Information System Conversion in SMEs

Information System Conversion in SMEs

Efrem G. Mallach (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-892-5.ch002
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Information system conversion has been with us since users of punched-card tabulating systems first moved to vacuum-tube computers. However, it is often seen as an after thought: once the “interesting” work of analysis, design and so on is done, it will some how happen. This chapter attempts to view the process holistically, from both the tech nical and human viewpoints, reflecting the fact that information systems have both tech nical and human components. It shows how ignoring one side or the other can lead to problems, which can be avoided if all aspects are considered together. It proposes a sys tematic approach to considering these issues and points out benefits of using it.
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Background: It Conversion Methods

The literature (e.g., Palvia, 1991; Mallach, 2006) discusses the coverage in ten MIS and eight systems analysis textbooks) generally recognizes four IT conversion methods:

Direct cut-over: an entire organization stops using the old system at one time and begins using the new one immediately thereafter (perhaps after a natural break in activity, such as over a weekend). This is the riskiest method. The other methods exist to reduce conversion risks. (Direct cut-over is sometimes called plunge conversion, for the sake of alliteration and/or to mimic the “four Ps”—Product, Price, Promotion, Placement—that constitute the marketing mix.)

Pilot conversion: Part of an organization uses the new system while the rest continues to use the old. This localizes problems to the pilot group so problem-solving resources can focus on it. However, it can create interface difficulties when organizational units share data.

Phased (modular) conversion: The new system is put into use one module at a time, while the rest of the old system remains in place. This localizes problems to the newly introduced module and its interfaces, so problem-solving resources can focus on it. However, it can create interface difficulties when modules pass data from one to another.

Parallel conversion: The new system is introduced while the old one is still in use. Both systems process business activity, and the results are compared. Once there is confidence that the new system operates properly, the old one is shut down.

As Palvia et al. (1991) point out, the variations on direct cut-over can be combined. This creates four more methods: pilot-phased, pilot-parallel, parallel-phased and pilot-phased-parallel, for a total of eight.

These strategies address the technology side of conversion. However, it also has a human side. The two are usually treated separately, for the understandable but unfortunate reason that managers’ and researchers’ interests tend to focus on either technology or people. Reduced risk tends to go hand in hand with increased complexity of the human transition. Effective management of the conversion process requires considering both together.

A Note on Terminology

Some writers use the word conversion to refer only to the technological (IT) aspects, calling either the human side or the entire process implementation. In this article “conversion” will refer to the entire process. We will use more specific terminology (such as “IT conversion”) as appropriate for its subsets, unless the meaning is clear from the context.

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