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Case study: Socrates & Co
From the Systems Planning assessment
You work at IT Foundry as a Systems Analyst.
Socrates & Co is a bookshop specialising in new, second hand and rare books. It is located on a busy shopping street, close to several university campuses and has been in business for a long time. Today, it's managed by its owner, Joanna Diakou, but it was started in 1938 by Joanna's father, Stefanos, who was a well-known local intellectual. When he established Socrates & Co, Stefanos gave a lot of consideration to the store's interior design and location. It came to be well known as a place where people are welcome to escape the noise, rest their feet, and sit and read without being disturbed. There are comfortable armchairs between the shelves and people can have snacks if they are careful. Over time, Stefanos came to know many of his customers by name and Socrates & Co built a reputation and a loyal customer base almost entirely from word-of-mouth recommendations. Stefanos retired in 1974 and turned the business over to Joanna, who at the time was recently graduated with an honours degree in the humanities. She has maintained her father's practices and has come to know her regular customers by name and people know they can come to Socrates & Co and find a warm welcome, insightful and witty conversation, or quiet solitude.
Although she draws a salary from Socrates & Co, Joanna doesn't consider the time she spends there to be 'work' – instead it is simply her lifestyle. She goes to Socrates & Co every day except Sundays. Four other people work there: Kavya Amal works on Mondays and Thursdays; Adam Matchoss works on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays; Rajavel Sulake and Priyam Farrukh both work on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Kavya, Adam, Rajavel and Priyam are postgraduate coursework students whose schedules change every semester. Priyam has worked at Socrates & Co for five years and is paid a higher wage because she manages the store on Sundays. All of the staff love the relaxed atmosphere and they deeply appreciate Joanna's attitude because, as long the customers have what they need, Joanna doesn't mind if the staff work on their assignments while they are at the store. The store's opening hours are the same every day: 11am to 7pm.
However, Joanna has recently been unwell and has come to realise that perhaps Socrates & Co could afford her an additional afternoon off if she didn't have to spend so much time on keeping track of inventory, sales, special orders, rosters and all the other little administrative tasks. Also, Kavya and Adam are students in an IT department and they both think Socrates & Co really ought to expand into ecommerce, with an app and a website. Joanna is not entirely sure what this would entail, but she trusts Kavya and Adam and she decides to investigate further.
One of Joanna's regular customers is Andrew Frawley. He is one of your workmates at IT Foundry. When Andrew came into the store, Joanna asked him for advice. He immediately advised Joanna to work with you; you have more experience in ecommerce and publishing than Andrew. She agrees to a meeting, which Andrew arranges between yourself and Joanna.
You talk to Joanna about Socrates & Co and you realise its significance extends to the wider community: even people who never buy a book can enjoy reading in the peaceful atmosphere. You learn that Socrates & Co has long-standing relationships with thirty-four publishers and you know that seventeen of the publishers (the larger ones) offer B2B ordering, returns and invoicing. You talk about various business processes. For example, you discuss how Joanna sources rare books and you discuss the Socrates & Co text-book sales service (on a 5% commission) for uni students. You talk about the process for replenishing the second hand stock and the process for when a customer makes a special order. You are sure there are other business processes Joanna has not mentioned; payroll comes immediately to mind and you begin to identify other overlooked business processes. Joanna also tells you about a project she has had in mind for some time: she wants to start a small café in one corner of the store, for which she has obtained a licence.
You can see potential for supporting Socrates & Co business processes and for supporting Joanna's plans for a small café, both without disrupting the Socrates & Co reputation. However, as you are a seasoned professional, you don't rush in. Instead you suggest that Socrates & Co funds a preliminary investigation of a potential future IS project. Joanna agrees to the cost, your manager approves, and when one of your existing projects closes, you begin the Socrates & Co preliminary investigation.
You now have outlines of the Socrates & Co business processes but you need another meeting with Joanna to double check some details and to discuss project constraints. At the meeting, you sketch diagrams on the whiteboard outlining four of the main business processes. Then you ask Joanna if the processes share data, and if not, could they share data in the future.
Joanna says, 'Well, no, they don't share data … wait, what do you mean exactly? Because I know what sales are made when I check the day's transactions and when I know the sales, it helps me figure out if I need to order more stock. There are other things that overlap too, like the rosters and the payroll.'
You explain that's exactly what you mean and you ask her to describe more 'overlaps' in the Socrates & Co business processes.
'Well, the cash sales determine the next morning's bank deposits, but the POS transactions just happen automatically. Also, you know how the sales tell me what to order? Well, I also use a bit of knowhow, like when Michael Sandel's latest book came out, I knew it was going to sell quickly so I ordered quite a few. Actually, I can say the same for several other authors, like Sam Harris. He sells quite well these days. Hmm … come to think of it, if the new system knows how quickly an author sells, then it could keep those authors in a special list, couldn't it?'
You agree that's one of the functions a system could provide. But you point out that it wouldn't be able to figure out whether to stock new authors because they wouldn't have a sales history.
Joanna says, 'Oh, that's ok, the publishers know the store so well, I can usually rely on their recommendations. Then I just order a few copies of what they recommend, unless I think the author wouldn't work at all. It's especially easy if the publisher takes returns of unsold stock.'
You say, 'Like Fractal Publishing? They do that for one of my other clients.'
You recall that Fractal Publishing is one of the B2B publishers and that they are going to upgrade the security of their B2B system next year; as are Continuum, MUP, OUP and Stanford Law Books.
'Yes, we've had an account with Fractal for ages! Do you know Jane Berne? She's my account manager.'
'No, but let's stay on track. If you email me a list of publishers that take returns and a description of the important 'overlaps' we can look at some other things. About the app… do you want it to offer the same transactions as the website? Or do you have something else in mind?'
'I'm not sure. What do you recommend?'
'To keep costs down, let's keep the transactions the same for now and if you need to review that decision in future, you can do so. But, transactions aside, the website can have other features if you want it to. It doesn't have to be only sales.'
'Really? That'd be great. We can advertise our different Writers' Week events. I need to talk it over with Kavya and Adam, they're bound to have some suggestions. Oh! Can the customers review the books they have read?'
'Sure. But let's be a little cautious with respect to budget and schedule. So perhaps we ought to …'
The discussion carried on for another fifteen minutes before you shook hands and estimated that you would finish the preliminary investigation within a week.
From the Systems Analysis assessment
The preliminary investigation you wrote up for the Socrates & Co project enabled you to develop a basic understanding of the business context. Your SWOT analysis and scope lists captured the project's key elements and made a positive impression on Joanna and her staff. Jo has approved the project's system analysis.
In a JAD-style approach to eliciting requirements, you decide to speak to each of the staff members. Even if they don't contribute to the project, benefits may arise from each of them being able to put your face to your name. However, this is more difficult than it seems as they are not always available on the same days. You discuss this with Joanna and she says that she plans to close the store early on the following Sunday because she and Priyam will be inducting a new employee, Archie Nguyen, who has filled the position previously occupied by Kavya (who recently resigned). She suggests closing the store at 1 and then she will provide a lunch for everyone before your meeting at 2. Once your meeting is adjourned, everyone can go home and she and Priyam will induct Archie.
After this meeting, the following requirements are known.
- The information you presented during the preliminary investigation is confirmed, except where it conflicts with the following.
- As in most bricks and mortar commerce, sales can be cash or credit card. When a sale is conducted (cash or credit card), a scanner will be used to keep track of which items are being purchased. Priyam described what 'sales data' currently is: the date, the item(s) being sold, the quantity per item, the total price and the receipt number. For a cash transaction, the customer is handed their change and a receipt. For a credit card transaction, the customer is handed a receipt. In the new system, sales data will be used to determine inventory levels.
- Once inventory is known, other business processes can be supported. In the new system, a weekly inventory report will be used by Joanna and Priyam before they place orders with publishers. It will tell them which items are popular and which items are low in stock. If a popular item is low in stock, it will be highlighted. Also, old stock will be reported so that Joanna and Priyam can discount the price or return it to the publisher.
- Depending on the publisher's capability, ordering will be performed in a traditional manner (a phone call to the publisher's agent) or via B2B. Joanna is going to speak to her contacts at each publishing house and compile a list of B2B publishers. Once you have this list, you will embed B2B components in the new system's design.
- When ordered items arrive in the store, they will be scanned in the back room (this will add them to the inventory database), price tags will be printed and attached. Finally, new stock will be put on the shelves.
- Joanna will need daily and monthly sales reports, with subtotals for cash and credit card sales.
- All the staff would like more flexible working hours. So the rostering system will be available to everyone so they can swap shifts online. A shift will be 4 hours duration and there will be two shifts each day. First, staff log in and enter their ongoing availability (this can be changed at any time) and the maximum number of shifts they want to work in a week. Then, every week, any time before Thursday night, staff can make changes to next week's roster, putting their name down for whichever shifts they prefer. Every Friday morning, the roster is finalised by a process that will fill any empty shifts according to (a) ongoing availabilities (b) a staff member's maximum number of shifts and (c) a round-robin allocation scheme (to make sure everyone gets the same number of shifts – it's important to Joanna that everyone gets an equal chance to develop skills and expertise, so she can call on all staff in an emergency). Then a 'report' will be sent to everyone via SMS or email (whichever they prefer). This report will show the finalised roster. If staff make sure all empty shifts are filled before the roster is finalised, there will be no surprises in the final roster.
- However, there has to be some flexibility for when people are unexpectedly unable to come to work. In these cases, Joanna or Priyam will call the people who are available for that day. For this purpose, an ad hoc report of staff availabilities is required. Also, Joanna or Priyam will amend that week's roster because the payroll process will depend on the previous fortnight's shifts. When the roster is amended a 'thank you' SMS or email will be sent to the staff member who filled in on short notice.
- To support the payroll process, at the end of a shift, each staff member will enter the hours they worked (there are times when a shift unexpectedly runs longer than four hours). This is checked off by Priyam or Joanna before they go home for the evening. Staff are paid directly to their bank account for the hours they have worked, with a small bonus if they have filled in for someone else on short notice. This bonus is currently $10 but it might go up in future.
- Online sales will be available via the Socrates & Co website. Product categories will correlate to the different sections in the shop because these sections evolved over a long time and are effective in supporting the browsing habits of the Socrates & Co customers. However, an additional 'Sale' category will be provided. Items in the Sale category are old stock at discounted prices. As in most ecommerce systems, customers can browse different product categories and can add items to their 'shopping bag' as they browse. When a customer is ready to checkout, they can either log in and use their profile data for the transaction or they can checkout as a guest. If they checkout as a guest, they will have to provide a delivery address, credit card details, etc. Also, if a customer checks out as a guest, they will be invited to create a profile which will save their data for future transactions.
- The café will be going ahead, but there has been a delay. Although Joanna has a licence, the planning permission has been denied and changes have been requested by the planners. So the café's information requirements will not be a part of any new system at this point in time. Joanna thinks this is probably a good idea as she is not sure what those requirements might be until the café is running.
- Special events will be advertised on the Socrates & Co website. A content management system will be required to support this ongoing web-authoring activity. Each event will have its own web page, which will be linked to a splash image on the Socrates & Co homepage. 'Advertised' means
- Announced with the splash image and the web page, on which people can rsvp for a free event or buy tickets for a paid event.
- Followed (an event's page will contain a widget to re-publish tweets that include the event's Twitter hash tag).
- Wrapped up (highlights will be described and celebrated).
- Some events are annual (eg part of the annual Writers' Week Festival), some events are monthly (eg the local writers' society meetings, the local poetry slam, the Socrates & Co book club) and some events are one-of. Some of these one-of events are held in conjunction with a publishing house (eg readings and book signings to promote a new book) and others are held in collaboration with individual people (eg an author or an illustrator may have been invited to give a talk about their career highlights or about their professional practice). Web pages of events that are held in conjunction with other organisations must contain the logos of these other organisations and those logos must be linked to the other organisations' web sites.
You make a start on systems analysis. As so many of the business processes impact on service provision, it is clear that several different data stores will be needed. However, you also realise more detailed information will come to light over time, which may require you to amend your current analysis.
User interface design
- Prepare a user interface storyboard for staff to make changes to the preliminary roster.
Interface storyboard (Begbie 2015) (Hürst, Werken & Hoet 2015) is used to narrate the doings of the procedure. The depiction is done using a sequential series of images with a short description of it. To provide changes to the present Roster system, the following steps are adopted-
- Initialization to create a new system – The proposal is designed to improve the present system. It aids in easing efforts of the staff and avoiding confusion in the doings.
- Copy the details of the present system to the new system – to bring the new proposal into reality the relevant details of the present system are used.
- Create and store relevant data into the files of the new system – The proposed work is adopting automation to take care of the background work. The background process includes allocating the staff to engage the counter. Data files are created with relevant data to do future doings.
- Organize the look of the screen – The interactive screen can be designed to provide flexibility to the viewers.