Discussion As To Whether Information Systems Are Relevant To Developing Countries

1 Introduction
There have been many discussion as to whether information systems and communication technologies (ICTs) are relevant to developing countries. The question should rather be how ICTs can be beneficial. Information and communication technologies have high potential value across all sectors, in both public and private enterprises, and at multiple levels, from software businesses in urban areas, for example, to health delivery in rural villages.

According to Richard Heeks' article Systems and Developing Countries': Failure, Success, and Local Improvisations, failure is divided into total failure and partial failure. Total failure of an information system project occurs by an initiative never being implemented or a new initiative is implemented but is soon after abandoned. The other possible outcome is partial failure of an information system initiative, in which major goals or requirements are not achieved or in which there are undesirable outcomes.

Success of an information systems initiatives are measured according to the results achieved after implementation which are the benefits achieved if the initiative succeeds and the end users make full use of the initiative implemented. This paper will be analyzing and discussing how information systems (IS) in developing countries (DC) does not this is not achieve success within the context of India, which is a developing country falling under the B.R.I.C.S banner. The paper will be incorporating aspects on Information Technology (IT) Governance, technology decisions, IT alignment within business, pervasive computing and budget management as well as the possibility of IT contributing to future successes or solutions.

2 Analysis of case study
In this section I will be analyzing and discussing the case study of Heeks, in which he discusses how information system in developing countries has failed. Heeks' has many examples in the article pointing failures within developing countries. For this paper I have concentrated on examples of information systems failure within India, which is a, a developing and emerging economy playing a key role in the world development platforms. Therefore I have made use of other resources in order to point out different initiatives that have failed within India context. I will be discussing what each section is and how in the article IS failed due to not considering or implementing the factors mentioned.
2.1 IT governance
IT investments decisions are made through the process of IT governance. IT governance includes the principles of how decisions are made, who makes the decisions, who is held accountable and how the results of decisions are measured and monitored.

By applying this principle according to Heeks' example referenced in his article, pointing out India's Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre complete failure. The initiative was designed in order to be a national information provider built on a set of primary environmental information systems. Although more than a year of planning, analysis and design work, these information systems never became operational, and the whole initiative failed. (Puri et al 2000).

This example shows how IT governance was not considered or implemented during Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre initiative. Little importance was given to factors such as accountability, performance measurement, and risk management. As pointed out by Heeks' the issue is the gap that can sometimes occur between the understandings of IS design, and the political/behavioral realities of developing country.

Figure 1: IT Governance is about
a. Accountability.
IT management is held accountable through IT governance for the return on its investment in IT, as well as the reliability of IT's own information and controls. With India's Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre initiative, responsibility for the initiative was not fully taken and accountability on the return on investment was not considered. Though planning and design was done for a year, IT management didn't support the initiative and accountability for the initiative was not enforced. Thus causing a failure in maintaining control over the initiative and a year was spent planning and designing.

b. Performance measurement.
Performance measurement through the form of balanced scorecard are implemented in order assist with accountability in IT governance thus being able to keep score. The fundamental principle is that the evaluation of an information system initiative should not be restricted to financial evaluation but should also be accompanied with measures concerning customer satisfaction, internal processes and the ability to innovate.
In the case of India's Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre, this initiative intended to be a national information provider, but without implementing measurable tools the initiative was not steered in the direction for success.

c. Risk management.
Risk in a new initiative may be in many forms, not only financial risk. Project steering committees should be specifically concerned about operational and systemic risk. Therefore, managing IT risk is paramount. IT risks include security risks arising from hackers and denial of service attacks, privacy risks arising from identity thefts, recovery from disasters, resiliency of systems from outages, and the risks associated with project failures. This means that management should be transparent and competent in order to fulfil their leadership role (IODSA, 2009). Consequently wrong IT projects are chosen and then aborted because there are no benefits
2.2 Making technology decisions
Decision making is the process of developing and analysing alternatives and choosing from these choices. The executive steering committee is responsible for making technology decisions for new initiatives. The steering committee should understand and interpret the new initiatives strategy and agree on overall IS policies. Decisions must be made to establish priorities, agree on resource and expense levels and authorise major investments. According to Sheilds et al, IS initiatives are situated action, an idea or design created in the context of a circumstance. "Our technologies mirror our societies." (Bijker and Law 1992:3). Idea creators are part of and formed by their own cultural values, objects etc. thus innovations are generated as such. (Shields and Servaes 1989?? Braa and Hedberg 200*).

An example is the Sustainable Access in Rural India (SARI) project in Tamil Nadu, India. This initiative was intended to provide broad information and communications services through computer and Internet kiosks to rural areas in order for growth according to social, economic, and political. The Internet kiosks was initiated to provide a number of services such as basic computer education, e-mail, web browsing, e-government, health, agricultural and veterinary services mostly on a fee-for-service basis. Strategically Tamil Nadu would develop through the implementation, but no decisions according to resource, expense levels in order to maintain such an initiative were considered, as decisions for implementation was not considered from the rural societies perspective. The remoteness of designers could mean that their impressions are likely to be significantly different from user reality. Harindranath (1993) stated that though developing countries commit a generous amount of economic resources to ICT. For ICT to take full advantage of the benefits careful planning and management before implementation must be planned. Otherwise implementation will only succeed in the expenditure of scarce resources during the trial and error methods.

Bannister and Remenyi (2000) point out that when it management is face with complex decisions, management often rely on methods which do not fall within the traditional boundaries of so-called rational decision making. It is observed that management sometimes base decisions on 'acts of faith, gut instinct or blind faith', also referred to as strategic insight. This is a downfall for developing countries as ICT initiative can be
2.3 IT alignment with business
Strategic alignment focuses on the activities that management performs to achieve unified goals across IT and other functional organizations. Alignment addresses both how IT is in harmony with the new initiative, and how the new initiative should, or could, be in harmony with IT. Through individual opportunities with new initiatives and subjective opinions of reality, every individual IS stakeholder has their own design and their own version of reality, this corresponds to Heeks's thought of the design-actuality gap. The design-actuality gap is constructed on an assessment of the match or mismatch between local actuality and system design.

In developing countries like India this design idea for new initiatives and version of reality must be aligned. For example in the Gyandoot project, the absence of infrastructure services was one of the major problems encountered in the development and implementation of the project. Local rural telephone infrastructure did not operate with optical fibre cable, and primarily the reliability was a major problem. Managers of the kiosks were less motivated and were not inclined to participate with the project due to this design-actuality gap. Also many problems were encountered with literacy and skills in order to use new technology tools and applications. Therefore this initiative was implemented with perceived expectations about the situation of the users and failure occurred when this alignment was not met.


Figure 2: Alignment and misalignment

India's telecommunications department ensured alignment was achieved between IT and the initiative. Alignment was achieved through the Indian telecommunications department taking action to upgrade the level and quality of infrastructure. As well as researching alternative solutions in order to ensure coverage to zones where telephones were not available. In addition some basic training was provided to people who were directly involved in management and maintenance of the kiosks. (Bhatnagar and Vyas, 2001)
2.4 Mobile / pervasive computing
Heeks is his case study does not mention the topic of pervasive computing. This could be as he may not see this as a possibility in developing countries. In this section of the paper, this aspect of technology will be discussed as a contributing factor to IS in developing countries as well as looking at its possible obstacles. Pervasive computing basically means computing everywhere. Pervasive computing environments are commonly implemented by surrounding smart devices in the environment. A smart device is a device that is digital, computer networked, is user reconfigurable and that can operate to some extent independently.

ICT can play a major role in enhancing agriculture, security and support in rural areas. This includes the use of computers, internet, geographical information systems, mobile phones, as well as traditional media such as radio or TV.

The social and political environment in which pervasive computing initiatives operate is critical and supportive policies and measures are a prerequisite. Success is not derived automatically from inserting pervasive computing into isolated, poor communities. In a 2006 survey IICD investigated the use of pervasive computing in agriculture in over fifty supported projects. End users indicated that awareness-raising and training are highly valued and lead to empowerment). There is ample potential for effective use of pervasive computing in agriculture and initiatives are promising. However much is still to be done in India as developing country.

 

 

 

 

 

2.5 Budget Management
Organizations of all types struggle with information technology (IT) budgeting. This often happens because the IT team doesn't understand the budgeting process and the finance team doesn't understand IT.
According to Moran (1998), information system initiatives fall into two categories, vision without substance and a budget without vision. The identified problems of vision without substance are ambiguity of future vision, lack of formal vision, current position and time. Identified issues of budget without vision are questions as to what problem is being solved, what are the priorities and definition of the roles and responsibilities. With ICT projects being advocated for and financed by donors, budget without vision is likely to be the project plan. Aineruhanga (2004) observes that planning as a tool can help in reducing waste by identifying the pre-requites conditions for successful ICT implementation rather than 'rushing into a complex e-Government strategy without having first finalized a national ICT policy'. As for example in Kerela, India, revealed that numerous factors allow individuals in developing countries to access services effectively are ignored. These factors depend on resources, skills-levels, values, beliefs and motivations of those involved in the initiative (Madon, 2004). From this example it can be incidental that training, skills and change management efforts would all affect the rate of failure, as they would create wide gaps between technology itself and the context within which it exist. Another challenging issue is overspending on IT projects due to lack of insight into the IT and business aspects of the entity.
3 Recommendation for improvement
Through using Balance Scorecard at the early stage of the initiative performance can be measured and maintained in order to be ready for implementation

4 Conclusion
These similarities include funds which are never sufficient, bureaucracy and user needs. The difference is how problems are addressed in different countries. It can be argued that, with their adequate resources and advanced technology, the Western countries have an easier way of implementing ICT projects than DCs. Most developing countries are characterised by limited computer applications in the public sector, inadequate infrastructure and shortage of skilled manpower (Odedra 1993). Odedra (1993, p.9) notes that 'this situation exists not merely due to lack of financial resources, but largely due to lack of coordination at different levels in making effective use of the technology'. This uncoordinated efforts can only result in duplication if each department implements its own ICT projects without due regard to compatibility within the government.

Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/free-essays/information-technology/discussion-whether-information-systems-relevant-developing-countries.php



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