The Importance of the Editorial Component in Executive Information Systems

Until a few years ago, the Information Supply Chain was supported by software. The development and boom of ERP Systems occurred during this time, and as technology advanced, it also became possible to store larger data inventories over a longer period of time to make them available for analysis. To preserve the Information Supply Chain’s information cycle, the gap between the collected information and the enterprise’s employees need for the information had to be closed.

The Information Supply Chain is based on the realization that the best possible design of business processes and understanding of customers and markets requires current information. It is divided into two parts. In the operational part of the chain, management develops strategies, which are then implemented as business processes, resulting in customer contacts and orders, as well as a great deal of data. Information is then obtained from the data, resulting in new activities and strategies, which closes the cycle.

Until a few years ago, the Information Supply Chain was supported by software, mostly in the areas of business processes and in the collection of short-term customer and order data. The development and boom of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems occurred during this time. But it was not yet possible to talk about a Closed Loop of Information Supply Chain with respect to software. The reason is that the loop was usually broken after the operative data had been collected. As technology advanced, it also became possible to store larger data inventories over a longer period of time in many dimensions and to make them available for analysis. This was the birth of the Data Warehouse.

To preserve the Information Supply Chain’s information cycle, the gap between the collected information and the enterprise’s employees need for the information had to be closed.

The Existence of Relevant Information

There is no question that each enterprise possesses a large volume of important data from its various operations that are absolutely vital for its management and its sustained, successful activity in the market. The main suppliers of internal information include accounting, distribution, production, and service operations. But vital information also includes information about markets, competitors, suppliers and technologies. Long-term success will only come to those enterprises that are able to leverage this information for added value.

The Necessity of User Motivation

It is in the interest of an enterprise to create an information system. This process must not be limited to the technical aspect alone. There are numerous examples from corporate experience that prove in most cases information systems function correctly from a technical perspective, but are not accepted by the users and therefore, fail after only a short time.

A successful distribution also makes it absolutely necessary that users are not simply able to use the system but actually want to use it. An enterprise that plans to introduce an information system must also think about how to motivate users to want to retrieve information. The motivation can neither appear on its own, nor can it be attained by orders from above. Rather, it requires concrete measures to be taken in the enterprise to create and sustain such a motivation. Only then will the gap in the Information Supply Chain be closed, and the information will reach the user without barriers Consequently, an enterprise must implement measures to create user motivation. But how?

When analyzing user requirements, a number of criteria are encountered that will determine the success of the information system. These criteria are divided into those for the external form in which the information supply is presented to the user and those concerning the content of the information supply.

Requirements for the External Form of the Information Supply

The information supply is easy to use. In other words, the system is self-explanatory and can be used intuitively, without any user training. The user will always find the desired information with few actions.

The information supply has been attractively prepared, meaning that the system has an easy-to-understand, uniform navigation system. Its layout is clearly organized, varied and able to mix several forms of presentation.

The information supply is organized by content. There are tables of content and overviews. Areas of specialty and topics are easily recognized. In addition, the information system can be quickly adapted to changes in the enterprise structure. So the user will always find the current enterprise structure represented in the system.

The information supply is directly available to the users. Given proper authorization, access to the system is possible at any time, from any place, without significant technical requirements. The information supply is displayed regularly and reliably.

The system must allow the user to respond. The user is able to formulate questions for the system, query and comment on facts.

The requirements for the Information Supply Contents include:

  • The information supply content is important for the target group.
  • The system deals with the topics of the target group and satisfies the users’ information needs.
  • The information supply is always up-to-date.
  • The information is accessed online. The system automatically informs the user of special events.
  • The information supply may come from different data sources.
  • The information system is able to access all significant data sources in the enterprise and offers a great variety of information.
  • The information supply is complete and comprehensive.
  • The system provides information about all essential operations and displays the structures correctly.
  • The information is correct and reliable.
  • The information supply can be annotated with explanations and comments.
  • In addition to structured information, the system can also present unstructured information and put it in relationship to other information.

If the criteria are closely examined, it becomes obvious that some criteria can be automated, while others require manual processing. Many information systems have failed because there was either no manual process or an insufficient one. The systems created in this manner do not fulfill many of the requirements and are therefore not accepted by the users.

Consequences for Software Selection

These insights can be used to find parameters for selecting software packages used for creating information systems. On one hand, an effective software program must ensure the direct availability of the information supply, allow the user to respond and guarantee that the information supply is current. This requirement is solved by a central server solution with Internet clients that provides dynamic access to at least one data source and provides the user with drill-down functionality, interactive degrees of freedom, and write-only access. It must also be possible to attractively prepare the information supply to a certain degree automatically by using universal standards. But, this already shows the limits of automation, since custom design and higher requirements in respect to layout also require manual processing.

The necessity of manual intervention becomes even more obvious when information from different data sources is required. The question of which data sources are suitable to contribute information, and how this information can be brought into a uniformly correct and understandable relationship with the other information, must be determined by someone familiar with both the data sources and their contents as well as the users’ needs.

The Editorial Component

The editorial component is defined as the task of collecting information from various sources, processing it, and then making it available again in a meaningful form. Editorial processing is also necessary for content structuring of the information system, the adaptation to changes in the corporate environment, the design of a simple user guidance, the determination of the information supply content, and annotation through explanations and comments. Thus, an information system used regularly and willingly by many users requires both editing and also uses automation wherever it is useful. When software packages for creating information systems are selected, care must therefore be taken that they support both editorial processing and automatic creation.

The Internet – Example of a Successful Information System

An example of a successful information that would be unthinkable without the editorial component is the Internet with its millions of users. Compared to the daily newspaper, it has much higher dynamics since it is an electronic medium, it is available worldwide, and provides the user with many interactive editing capabilities. In addition to attractive preparation and a huge variety of information, it is this interactivity that most draws the user. As a result, the number of users is growing continuously.

On the other hand, the increase in user numbers also increases the interest of the information suppliers, creating a cross-fertilizing effect that further promotes the Internet.

This effect of continuously growing demand results in a steadily increasing supply, which again entices new users. This effect can also be created in enterprise information systems. If even the pilot users of an information system are enthusiastic and spread this enthusiasm in the enterprise user numbers will also increase. And it is these rising user numbers in particular that characterize the success of an information system.

The Editorial Component in the Internet

Like the daily newspaper, the Internet depends on the editorial component as a criterion for success, since each Web site is first prepared by an editor before being put into the net. The editors receive their information from the enterprise for which they are creating the Web site, and which therefore functions as a news bureau. The success of a Web site depends on how well it meets the information needs of the intended target group, how attractively it has been prepared, and how easily it can be found. Related to the editor, this means that he must be creative in preparing the basic information, must know and take into account the needs of the users, and must be able to use the software tools for implementing his ideas in the form of a Web site. In many cases, the editors are employees of the enterprise, whose Web site they are maintaining. But frequently, these services are "outsourced" to independent editors.

If the Internet is considered as a whole, some weaknesses and disadvantages that should be avoided for enterprise information systems stand out. The organization by content is, for example, completely absent. Although numerous Internet providers have tried to fill this gap, each is able to only cover a small part of this need. Another disadvantage is the heterogeneity of the Internet that guarantees a wide variety of information, but also reduces a uniform user guidance and navigation to very general browser functions. Often, many actions must be performed to find the desired information; search tools are handled differently, and there are no differences in the presentation of high-quality pages and those created haphazardly.

The information quality in respect to its significance, relevance and completeness also shows substantial differences because of the lack of a central, responsible instance. Such an instance is inconceivable in the Internet, in any case; yet in the case of an enterprise information system, the editor assumes this function.

About the Author:

Dr. Hartmut Krins is Executive Director of arcplan Information Services AG (Düsseldorf, Germany) and the Managing Director in both the U.S. head office in Philadelphia and the U.K. headquarters in London, where he oversees the management of arcplan resources and future strategies worldwide.