Because useful output is essential to ensuring the use and acceptance of the information system, there are six objectives that the systems analyst tries to attain when designing output:
- Designing output to serve the intended purpose.
- Designing output to fit the user.
- Delivering the appropriate quantity of output.
- Making sure the output is where it is needed.
- Providing the output on time.
- Choosing the right output method.
Designing Output to Serve the Intended Purpose
All output should have a purpose. During the information requirements determination phase of analysis, the systems analyst finds out what user and organizational purposes exist. Output is then designed based on those purposes.
You will have numerous opportunities to supply output simply because the application permits you to do so. Remember the rule of purposiveness, however. If the output is not functional, it should not be created, because there are costs of time and materials associated with all output from the system.
Designing Output to Fit the User
With a large information system serving many users for many different purposes, it is often difficult to personalize output. On the basis of interviews, observations, cost considerations, and perhaps prototypes, it will be possible to design output that addresses what many, if not all, users need and prefer.
Generally speaking, it is more practical to create user-specific or user-customizable output when designing for a decision support system or other highly interactive applications such as those using the Web as a platform. It is still possible, however, to design output to fit a user’s tasks and function in the organization, which leads us to the next objective.
Delivering the Appropriate Quantity of Output
Part of the task of designing output is deciding what quantity of output is correct for users. A useful heuristic is that the system must provide what each person needs to complete his or her work. This answer is still far from a total solution, because it may be appropriate to display a subset of that information at first and then provide a way for the user to access additional information easily.
The problem of information overload is so prevalent that it is a cliché, but it remains a valid concern. No one is served if excess information is given only to flaunt the capabilities of the system. Always keep the decision makers in mind. Often they will not need great amounts of output, especially if there is an easy way to access more via a hyperlink or drill-down capability.
Making Sure the Output Is Where It Is Needed
Output is often produced at one location and then distributed to the user. The increase in online, screen-displayed output that is personally accessible has cut down somewhat on the problem of distribution, but appropriate distribution is still an important objective for the systems analyst. To be used and useful, output must be presented to the right user. No matter how well designed reports are, if they are not seen by the pertinent decision makers, they have no value.
Providing the Output on Time
One of the most common complaints of users is that they do not receive information in time to make necessary decisions. Although timing isn’t everything, it does play a large part in how useful output will be. Many reports are required on a daily basis, some only monthly, others annually, and others only by exception. Using well-publicized, Web-based output can alleviate some problems with the timing of output distribution as well. Accurate timing of output can be critical to business operations.
Choosing the Right Output Method
Choosing the right output method for each user is another objective in designing output. Much output now appears on display screens, and users have the option of printing it out with their own printer. The analyst needs to recognize the trade-offs involved in choosing an output method. Costs differ; for the user, there are also differences in the accessibility, flexibility, durability, distribution, storage and retrieval possibilities, transportability, and overall impact of the data. The choice of output methods is not trivial, nor is it usually a foregone conclusion.