– Urmi Roy
Organizations today are constantly challenged about how to design their information system so that it can be meaningful to the users. As they are seen to make huge investments towards infrastructure for information systems, it is important to consider the design or the organization of content in the information system.
A good information system comes from an understanding of:
- The business goals and business context of the organization
- The users using the system
- The content that will be a part of the information system
This article shows how you can design an effective information model using the above pointers. Most importantly, it aims to show the possible relationships between these components and how a comprehensive information model can be drawn up with an understanding of the organization’s business goals.
Before we start out to design an information model, we need to have a general understanding of business goals. What is a business goal or what is the reason for a business to exist? A business exists because it provides value to its customers through some kind of good or service.
Let us take an example of a product that a company develops and sells to its customers. In other words, by selling the right product, the organization delivers value to the customer.
But how are these goods or services provided to customers?
In case of large organizations, divided along departmental or functional lines, the different functional units collaborate together to provide these services. Each of these departments (e.g. sales, marketing, finance) has a specific role in the organization. However, when it comes to creating the value for the customer, they work together to make it happen. It is in this context that business processes are born.
Business processes look beyond an organization’s internal divisions and can be defined as “a set of related business activities that join together to deliver something of value (e.g. products, goods, services or information) to a customer.”
Taking forward the above example of selling the product, let us look at a typical high level business process “Sell to the Customer”. What are the steps involved?
- The sales team finds the customer.
- The marketing team assists the sales team.
- The development team develops the product.
- The distribution team dispatches the product.
- The finance team invoices the customer.
Figure 1 shows the business process graphically.
In other words we see that, in order to sell to customer, the work flows through the different divisions of the organization.
The process moves horizontally through the internal departments of an organization and at each stage some value is added before it meets the customer’s need.
Business processes are an alternative way to look at an organization as they change the emphasis from who does what to how it is done. Business processes are composed of several steps and can be further decomposed into several sub- activities and tasks.
With this generic understanding of business processes, we will take an example of business processes in the Telecom sector.
Business processes in the telecom sector are defined in the eTOM (enhanced Telecom Operations Map) guidebook, published by the TM (Telecommunications Management) Forum. These are the most widely used and accepted standards for business processes in the telecom industry and lay down the processes needed by the service providers. Here are some elementary concepts as we understand the eTOM framework.
eTOM is divided into three main areas, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2 eTOM processes
The eTOM framework shows both vertical and horizontal processes. Figure 1 shows the top-level (Level “0”) processes.
The eTOM framework shows seven end-to-end vertical processes. The vertical processes reflect the main process areas needed to support the customers and to manage the business. At the heart of the eTOM, the focus is on the core customer operation processes of Fulfillment, Assurance and Billing (FAB) that directly support the customer.
Operations Support and Readiness (OSR) vertical process supports the core customer operations processes of FAB by setting up the operational environment. Similarly the SIP area vertical processes support the core customer operations processes and the OSR process, and are differentiated from the core processes.
The horizontal processes on the other hand, reflect the functional processes and the expertise within an enterprise’s internal organization that are very much required for businesses to function. In other words, these processes support the execution of the vertical processes with their focus and expertise.
Figure 3 Level 2 OPS processes
Processes are composed of several sub processes activities and tasks. The eTOM framework decomposes the level 1 processes to level 2 and level 3 process elements. Why is this required?
Process decomposition allows the framework to be adopted at different levels by service providers and the parties with whom they interact. Also, the actual activities under these, can be assigned to the above categories and leaves no room for ambiguity when adopted by service providers.
Figure 4 Level 3 OPS processes
With this knowledge of business processes, specifically in the telecom sector, let us see how information designers can apply this to the information design and structuring process.
In this context, the information designer represents a telecom equipment vendor’s organization. This vendor organization develops various network elements and databases that help the network operator to operate the network. The information designer is responsible for designing an information model that will aid the network operators.
To begin, we’ll take up one business process called Resource Management & Operations (RM&O).
This business process is responsible for managing all the resources (networks, IT systems, routers, servers etc.) that are used to deliver and support the services required by the customers.
From an information designer’s perspective this business process can also be known as Manage Network because it deals with the software and hardware and the tasks that are needed for building, operating, maintaining and managing a network.
So now we have established the business context in which this information system must work. The business context is to help the user manage the network.
The next thing that needs to be taken up is to identify the user.
Who is our user in this case? It is the network operator.
What does a network operator do?
A mobile network operator is a company that provides cellular phone services to customers. But how are these cellular phone services made available to the customers?
From the infrastructure point of view, in a typical GSM network, these phone services are made possible by a complex interaction between the different network elements, the databases, the messaging system, the hardware, and the underlying software that belong to the switching subsystem, the base station subsystem and the operation support subsystem.
However, even before the network can be rolled out to provide these services, the network operator needs to go through a long list of tasks. What are these tasks and how do we arrive at the tasks that a network operator needs to do to provide these services?
To re- emphasize, business processes can be further subdivided into sub processes, activities and tasks. Let us break up the main process into sub processes and come out with a process model that is reflective of the tasks that network operators need to do to provide telecom services to their end user.
Using the process decomposition method and by doing a thorough study of the operator processes, we arrive at the operator process model.
Listed below are some of the representative tasks that a network operator needs to do to operate a network and to manage the services.
- Plan a resource
- Install a resource
- Commission a resource
- Test and activate a resource
- Monitor a resource
- Troubleshoot a resource
- Prevent resource failures
- Collect billing data
For example, before rolling out a network, the network operator needs to plan the physical equipment and sites, the software that will be needed, the radio network, signaling, transmission etc.
Once the physical equipments have been identified, the process covers the tasks of installing, upgrading, managing, monitoring, preventing failures and all the other tasks required for operating a network and managing the services that are promised to the customers.
Now that we have an operator process model let us try to see if we can use the process model to design an information model that connects the information we provide to the processes and the tasks that operators do.
This brings us to the third component i.e. understanding of content.
Given that this information model needs to be designed to aid the network operators, we need to first identify the existing content in the telecom equipment vendor’s organization by the content analysis process.
This organization is divided along the different product lines and each of these product lines have enormous amount of content that act as supporting documentation to the products that the network operator uses.
The information model needs to reflect a system set consisting of a multitude of products – their underlying hardware and software that combine together to manage the network.
As information designers, as we start working on the information model we need to consider the following.
- Create a content inventory that will identify all the proposed content for the system. What are the types of content that need to go in system set? For example, this system set contains a complex mix of network elements and databases that are used by the Base Station Subsystem.
- Identify patterns and content relationships. What are the network elements that are required for the user task of Planning, or what is the information that the user will need while troubleshooting?
- Next, understand the type of information the user is looking for and analyze the existing material with the help of information types. What are these information types? Information types or units are the different types of information i.e. whether the information is procedural, descriptive, reference or task based. Once you have gone through the primary steps, see if the content (units of information) be put into the information model directly or is there some scope of dividing it further into subcategories?
- Now you can start to organize content. Some guiding principles as you start organizing the content.
You can use chronological order whenever is it important to do the task in a certain order. It is good to use the chronological order at least in the user tasks of:
The alphabetical order is another way of organizing content , whenever the order is not important. For e.g. the Reference category must always have an alphabetical order.
Sometimes content can be organized based on the frequency of doing the task. Some tasks that need to be done more than others must appear before the less frequent tasks.
When many products combine together to be a part of a large information set, the product or the component structure can also be used to organize content under the subheadings. This works especially well for Installing, Upgrading or Descriptions sections in the information model.
Once you have gone through the above steps you have probably come up with an information model that closely resembles the following.
|About this document set
Collect Billing Data
|Legal and safety requirements
In addition to the operator processes you have to introduce additional categories of:
- About this document set – this section acts as an introductory section and describes the document set. Some subcategories in this section are:
- Guide to document set
- Changes between release x and release y
- Conventions and symbols used in this document
- Descriptions – This is an additional category that does not belong to any single process. This section might contain high- level descriptions of products, features, functionality, architecture etc.
- Reference – Yet another extra category that does not belong to any single process. Technical details of the system. For e.g. alarms listed in Troubleshooting sections might have detailed description here.
- Legal and safety requirements – This section among other things might contain, disclaimer information that helps avoid litigation cases etc.
Does this information model make sense to your users?
Can you as an information designer see a pattern emerging? Are you able to map the operator processes to your information products?
Have you been able to look beyond product functionalities, beyond product lines and learnt to design the information from a business perspective?
If yes, you as an information designer have harmonized information across product lines by shifting the focus from what the product does to how the product helps the customer.
You have immensely helped the customer because the customer did not have to learn a multitude of product structures as they grappled with the various network elements at their disposal.
You have also helped the technical writer by elevating their role from being a mere product specialist to a process owner, which is very important in a global organization.
To re-emphasize, information designers play an important role in structuring the information. Once information designers start to think in terms of business processes, they start contributing to the business process and ultimately to the value chain that connects the organization to its customers requirements.
What is Business Process Design and Why Should I Care? by Jay Cousins and Tony Stewart, RivCom Ltd
Enhanced Telecom Operations Map® (eTOM) The Business Process Framework Addendum P : an eTOM Primer Release 4.5 GB921P Version 4.6.1 TeleManagement Forum, November 2004
About the Author:
Urmi Roy works as a lead technical writer at Citec Information India Pvt. Ltd. Her experience in technical writing spans across a wide range of technical writing activities, from pre-sales documentation to user documentation of different flavours. She has worked across different domains from Supply Chain to Telecom to BFSI. She has a Masters Degree in English Literature and a Certificate in Technical Writing from California State University, Fullerton.