should be performed in a static state (while no new component purchases are taking place).

Maintenance contract assessment - As an automation audit is being performed the status of all system equipment service contracts should be reviewed for current status. Hardware, software and connectivity (system cabling) all must be viewed as integral parts of the agency's systems and should have current maintenance and support contracts in place.

Integration of In-house support - After defining all of the agency's system components and associated responsible personnel, the MIS department should be assigned sole responsibility for In-house systems support. In assigning responsibility to the MIS department, the technical capabilities of its personnel must be evaluated and system responsibilities assigned accordingly. In too many agencies, the individuals responsible for system management have been placed in a position that they are not properly suited for, in other words, don't assign system responsibility based upon availability.

Disaster Recovery - It has become increasingly evident that an organization that is dependent upon automation to do business on a daily basis should be prepared for a system disaster. After the above automation audit and evaluation of the MIS department is performed, a system disaster recovery plan can be addressed.

System education - After the MIS department personnel has been given system responsibilities, the on-going agency end- user training should be the responsibility of these individuals. Some of the best end-user training would be done on a regular basis, allowing key department personnel the ability to transfer MIS information to other department workers.