Business and Technical Requirements: Analysis and Design

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Like most projects launched over the past two years by NEU's IS division, the knowledge portal project followed IS's project engineering framework. [6] As such, the project began with the creation of a scoping and commitment document that outlined the effort's goals, objectives, and operating assumptions. From the outset, it was agreed that the portal would deliver the following types of content and services:

  • Single, integrated, Web-based platform that would serve as an electronic desktop for IS personnel, bringing together in one location all of the documents, information, services, and tools needed to do their work

  • Easy access to general IS information, such as news, announcements, events, job postings, and staff profiles

  • Easy access to policies, procedures, meeting minutes, presentations, reports, and project-related documents

  • Ability to collaborate and participate in threaded discussions online

  • Publish-and-subscribe functionality and other automated workflow capabilities

  • Web access to Remedy ticket information

  • Web automation of IS business processes and forms

  • Easy ability to search for and retrieve specific content; standard choices in Web site navigation

  • Secure and reliable repository for document storage and content management

  • Ability for users to personalize the KM experience delivered via the portal

All of this was to be delivered through a common, branded IS intranet site that adhered to industry standards and best practices in its Web design, human factors, and workflows. To this end, EO and its external technology partners committed to the creation of a comprehensive portal infrastructure and supporting business and technical processes. The artifacts required as a consequence of these objectives included the following:

  • Detailed Web site business and technical requirements, use cases, and architecture documentation

  • Schematics of detailed screen workflows, navigation, and page and site functionality

  • At least three creative approaches to Web home and secondary page design

  • Complete style guide for the chosen Web graphics standard

  • Templates for the introduction/depositing of content (Web assets and attachments) and the viewing of content within the site [7]

  • Technical documentation for all site workflows and associated applications (applets)

  • Business process change documents and process maps to complement anticipated site workflows

  • User documentation and training materials

The project team also operated within a framework of guidelines and operating assumptions:

  • Application will leverage existing IS technology platforms and adhere to the division's IT architecture standards

  • All of the analysis, design, development, and engineered deployment for this project were to be performed by the EO team or outsourced to an external third party

  • Most third-party work would be completed off site

  • Depending on the technologies chosen, appropriate IS service units would assist with deployment and subsequently provide tier 2 technical support to the platform solution

  • EO would be responsible for initial content delivery and working with other IS content providers

  • EO would deliver user and power-user training and would provide tier 1 technical support

  • Tier 3 technical support would come from the chosen external partner provider

  • Application as delivered will support 200 active, concurrent users within IS (the so-called IS staff experience) with a view toward establishing an IS customer experience at some future date

The choice of an external partner came quickly and serendipitously. Until 2002, Northeastern's systems teams had done little Web development and had not yet standardized on a new E-commerce development platform. A few years before, the university had established Lotus Domino as its primary platform for electronic communication and collaboration. By chance, the director of EO was introduced to a new product: Aptrix from the Australian firm Presence Online. [8] Subsequently acquired by IBM, Aptrix is an application, built from Domino databases, that affords the easy and rapid development of both workflow-enabled Web sites and content management. Because IS had already deployed Domino and had established a center of excellence to support that platform, because there was no competing technology platform already in place, and because the Aptrix product appeared, after careful scrutiny, to offer all the underlying services required at a reasonable price, EO acquired Aptrix in November 2001. Concurrent with that purchase, EO contracted with a Lotus partner, Earley & Associates, to implement Aptrix at NEU and to assist with knowledge portal development.

With Earley & Associates in place, the roles of other project participants became more clearly defined:

  • Role of EO — to provide all project management, business analysis and requirements gathering; to be responsible for the maintenance, management, and creation of content for the portal

  • Role of IS users during the development process, to participate in working sessions and focus groups on an as-needed basis; going forward, to be responsible for utilizing and providing content to the portal

  • Role of the IS executive management team to ensure the proper synchronization among end-user requirements, project plans, and IS delivery; to review and sign off on all project deliverables

  • Role of enterprise application technology services (EATS) — to provide technical resources and support concerning the Domino environment and associated services

  • Role of enterprise application development services (EADS) — to provide future development services for additional functionality after initial project delivery

  • Role of the IS Intranet project steering committee — to review and approve the work of the project team at each key milestone within the project plan

Immediately upon initiating the portal development effort, the project team introduced a three-tiered governance process. First, based on feedback provided by focus groups involving a cross section of IS personnel (and 20 percent of the total staff), the EO team created a project plan, a set of detailed functional requirements, and a series of use cases. [9] After reviewing this information with Earley & Associates and learning how one might develop these envisioned capabilities through Aptrix, the project team revised its initial PowerPoint portal prototype to reflect more accurately this functionality as afforded by Aptrix. With this refined view in hand, the project team next met with both IS executive management and a representative IS end-user steering committee. The ensuing discussions provided a much clearer picture of requirements for the portal. Up to this point, other than in PowerPoint, not a single employee-hour had been devoted to actual Web development. On the other hand, the team now had a firm understanding of what was needed to deliver a KM service of high value to the IS community.

To document these findings, the PowerPoint prototype itself served as the system of record. The EO team reviewed this document with Earley & Associates in detail. When these reviews proved insufficient, the project team next rewrote the use cases and prepared a more formal set of functional requirements. The latter included the following:

  • Glossary of key terms

  • Set of general observations and guiding principles concerning site development, look, and feel

  • Key workflows for personalizing the home page, depositing content, revising content, and joining team rooms and discussion databases

  • Decomposition of home page functionality

  • Description of the universal navigation bar's components

  • Decomposition of each Web site service (e.g., looking for a job in IS, subscribing to an IS tool, or updating one's biographical information form) and its associated secondary Web pages

To complement the functional requirements document, the director prepared a so-called Web asset inventory. [10] This table captured technical details concerning the graphic elements and functional components on each page of the envisioned Web site. The inventory included the name of each Web page element (e.g., banner, tag line, navigation bar, text window, drop-down menu), its description, its technical characteristics (e.g., .gif file, URL link, body of text, radio button), and its owner (i.e., the person who would provide that element to the Web site development team).

Taken together, the portal prototype, the use cases, the site functional requirements, and the asset inventory provided the project team with a sufficiently detailed body of information from which to fashion an actual Web site. Next, in January, 2002, the EO team worked in collaboration with Earley & Associates to revise the project plan to reflect the specific deliverables that had emerged from their discovery and analysis efforts. [11] With this input, Earley & Associates finalized its time and cost estimates and then went on to draft technical requirements for the project's Web development environment. The revised prototype was carefully reviewed and approved by both the IS executive management team and the project's steering committee before any further work began. With this approval and with the hardware and software in place, actual construction of the portal could begin.

To make a good start and to avoid scrap and rework down the road, however, it was first necessary for the team to evolve the content and usage frameworks that would ultimately direct the detailed development process. To derive these frameworks, the director of EO and his staff further decomposed work processes for such activities as authoring and submitting documents to the knowledge store, establishing and subsequently updating staff bios, applying for an IS job opening, and so forth. The team flow-charted each activity and codified its associated rules. EO's KM personnel also constructed a simple database of all IS document types and their associated attributes, including document formats, associated keyword references, and primary authoring and ownership roles.

For each descriptive category (e.g., document title, author, creation date, revision date, review date, keyword description, NEU business unit served, and IS operating unit), the team defined the category and established rules governing its use. Lastly, EO created a holistic view of all IS work, [12] subdividing tasks into three major groupings:

  • Service delivery

  • Project delivery

  • Back-room operations

The team then further decomposed each task into its constituent parts so that this framework could eventually guide the organization both of the knowledge store and of portal navigation and document retrieval functionality. The first level of that framework as it appears on the new Web site is shown in Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1: Document Categories Organized by IT Function

start example

click to expand

end example

To be sure, this work constituted the most important set of steps in preparing the team for Web site development. With these frameworks in hand, the team had established the organizing principles for Web site content and the controlled vocabulary, or taxonomy, [13] for the tagging of individual documents. After the KM team had implemented a series of templates in Aptrix, it became a routine matter to index and store content within the new portal environment. As a starting point, however, the project team first needed to construct the Web site itself.

[6]See The Hands-On Project Office,, chpt5~2~project phases~model.

[7]For the purposes of this chapter, the term Web assets refers to any Web pages, frames, content, graphics, or applications that reside within primary or secondary Web pages within a Web site. Other content, such as project artifacts (plans, budgets, scoping statements, and the like), technology white papers, staff biographies, etc., attached to Web pages are summarily referred to as documents.

[8]For more details, see or contact <>.

[9]Use cases consist of brief scenarios that depict the overall experience and use of Web site functionality. EO's use cases included descriptions of the authentication process, the look and feel of the home page, site navigation, search services, and various Web-enabled business processes (e.g., accessing a team room, applying for a job, accessing IS organization charts, and so forth).

[10]See The Hands-On Project Office,, chpt7~2~Web asset inventory~example.

[11]Aptrix is a relatively new product, especially in the United States. Although it has been adopted recently by Lotus as its Web content management product of choice, Aptrix expertise is in short supply. For Northeastern's IS, the pros of Domino integration outweighed the cons of the team's inexperience with the product. Earley & Associates ended up learning about Aptrix on NEU's dime, but they were careful to bill only for work delivered and not for their applied research.

[12]This view evolved into a detailed taxonomy of terms that added rigor to the site's organization and subsequently served as the basis for document indexing and retrieval. See The Hands-On Project Office ,, chpt7~3~taxonomy~example.

[13]A taxonomy is a uniform, structured system of language applied within a KM process to categorize and catalog content for effective and efficient retrieval by the KM system's user community.

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The Hands-On Project Office(c) Guaranteeing ROI and On-Time Delivery
E-Commerce Security: Advice from Experts (IT Solutions series)
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 132 © 2008-2017.
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