Enterprise Systems: Build or Buy is No Longer the Question

For the Division of Information (DoI), Australian National University, 2006


  1. Introduction
  2. Background on Enterprise Systems at ANU
  3. New Ways to Develop Software
  4. Data is the Enterprise

    See Also

  5. Other Information Technology
  6. Home


Most large organizations have their own in-house Corporate Information Services (CIS) area providing computing and telecommunications services to the enterprise. Decisions must be made if to buy or build enterprise systems. These can be standard business systems for payroll and finance, or specialized systems for the particular business area.

This talk looks at the issues facing a major Australian university, which has to plan, design, acquire, operate, update, and replace academic, research and administrative information systems. As with any organization, a university has to worry about the business needs of the organization, as well as technical requirements.

These issues are often reduced to the question of build or buy. Should pre-written packages be purchased, or software developed in-house. Should Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) software be used, external contractors or in-house staff engaged to build a bespoke system. However, the way software is being developed and sold (or not sold) is changing. The Internet and the web have brought a level of standardization to IT, which is driving the question of standardizing business processes and the out-sourcing of functions, not just IT. Business people are poorly equipped to deal with these issues and it is up to the IT professionals to help the organization deal with these new issues. Technologies such as Web Services and techniques like Open Source development have most of their impact due to the business model they bring with them.

Background on Enterprise Systems at ANU

The Division of Information is responsible for providing The Australian National University with the information services and infrastructure required to enable teaching, learning, and research. ...

... campus-wide desktop computing environment ... Library Catalogue ... Smart Lecture Theatres ....


From: "About DOI", Australian National University, 2006

Corporate Information Services (CIS) - an organizational unit of the Division of Information - develops and supports the University's IT enterprise solutions. For the past few years The University has been actively streamlining and improving business practices and providing more efficient services by the incremental replacement of, and addition of new enterprise systems and the use of new and sophisticated technology. CIS also provides a consultancy service for the provision of advice and support of desktop and web-based administrative and some academic applications.


From: "Corporate Information Services, Australian National University, 2004

Managing IT

In 1997 the Higher Education Division of the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs sponsored research on introducing IT in Australian universities. The work covered twelve universities in detail, plus aspects at another eight. The analysis looked at: strategy, roles and skills, management processes, structure and technology. Strategic issues identified included: quality of teaching, cost efficiencies, multiple campuses, competition for students, diversity of students and university collaboration.

IT is central to and critically underpins the strategic agenda. A new 'subsidiary' delivers IT based teaching and learning, undertaking its innovative IT-based development in a separate, centrally resourced unit, and building new core competencies. IT enabled teaching and learning, designed to deliver quality and reliability to a large number of students, is the key driver in this model. In such a 'greenfield' site, highly skilled experts can be selected as required, with a focus on the motivation and ability to work in multi-functional teams. Administration will be primarily project management based.

From: "Managing the Introduction of Technology in the Delivery and Administration of Higher Education, Philip Yetton, Australian Graduate School of Management, 1997

The report was written by Australian academics eminent in the IT field and deserves to be read by those involved in IT decision making at university. Section 4 "Management Processes: Evaluating IT Investments" by Mike Vitale and Kim Johnston details management issues in evaluating collaborative IT investments. The CASMAC (Core Australian Specification for Management and Administrative Computing) system is used as an example. This started in 1990 as a plan for a common administrative systems in Australian universities, but was abandoned in 1999.

The CASMAC project was abandoned by the participating universities mainly due to the inability of the contractor to deliver the required software according to the specifications and the contract, and logistical problems arising from the involvement of such a large number of participants in the decision-making process which proved to be detrimental in reaching consensus and achieving desired outcomes in a timely manner.

From: "Report on Ministerial Portfolios, Victorian Auditor-General's Office, 1999

Project failures continue to occur. However, the state of the art in IT project management has advanced considerably since the 1990s. Those responsible for new project failures can expect to face court action to recover the costs involved and, in some cases, criminal charges, if they have not implemented known risk reduction techniques.

New Ways to Develop Software

Software Metrics

The field of software metrics has developed to plan and manage software acquisition. This has been used successfully on very large and complex multinational software development, such as the Australian Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft.

From: "Processes Used to Manage and Control Development of Software on a Very Large Multinational Development Project, ACT joint systems interest groups (SQA, SESA, IEEE-CS and SCSC) talk at ANU by Stuart Garrett, Defence Materiel organization, 19 July 2006

In March 2006 the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) released a 103 page "Performance Indicator Resource Catalogue". The report covers:

This provides a useful catalog of tools and techniques for projects. Along with other AGIMO manuals, this document is free on-line. With the Australian ICT Governance Standard, these provide a framework for IT professionals and senior executives to manage IT in organizations.

Model Driven Architectures and executable translatable UML

Model Driven Architecture (MDA) and executable translatable UML (xtUML) offer a way to develop applications rapidly in collaboration with the business user. In Australia the Australian Research Council is leading the implementation of xtUML with its integrated research management system. As well as providing an example of a use of xtUML, this system might be expanded to provide the facilities for grant management within Universities, who are the ARC's major clients.

The ARC works with the broad research community to support the advancement of knowledge and contribute to national innovation. The ARC provides competitive research funding to a broad range of external clients and the ARC's information technology systems provide business support for thousands of users who submit proposals, project reports and assessments of proposals to the ARC. These systems also enable the efficient running of selection and post-award processes and outcome reporting.

In parallel with existing systems, the ARC is undergoing a major redevelopment project to replace a number of existing applications with an integrated research management system which will support the management and administration of various research schemes under the National Competitive Grants Program. The redevelopment is the responsibility of an in-house development team, and is being conducted using Model Driven Architecture (MDA) and executable translatable UML (xtUML) methodologies on a Linux, J2EE software stack with browser interfaces.

From: "Contractor Web Site Designer / Developer, Australian Research Council, AusTender, 2006

Open Source for Major High Sensitivity Systems

The Australian Taxation Office is using open source software to identify tax cheats using analytics (Data Mining). Use of open source software for such a specialized, sensitive and mission critical application goes against conventional wisdom. However, in this case the software is being developed by experts in the organization in conjunction with those in affiliated government agencies.

The Australian Taxation Office is in the midst of one of the largest changeovers of computer systems in Australia. The Change Program is replacing a myriad of legacy systems that have evolved over many years, with a unified capability. One part of this Change Program is the deployment of Analytics, or Data Mining, as a key technology for risk processing, compliance monitoring, case selection and fraud discovery. In this seminar I will review the context of Analytics in the ATO, the technology being developed and deployed, and issues around acceptance of new technology, including open source data mining and GNU/Linux platforms.

... Dr Williams is Adjunct Professor, University of Canberra, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Australian National University.

From: "Analytics at the ATO, DCS SEMINAR SERIES, Australian National University, 2006

Data is the Enterprise

Software is not essential to the operation of an enterprise. It is the data in the systems which is important. Technologies such as web services allow data centric applications to be built from interworking components. But there have to be agreement on the data standards to be used and data quality.

Amazon.com's Web services implementation provides a good model for enterprises. They provide online documentation and publish the formats of their data and the transactions to use it.

See Also

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