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Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Case Study:
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced
Automation Inc.








David Norman



















ISM6305 Information Resource Management

Fall 2004

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Case Study:
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to

Advanced
Automation Inc.


Abstract
:

Th
is

is a loose

application of topics covered in ISM6305 at
the
University of Central
Florida to Advanced Automation Inc, a small business based in Van,
Texas.

An analysis
of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and th
reats (SWOT) will be presented as well as
some information
on Open Source
software development
and groupware suites for use in
Advanced Automation.


Advanced Automation, Inc. is a small consulting company founded by Ted Baker,
based in Van, Texas at a post

office box. The reason Advanced Automation is at a post
office box is because the company is completely a virtual organization


every employee
of the company works from home.


Ted Baker has worked in the insurance indu
stry for several decades. In 1990
, h
e
noticed several companies were beginning to solidify software suitable for use as
the
information systems for insurance agencies. The software allowed insurance agents to
print policies, in place of traditional ball
-
and
-
ink typewriter produced policies,
and keep
basic customer information in digital records. Ted noticed some basic workflow
improvements

developers could have made to
the
software; however, t
he software
developers were not interested in implementing

his ideas
. Instead of waiting for the larg
e
software development houses to implement his ideas, he quit his job and started a
consulting business to free up time of insurance agents spent interacting with insurance
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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IS. His company has grown to twelve full time employees
. With growth of employees
a
nd customers, the IS of Advanced Automation is constantly evolving.

From the start, Advanced Automation, hereinafter AA, has had a business strategy
focused on differentiation, however the application of differentiation is different from
that of a manufact
uring organization.
As consulting often is, the products offered by AA
are focused on the specific niche of improvements for small insurance agencies
, qualified
as anywhere between one and fifty employees
.

By far, the majority of the products are
delivered

in a 24/7 web
-
based training program, with content covering improvements to
managing personal lines, commercial lines, accounting, employee benefits, claims,
bonds, owners and managers, and producers. Within

each

content area
, where applicable,

are indust
ry specific topics on IT, workflow, incentive plans, performance reviews,
electronic filing,
errors and omissions (
E&O
)
, improving customer service, conflict
resolution, and cond
ucting effective annual reviews.

Strengths:

The most evident strength of AA is

the superstar leader, Ted Baker, who carries
much of the reputation for the company. At industry conferences, Ted is often identified
by face.

His candid personality is able to project hi
s passion and attract attention; the
result is a positive identifica
tion of the brand and company name.

The relative stability of
the insurance industry is also an
indubitable

anchor for the continuation of AA with high
government regulation and no foreseeable end for the needs of insurance.

AA has a
proven track record of

satisfied customers and successful outcomes from the
implementation of the advice provide
d

to customers.

Most important
,

from a
n IS
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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standpoint, is the ability

Ted

seems to have to be able to see a “big picture” for the future
of the IT resources in AA, w
hich matches th
e vision held by the CIO. The CEO, COO,
and CIO are all able to see how the
business strategy, organizational
strategy, and information strategy
depend on each other for the
overall
success of the company.

Weekly staff meetings are held with

all members of the
company to discuss successes, problems, resolve issues, and create a plan of action for
the upcoming week. With a flat organizational structure, each employee is a manager of
some aspect of the company, so the staff meetings provide an
ideal place for
“management” to participate in the implementation of most any aspect of the business.

Weaknesses:


Just as Ted is an asset to the image of AA, the drawback is a concentration of the
company image in a single person. Most of the customers of

AA are based in a small
niche market. History has shown the evolution of technology has made more than just
computer speeds obsolete over time. Though recent efforts
have been made to diversify
product offerings
,
AA is not heavily diversified in intellect
ual property for the consulting
front
-
end. A recurring issue with training customers is passing the interest of the sales
contact to the rest of the insurance agency. Often hours are spent in sales with a single
agency representative

who becomes very excit
ed about training with AA, however they
pass the task of implementation off to a different employee who has no investment in the
training or the background from the sales process of what the AA products have to offer.
Agencies that fall into this category
often never use the product the agency has
paid for.
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Moreover, agencies which

do have employees participate in training have trouble
verifying who has completed categories from the training materials

provided by AA
.

The
customer base of AA has mixed demand
s for AA regarding accountability for training.
The accountability requests are often broken into two main blocks, agencies who do not
want AA to attempt to hold agency employees accountable, and agencies who would like
an accountability system. Often, age
ncies which request accountability systems
need the
hand
-
holding to complete the training, or they grow distant from the process, however
AA does not have an effective accountability method.

The

internal information infrastructure is no longer sufficient t
o support the
collaborative types of activities between the sales, training, management, and renewal
processes.

Each employee keeps a

separate

calendar of events
, often containing key
information about marketing to new customers and renewals for existing c
ustomers
;
however, the flat organizational structure of AA sometimes requires one employee to
schedule events for another or to know the activities of another employee to make plans
for meeting with customers.

Information about schedules for marketing and
renewals
should also be property of AA, not simply in the hands of each individual employee; AA
could then provide proper centralized data security and backups for such data.

Emails
received from customers must be copied and pasted into a separate system w
here the
training and customers are tracked online. Any time an employee needs to lookup
employee information, they must leave their Microsoft Outlook contact list to look up the
information in the AA IS. Every employee has a long list of projects to compl
ete for
marketing, training, administration, website development, intranet application
development, and other projects, however AA does not have a system to track and
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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prioritize IS requests. As a result, projects have been running over schedule, over budge
t,
and getting lost or dropped altogether.

Opportunities:


Workflows and electronic filing are two things AA best is known for helping
insurance agencies become more efficient. AA is working on establishing a relationship
with a document imaging company na
med Docstar, and with that relationship to create a
specialized document management software solution for insurance agencies.

Such a
document management system would be a unique product to the insurance industry.
Kemper Auto and Home is also interested in
endorsing AA to their insurance agents
because they believe in the power of what AA has to offer to improve agents’ offices.
They are willing to offer reimbursement to each agency for completing the AA training
materials and implementation processes.

The s
trategic alliances with Kemper and Docstar
could provide the platform for doubling the income of AA in the near future.

AA has also
been developing a new product offering to train a new employee with no experience in
the insurance industry to be an optimal
ly productive member of an insurance agency
within 30 days. Many loyal agencies have already pre
-
paid for this service in anticipation
of its introduction.

Marsh Berry, another player in the insurance industry consulting
business, recently contacted AA exe
cutives to inquire about a partnership of resources.
The reputation of Marsh Berry is first
-
rate. Any relationship with Marsh Berry could be
valuable for both AA and Marsh Berry in business referrals.

Threats:


Consulting is often a luxury

expense

in budge
ting and it depends on the customer
setting apart extra time during business hours to learn and implement new things. Sudden
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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increases in insurance claims and decreases in the number of policies written can affect
how money and time are spent on consulting

like what AA has to offer.

Most insurance
agencies are dependent on a few popular agency management systems including AFW,
Applied Systems, AMS, and Instar. The major players in agency management software
have deep pockets to make changes to their softwar
e which would make many things AA
has to offer become obsolete. Deep pockets strategies could be used to copy AA product
offerings or eliminate workflow issues AA helps to resolve and package it with the
software agencies are already committed to for long
-
term. Though AA has a respectable
reputation and positive branding, the barriers to entry for competition are small.


Having a virtual organization is something that is liked by all the AA employees.
When the question is raised on whether or not to have a
central office, nobody sees a
worthwhile advantage beyond what AA is able to do with phone calls and emails.

Approximately every 5 months, all the AA employees fly to a central location to have a
face
-
to
-
face meeting. The effect is most often instant and c
ontinuous brainstorming over
changes to products, internal workflows, new products, and any other type of topic that
might have an advantage to the company.


The recent addition of two new employees has magnified how much the internal
information infrastru
cture of AA has been suffering. Until the new employees are
productive, profit contributors, resources for additional IT staffing are limited.

Much of
the software needed for the internal IS management for AA is custom, due to the scarcity
of software that

can be used for training the insurance industry.

For this reason, AA has
started looking into the benef
its of Open Source S
oftware

(OSS)

development. The Open
Source Initiative makes the followi
ng case for OSS

development.

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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The
basic idea behind open sourc
e

is very simple: When programmers can read,
redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software
evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen
at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace o
f conventional software
development, seems astonishing.



Ala
n Cox endorses OSS

development with an explanation why businesses should
consider open sourced software. Risks for using closed source software are many. Once a
company is locked into a product f
rom a particular vendor, they could have to suffer
sudden and extreme price increases, loss of support, or even

a buy
-
out or

bankruptcy of
the vendor. He mentions
OSS

“is about competition, choice, and putting power in the
hands of the consumer.” In fair
ne
ss to closed source software development models of
Microsoft, IBM, Adobe, and others have proven to be quite profitable for the select few
companies who are able to fill a common need. The development of Windows, Lotus
Notes, or Adobe Acrobat then became t
hose companies’ core competency; however, in
the case of AA, the development of the intranet
-
type support software is
not part of AA’s
mission statement, strategic goals, or core competencies. On that basis, there is little
reason for AA to ignore the pote
ntial benefits of free contributions to software sources
released to the public.

Prasad clarifies the reasoning behind not selling software with a
metaphor illustrating the effectively win
-
neutral economic transaction of end
-
user and
developer, “each devel
oper contributes a brick and
each

gets back a complete house in
return.” This is due to the multiplier effect
from cooperation of other developers.
According to Eric Raymond, only 5% of programmers worldwide are engaged in
“for
sale” software, the other pe
rcentage is spent on in
-
house or custom software
development. AA will be writing custom in
-
house software, the question is whether or
not releasing the source to the public would be beneficial, neutral, or detrimental to AA.

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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One obvious potential problem
would be competitors using AA’s
OSS
software to
level or surpass a competitive advantage

held by AA.

OSS has several different approved
license
s by the Open Source Initiative which could help to neutralize any such results.

The most common OSS license is t
he
GNU
General Public License (GPL)
is used to
prevent copying, distributing, and modifying the licensed software unless the changes
and the original software are all available to the public.

The GPL does not allow non
-
OSS
and GPL licensed software to be u
sed together in any form



the non
-
OSS software must
be converted to GPL licensed OSS
. For this reason, the GPL license is often called the
virus of OSS because it infects any software
it works with


it ensures the free
perpetuation of the software source

to others.

AA would of course not want someone to
copy AA’s OSS and sell it for profit. The GPL would prevent that, but a less restrictive
license called the Artistic License would allow people to use the software as they please,
under the condition that
the copyright notices remain, changes to the original source are
documented, and the OSS package may not be

sold directly. The advantage of

allowing
others to sell AA’s OSS as part of a larger package is a

more

absorbed

investment

on the
part of the third
parties

to the continuation of the software’
s evolution and development.
The overall advantages to AA to pursue OSS include faster development speed and lower
overhead by essentially outsourcing some development work.


The three top, internal IS issues fac
ing AA are project management, calendaring,
and excessive double entry between systems.

The main IS system for AA tracks all facets
of customer sales,

training, and contact information. AA employees are happy with the
current system for the services it per
forms, because so much of the information that is
served to customers and tracked is custom to the needs of what AA does. To upgrade the
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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system, improving the process of moving all contact by email to the customer database
would save many hours of double e
ntry for the company per week. The AA IS manager
is comfortable modifying a web
-
based email system to move emails to customer records
and many OSS projects are available to investigate. Three of the most popular email
PHP
-
based, Web
-
based email systems are

Horde IMP, Squirrelmail, and Ilohamail. At
one time, UCF used Horde IMP for student email access.

The essential functions needed
by AA employees include the following: 24/7 unrestricted access, contact list,
compose/read HTML email, automatic filtering of

mail into folders, file attachments, and
searching.
Four products have been identified as possible solutions for project
management: bugs.php.net, Horde Whups, Eventum, and Drupal.

Web
-
based shared
calendars, written in PHP, are a rare commodity. Only Hor
de Kronolith, Webcalendar

(currently used)
, and phpGroupWare were identified as candidates for shared web
calendaring.

Figure 2 shows the Inbox of Squirrelmail. The interface runs on a dated
implementation of

HTML frames, which is a benefit

to have faster
page loads between
changing screens. Multiple pages of emails are paginated to additional sc
reens, and it
even comes with
Todo list and Calendar function
s
.

Figure 2


Squirrelmail Inbox Screen

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 3


Squirrelmail Compose Screen


Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 3 shows the c
ompose window, however it is missing the HTML compose
option employees of AA list as a high priority for email. The calendar extension keeps
only basic date and time information. A shared calendar function exists for Squirrelmail,
however it is not mature
for production use.

Figure 4


Squirrelmail Calendar



The display window in Figure 5 shows a link to display the full headers to emails.
The IS manager has often run into problems with debugging email problems, wrongly
filtered spam, viruses, and other e
mail issues where full email headers for messages
would have been helpful. Most AA employees use Microsoft Outlook, which does not
provide a convenient option for viewing the source of emails when debugging network
problems. Squirrelmail will also automati
cally block embedded images in emails to
prevent malicious emails or pornographic spam from displaying automatically.

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 5


Squirrelmail Displaying Message




The email message list in Figure 6 for Ilohamail offers equivalent functions of

those offer
ed in Squirrelmail. Calendaring, contact list functions, and compose window
functions are similar, including the lack of the option to compose HTML emails.
Ilohamail also appears to have a small problem displaying HTML emails inline, opting
instead to disp
lay a link to the HTML content of the email. AA employees have already
pronounced extra clicks to view HTML emails unacceptable for regular use.

The
calendaring in Ilohamail and Squirrelmail is unacceptable for regular use, in most part
from the lack of sh
ared calendar functions.

Figure 6


Ilohamail Message List

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 7


Ilohamail Scheduling


Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 8


Ilohamail Message


Figure 9


Ilohamail Compose Window

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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The Horde Framework is the most robust. It has the most options and features per
option in

modular installations. The Horde Framework allows the Horde IMP plugin for
reading mail to authenticate for a complete web
-
based intranet with file manager, email
system, todo list, shared calendars, CVS file repository viewer (Horde Chora),
Issue
Trackin
g System. Since the Horde Framework is built to act as one system composed of
many modules, AA can develop custom modules to plug into the Horde Framework to
add functions that would reduce double entry, manage projects, and manipulate each
others calendar
s. A trial installation worked flawlessly on the AA server. Although Horde
provides the easiest system for managing a single login and building custom modules,
existing modules have enough quirks to keep it from being readily adopted. For example,
Horde IM
P does not at any tim
e display HTML formatted emails, even though it allows
Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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emails to be composed in HTML.

All portions of

received

HTML email are displayed in
links of emails, where AA employees would have to click to view. The issue tracking
system does
not provide easy to read snapshot views of priorities or progress of projects.
Displaying shared calendars
does not display in a easy to read, layered format. Instead,
displaying multiple calendars often spills many screen widths off the screen, making it
impossible to AA employees to make a printout.

Figure 10


Horde Framework Introduction Screen


Figure 11


Horde IMP Message List

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 12


Horde IMP Message Display


Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 13


Horde Kronolith Calendar: Month Display


Figure 14


Horde Whups Open

Ticket List

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 15


Horde Chora CVS Repository


Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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phpGroupWare had the most lackluster presentation. Many functions are
available, but each are only minimally implemented.

Figure 16


phpGroupWare


In June 2004, the AA IS manager downloaded the bu
g database source for
http://bugs.php.net/

to customize as the issue and project tracking system for AA.
Project
stalled in August before enough function was created to implement it for AA. The
bugs.php.net system was
the most attractive to AA for project management, however the
source started highly customized for use just at bugs.php.net. Discontinuing development
on this project in favor of something generally available, and already in working order
might speed the p
rocess for AA to have a project management system for the start of
Q1FY2005.

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 17


Bugxilla Bug Summary


Figure 18


Bugxilla Product List


Figure 19


Bugxilla Report Form

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Eventum is a professionally written project management system by MySQL A
B.
It has individual user logons, automatic assignments, it can check email accounts for bug
submissions by email, and it provides and easy to read interface for open issues, bug
history, and progress of open reports. It lacks in areas of future product ex
pansion. AA
has slated to release several new products and/or websites which would need somewhat
separate tracking in an issue database. The source of Eventum is written using a template
system called Smarty, which separates the PHP script from HTML source
. The highly
commented code could be modified to add separate product functionality and contribute
the functions back to the Eventum developers for future releases. It would be best for AA
in the long run to attach to an Open Source project that has regula
r releases and which
accepts patches and updates from contributors. That will prevent the future AA IS
employees from having to take on all future development of the issue tracking system in
-
house.

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 20


Eventum New Installation


Figure 21


Eventum

Report Form

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 22


Eventum Issue Summary

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 23


Eventum Issue Search Form

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 24


Eventum Issue Details

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 24


Eventum Administration

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Drupal has a basic issue tracking system, though not as equipped as Eventum. The
attractive

feature to Drupal was the option to have a development log for the developers
to give regular journal entries for the projects in the issue database.
Often, time during
AA staff meetings is spent just understanding the current status of projects, where ti
me
was spent, and where the AA IS systems are going in the future. A development log
would provide a searchable record of any AA employee who uses it.

Figure 25


Drupal Summary Page

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 26


Drupal Issue Summary


Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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Figure 27


Drupal Content Creation
Area


Unfortunately, no system was identified to satisfy the ideals requirements of AA.
Horde is ideal for central logins and HTML, Drupal is good for a development log,
Eventum is good for status reports, and Ilohamail and Squirrelmail are satisfactory f
or
checking email on the road. Bugxilla was started with good intentions, but involved too
much “reinventing the wheel” to get a working product. Something is needed to better
organize AA for the beginning of 2005.

Recommendations:

1)

Implement Eventum for is
sue tracking.

2)

Switch from
IMail Web Messaging to Ilohamail for emailing on the road

3)

Edit Webcalendar to make better use of cookies between the AA customer
website and Webcalendar and continue using Webcalendar for Q1FY2005

Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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4)

Continue to investigate ways to r
educe double entry between email and the
AA IS system


Application of Managing and Using Information Systems to Advanced Automation Inc

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