Integration and extension
A useful framework for positioning the strategic value of information systems in general, is
provided by Ward and Griffiths . It proves especially useful as a barometer of the extent to
which an organisation has implemented a Network Information System. It is formed out of
the intersection of two key dimensions of information systems - the degree to which the
system integrates with other systems and processes, and the degree to which it can
accommodate new information. The resultant grid categorises information systems as
strategic, high potential, key operational, or support, depending on the current or expected
contribution of the system to the business success of the operator (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Categories of information systems (from Ward and Griffiths, 1996)
Many spatial information systems used in communications companies exhibit the
characteristics of support systems. They were developed as standalone systems for the
network planner or record keeper. They have proven valuable to the business, but are rarely
critical for its success. The emphasis is on achieving productivity improvements which can be
translated to cost reduction.
According to the model, the more significant business benefits derive from information
systems which are located towards the upper right area - key operational systems and
strategic systems. Key operational systems are systems which show a high level of
integration, and which the company depends on for its current business success.
Communications companies using spatial information technology in a key operational system
have applied the technology not only to the production and maintenance of network records,
but also to the automation and integration of the business activities which use those records -
asset management, costing, maintenance, work management, network monitoring, and so on.
For such a company, the emphasis is on using database technology as a repository for
network information, and as means for sharing information between multiple users and
multiple applications. The approach is data-driven rather than graphics- or application-driven,
which are important characteristics of an NIS approach.
An organisation using NIS as part of a strategic system has extended the management of its
network beyond current information, to encompass the management of new information -
information which will be critical to sustaining its future business strategy. This new
information can include information on new networks, technologies, and equipment; plus any
information which is complementary to the network. This might include information from the
CIS on the services being delivered, or from marketing on the potential demand for new
The challenge for many operators is to implement NIS as key operational and strategic
systems. Many new entrants are setting out to achieve this directly, unconstrained by legacy
systems and databases. Incumbents on the other hand, often have to deal with legacy support
systems. A typical incumbent’s response to a new business requirement, for example to plan
and manage a new cable technology, might be to develop a new application as rapidly as
possible by deliberately avoiding integration with other systems. Many operators have built
such high potential systems as technology-driven, IS/IT initiatives. These systems have the
potential to bring significant benefits to a business, but have to be incorporated into the
mainstream in order to realise this potential.
It is clear that the task of implementing an NIS is likely to be more difficult for an existing
operator than for a new entrant who is less encumbered by legacy systems and legacy
infrastructure. There are grounds however, for arguing that the increased difficulty and
expense, is more than outweighed by the advantages. An existing operator’s greatest assets are
probably its customer base, and the network infrastructure which supports that customer base.
Incumbent operators have the most to gain by employing NIS to manage and operate the
existing infrastructure, and the most to lose by failing to ensure adequate standards of network
performance, as we argue below.
Spatial Information Technology and Network Performance
The monitoring of performance at both service and network level, and in all its manifestations
- expected, required, agreed, designed, achieved, and perceived - has become a critical activity
for any competitive operator. For the purposes of this discussion it is sufficient to restrict our
attention to the performance of the physical network infrastructure alone. We will refer to a
simple but very effective model proposed by John Mellis of BT, as an aid to understanding
the spatial issues relating to performance modelling, as they affect the planning and operation
of the network infrastructure .
Figure 2 Network infrastructure performance and planning (from Mellis, 1996)
Mellis’ model represents network performance issues as the intersection of three domains of
the network: cost, transmission performance, and reliability. (Figure 2). The intersection of
these 3 domains describes infrastructure planning activities which have traditionally been
addressed by different systems, often each with their own model of the network. Mellis points
out that developments in database technology, networking, and the availability of inexpensive
computing power, have removed some of the technical obstacles to operators applying a more
holistic approach to network planning.
As a general observation, spatial information technology has probably been used most
successfidly by the network designer, in modelling transmission performance and costing
different geographic and topologic designs. The technology has proven well-suited as an
environment in which the designer can explore the effects of changing network designs on
location, length and composition of plant, upon transmission loss, and the cost of materials
Spatial information technology has been least successfld in modelling the third component of
the performance triangle - that of network reliabili~, which is so crucial to the customer and
service focus of the modern operator. To model network reliability places high demands on
the availability of accurate records on the placement and characteristics of network elements,
and their condition - information which the operator may not have. But even if this
information were available, would it be sufficient to allow us to model reliability ?
Mellis points to the considerable evidence from BT experience, that the reliability of plant is
related not only to plant condition, but also to the quality of manual intervention in the
network. This evidence leads Mellis to reflect on the truism that “. network performance at all
levels is fundamentally affected by human factors. The speed and quality of maintenance,
fault location, defect repair, planning decisions, and installation practices are critical
influences, particularly for the external network, where these process issues may dominate the
‘designed’ performance of the plant.”
Unless the experience of BT in the UK is particularly unique, this suggests a major challenge
for the application of spatial information technologies in communications. The way the
network is operated ultimately affects the performance of the network, which we know to be a
contributory factor in determining overall quality of service, and ultimately customer
satisfaction. It might also suggest that in looking for the ‘big benefits’ from applying spatial
information technology in the communications industry, we have been driven by the wrong
paradigm - one which owes its origins to design- rather than action-orientation.