Advancing the IS Curricula: The Identification of Important Communication Skills Needed by IS Staff during Systems Development

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the past, computer scientists frequently developed systems that were not acceptable to the users of the system, which is why information technology curricula were developed in business schools (Mann, 2002). These problematic systems often resulted from interaction difficulties between developers and users of the system (Averett, 2001). In the traditional approach of developing systems, the systems analyst only interviewed the end user to determine the needs of a proposed system (Kohli & Grupta, 2002). The system developer then built the most efficient, economical, and effective system possible. In today's dynamic, globally competitive environment, however, such an "economical" approach to systems development cannot survive (Lee, Trauth, & Farwell, 1995).

Even though numerous information systems (IS) programs are producing graduates from business schools, the number of ineffective systems is still too high (Mann, 2002). Because many completed systems are inadequately used or are abandoned (Ewusi-Mensah, 1997), the systems end in failure ('Time to Share Risks', 1999). In addition to these failed systems, industry experts indicate that many IS development projects are canceled prior to completion. Clark (2002), in a study of 134 companies in the United States, United Kingdom, Africa, and Australia, found that 56 percent of the companies had cancelled at least one IS project during the last year at an average cost of US $13.6 million. At an American Management Association Conference, Jerome Jewell, former IBM Corporation manager and president/founder of Jewell Consulting Group, stated, "some argue that information technology (IT) has created a breed of managers who have lost the art of human interaction and who immerse themselves in information based technologies rather than focusing on the value that information can provide for clients" (Verespej, 1999, p. 22).

Need for Communication Skills

Technology issues or technical skills of IS staff often do not appear to be the problem for these failed systems; instead, researchers are finding ineffective communication skills may be a contributing factor. One recent study found the current IS technology knowledge/skills, such as programming languages, packaged products, hardware, and operations systems, that IS graduates possess is adequate (Yen, Lee, & Koh, 2001). However, interpersonal and personal trait knowledge/ skills, such as interpersonal, communication, and critical thinking skills, of IS graduates are also very important. A possible cause, then, of failed or inadequate systems may be ineffective communication skills of information systems staff as they interact with IS users during project development. As Clark (2002) found, 67 percent of the respondents in his study indicated project failure was due to poor communication, inadequate planning, and poor scope management.

Many recent studies point to the critical nature of communication skills of IS staff in systems development to help ensure project success. Some studies indicate that communication skills are even more critical in systems development than technical skills (Ehie, 2002; Snoke & Underwood, 2001). Ehie found that congruent with the increasing demand for MIS graduates is the market's increased expectations of knowledge, skills, and abilities by these graduates. He stated that employers are

looking for graduates with good communications and people skills.... Although technical-oriented skills were considered important, business-oriented skills were considered more important in hiring MIS graduates. In the words of one practitioner, 'We can train our new MIS hire on the technical skills, but it is very difficult to teach him or her interpersonal and communication skills' (Ehie, 2002, p. 154).

In support of the importance of communication skills for IS graduates, the model curriculum proposed by IS 2002 places interpersonal, communication, and team skills as one of four main categories of exit characteristics of IS graduates (Gorgone et al. …