System Life Cycle: An Overview

All technology-driven systems have a life cycle which should be understood so appropriate labor and activities can be planned for. The life cycle of systems which are purchased ‘off the shelf’ or as ‘turn-key’ installations may require some integration but have the benefit of requiring no development on the part of the school district. This is why they have shorter life cycles than those which require development efforts. For planning, technology leaders should think of a system’s life cycle in context of seven phases:

1. Needs determination and concept development

2. Concept research

3. Development and system integration

4. Feasibility demonstration and validation

5. Full scale development & procurement

6. Deployment and production

7. System retirement

Throughout these phases, a series of complex and intensive tasks are completed, the most critical of which is project management. Project management entails managing the work, resources, schedules, and production of a technological initiative. I’ll do a write up on it in another post but it has been my experience that no other task is as critical in the birthing of a technology-driven system.

The only other task that may challenge the significance of solid project management in context of a technology life cycle is systems analysis. Systems analysis takes place in every phase but as a project gets closer to full scale development, analysis become only a matter of spot checking or trouble shooting. It also plays a minor role at the start of a system’s operational phase (production).

Once a project enters the concept research phase, systems engineering becomes a critical task for an IT team (i.e. network administrators, software developers). Database and software design enters the process when a system is ready for integration and the support staff, such as trainers and help desk personnel, come into play during the fourth phase (feasibility demonstrations).

The life cycle assumes that all hardware required is available commercially as it nearly always is for K-12 projects. If simple hardware such as special cables, racks, or a signal converter is needed, it can be built as part of the system development and integration phase. Of course, more elaborate hardware would need special provisions.

The development of an information system is not unlike that of a building. The skills and labor needed are different, but the processes are analogous. It starts with analyses to determine what is needed, developing concepts of the project, and evaluating the various automation approaches (i.e. determining how best to approach constructing the system). Once an approach is selected, design and engineering efforts can begin to construct the system. In cases where there is any doubt of the best implementation approach or if the approach is technically feasible, a prototype is built of key facets to assure success for a full scale development.

The process of developing support begins with system development and engineering, but is always considered along with other factors during system analysis. Adequate supportability is a very big issue, as it should be because support costs generally comprise 80% or more of overall system life cycle costs. Special attention to system support should always be given to operation support, the assessment of the support adequacy, and ongoing system review/adjustment.

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