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A Case Study of the Web-Based Information Systems Development.

In: Computers and Technology

Submitted By pointdee
Words 1709
Pages 7
1. Introduction
Over the last three years the focus of the information technology industry has moved towards development for the World Wide Web (WWW). Information systems using WWW technology, delivered by an Intranet or via the Internet, are now prevalent throughout New Zealand and overseas.
Within New Zealand, a wide variety of organisations are deploying information systems onto the WWW, including banks, government departments and other service providers. They are using the WWW as a strategic business tool, supporting their existing operations or providing a low-cost solution for delivering a new product or service line.
1.1 Proposition and Aims
There is an abundance of information on the graphical and user interface aspects of WWW site design. In addition, a large body of knowledge has been developed in the area of software development methodologies. However, there has been very little research conducted to examine if these existing research methodologies are applicable to the information systems developed for the WWW. The WWW is a technologically dynamic environment, and presents new challenges for developers.
In order to address the emerging WWW environment, a number of researchers have proposed software development methodologies specifically for the WWW.
Consequently, the aim of this research was to investigate how organisations are currently developing WWW-based information systems, and the reasons why those methods are being used. This examination is important because, as the literature demonstrates, one would expect to observe changes in the software development methodologies used by organisations developing software for the WWW. This study also provides a valuable contribution, by addressing the absence of detailed evidence concerning whether software development methodologies are keeping pace with technology.
In the following sections an examination of the WWW is given, and a discussion provided of specific methodologies that may prove useful for developing information for the WWW. Section 3 outlines the research methodology, and discusses the need for examining the development of an information system in the context of the organisation. The specific research questions are detailed, supporting the main aims of this paper.
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The case histories of three organisations are then given, followed by an analysis of the case studies based on the research questions. Within this analysis, the deficiencies that exist in the development of WWW-based information systems are outlined, along with details of how the development for the WWW differed from other classical systems.
The central finding of this research was that the development of WWW-based information systems is dominated by the challenges presented by new technology. Organisations adopt conventional methods, and apply them to the unfamiliar environment of the WWW.
2. The World Wide Web
Since its inception, the WWW has come to stand for a number of different concepts (Berners-Lee, Cailliau, Luotonen, Nielsen
& Secret, 1994). The WWW incorporates the idea of a boundless information world in which all the items have a reference by which they can be retrieved.
The late 1990’s has seen the WWW emerge as a strategic business tool, driven by the commercial interests of companies. The original vision of Tim Berners-Lee of the WWW being an open-architecture is now under threat, as competing technologies challenge each other for market dominance.
Organisations who are developing information systems based on the WWW now find themselves in a difficult position. In an attempt to gain a competitive and strategic advantage via the WWW, they must follow the latest technology. The organisation’s
WWW presence must have a high level of technical sophistication and functionality, and an outstanding design if they are to benefit from using the WWW (Cronin, 1996). Furthermore, there is the challenge of shifting and integrating existing business practices to take advantage of the interactive opportunities presented by the WWW. A strategy is required to manage the development of these WWW-based information systems to accommodate these new technologies in the present and in the future. 2.1 Intranet and Extranet-based Information Systems
In an attempt to take greater advantage of WWW and Internet technologies, organisations have recently begun to segment the concept of the Internet into subconcepts called Intranets and Extranets. The terms Intranet and Extranet reflect differing levels of managed access to internal Internet and WWW-based information systems.
Telleen (1997) has identified three sources of information that emerge on an organisation’s Intranet. The first is formal information, and is the officially sanctioned and commissioned information of the organisation. Project or group information is also provided and is intended for use within a specific group, and finally informal information also appears within the Intranet when authors and users discover the ease of publishing information and sharing ideas.
What we are now seeing within organisations is the adoption of the Intranet and Extranet concepts as a means to disseminate more complex information. Telleen’s three categories of information are being extended by the rapid development of WWWbased information systems within organisations as they attempt to gain a strategic advantage over their competitors .
2.2 WWW-based Information Systems
The applications that have emerged on Intranets and Extranets using WWW technologies, can be referred to as WWW-based information systems. However, a WWW-based information system should be distinguished from a standard WWW application or page; the nature and the type of information that is made available to the user is different. The standard WWW page is unidirectional in the way it provides information to the user; with the user often making requests in catalogue or directory based sites by following hypertext links. A WWW-based information system can be defined as an application that not only disseminates information, but also proactively interacts with the user to aid them in their task (Takahashi & Liang, 1997).
Information is therefore presented to the user in a bi-directional manner in a WWW-based information system. While this definition of a WWW-based information system is generalised, there are commonalties between such systems. They adopt extensions to the basic HTML, using Java, Java Script, or VB Script to provide additional functionality to the basic hypertext links. Dynamic creation of HTML pages are also common in WWW-based information systems, using a connection to a relational or object-oriented database to process user requests. This is becoming increasingly more important in the development of electronic commerce environments, such as on-line shopping, where there is a need to process user requests while also keeping the information on the WWW page up to date (Yamamoto, Kurokawa, Tokumaru & Adachi, 1996). The general structure of a WWW-based information system, as can be seen from Figure 1, follows the architecture of most Intranet and Extranet applications.
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Figure 1 An example of an Intranet and Extranet implementation. (Bouman, 1997)
The emergence of database centric applications on the WWW has led to a change in the nature of WWW pages. This emerging change is supported by the observations of Gellersen, Wicke and Gaedke (1997), as they categorise WWW pages as being either static or dynamic. Static hypertext systems, as commonly provided by standard WWW pages, can be characterised by both static links and static pages. Database-centric applications are characterised by dynamic page creation but have a static link structure. Dynamic applications, however, provide both dynamic link structure and page creation. WWW-based information systems fall into the database-centric and dynamic application classes.
A WWW-based information system therefore provides structured as well as unstructured information as described by Bichler
& Nusser (1996a, 1996b). In a similar manner to Gellersen et al., they consider database-centric WWW-based information systems as providing highly structured information with high volatility. On the other hand, dynamic WWW-based information systems that provide more multimedia services, support unstructured information with low volatility.
WWW-based information systems are fundamentally different from traditional systems in several critical areas. Bichler and
Nusser (1996c) and Bieber and Isakowitz (1995) suggest that WWW applications often involve people with differing skill sets, including authors, content designers, artists as well as programmers. WWW applications also involve the capturing and organising of the structure of a complex information domain, whilst making it clear and accessible to the user. Yourdon (1996) suggests that the difference that exists between older technologies and WWW applications means that the ‘older’ methodologies and techniques, as given in Table 1, need to be modified, and in some cases replaced entirely. As a result,
Yourdon proposed that a focus should be placed on three key areas:
?? the development life cycle.
?? methods and techniques for the life cycle.
?? criteria for choosing Internet (WWW) technologies.
However, the current focus within the WWW community is on technology. It is technology that is the driving force in how the
WWW is evolving (December, 1996; Morrel, 1997). This has resulted in a lack of guidelines for a structured design process that will meet the requirements of these new technologies.
2.3 The Emergence of WWW Development Methodologies
The arrival of new Internet and WWW technologies has in many ways seen history repeating itself. Yourdon (1996) draws parallels from the client server revolution that provided strong arguments for replacing the sequential waterfall life cycle model with an iterative rapid applications development (RAD) life cycle. WWW applications are likely to accelerate the RAD process to the point where it becomes ‘FAD’, or Frantic Application Development. The technological driven nature of the WWW is forcing developers to deliver applications that use these new technologies, such as streaming video and audio, in shorter and shorter time spans. This is spurred further by the development efforts of vendors, including Netscape and Microsoft, who continually release new versions of their WWW browser software. These pressures from technology change have the effect of encouraging ad-hoc development methodologies to be used in an attempt to meet demand (Yourdon, 1996; Gellersen et al.,
1997).
The dramatic growth of the WWW is now leading to larger scale applications, distributed over a number of sites. Such WWWbased information systems are no longer manageable with ad-hoc methods. This, combined with the rapid technological change and the differences that WWW-based information systems present from traditional systems, has led to a need for new software development methodologies, techniques and tools. Bieber & Isakowitz (1995) suggest that hypermedia applications, which are at the core of WWW-based information systems, involve many different components such as navigation, user

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