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1.0       INTRODUCTION

 

This report will detail an analysis of an information system within an organisation that the author is familiar with.  During 1999 as an undergraduate student, the author worked for a two months as a temporary customer service advisor within Barclaycall at Salford Quays, Salford Manchester UK.  Barclaycall is part of the Barclays group of companies, which is one of the major banks in the UK (Reid et al. 1998). Using the same advisors and technology Barclaycall is both a business to public and a business-to-business call centre, though the customer’s perception is that they are two separate organisations (Barclaycall and Businesscall). Barclaycall was launched in October 1994, and had 280,000 customers within the first year with an estimated 20,000 new customers joining each month (Weever 1996).

 

The role of customer service advisor involved answering customers’ enquiries over the telephone using a sophisticated information system. An information system can be defined as a system of human and technical components that inputs, process, stores, outputs and communicates information (Heeks 2002d). The primary user is the sales advisor, though the secondary user of the system, though they may not necessarily be aware of it is the customer.

 

The availability of both local area networks (LAN) and area networks (WAN) technology with computer telephony integration and workflow systems allows the system to retrieve customer details as the customer enters the system (Bocij et al, 1999). The software used by the advisors is windows based and uses simultaneously a computer telephony integration (CTI) software, and an intranet to inform the advisors of information to pass on to customers. The software is very user friendly, with prompts before any transaction is undertaken. The software is simple and is menu led that allows the advisor to carry out simple transactions such as amend standing orders or cancel direct debits, stop cheques and cards, amend personal details and opening a new account, as well as paying bills and checking balances.

 

This report will analyse this information system, addressing such features as applying the CIPSODA (capture, input, process, storage, output, decision, action) model to the information system, identifying all the components of the system, analysing how information flows around the system, analysing rationality and viewpoints of the system and finally summarising whether the system used is a success or failure.

 

The information system to be discussed is the call handling system, which provides the advisor with all the financial information needed to deal with customer’s transaction. This information system is a basically a transaction processing system (TPS), with a built in Management Information System (MIS) capable of generating reports concerning the advisors use of the system. The TPS is a typical basic data gathering system as seen in figure below. This TPS system is interlinked to other information systems within the organisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basic Data Gathering System Model (Heeks 2002a)

 

2.0             INFORMATION SYSTEM AND DATA PROCESSES

 

The CIPSODA Model (Heeks  2002a)

 

During this section the seven parts of the CIPSODA model as shown above will be applied to this particular information system.  The process of CIPSODA does not just occur once within the information system but happens many times at different levels. The customer will go through the CIPSODA process prior to ringing the call centre with the call being the last stage of action.  The customer may ring the call centre to capture information for their account.   The process will then occur throughout the banking network.

 

 

Areas where individual CIPSODA processed may occur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


For the purpose of this report the CIPSODA process will be assumed to begin when the advisor answers the call, and end when the call is finished, i.e. this report will discuss the CIPSODA process from the perspective of the individual advisor.

 

2.1       CAPTURE AND INPUT

 

The system automatically knows who the customer is from the information they enter into the system via the telephone keypad while waiting for the advisor to answer the call.  This information then automatically retrieves their details from the database, which uses the customer, as it’s key data, so all accounts that the customer has with Barclays are listed in a card like manner to be brought to the top when that particular tab is clicked on.

 

To fully access the system the customer must enter a valid password. No individual within the system knows the password and the name of the customer, this security feature is controlled solely by the system.  When this password is correctly entered, the system will then open up their file, from this file the advisor can see the last times the customer contacted Barclaycall, recent transactions and account details.  In addition there is a page for personal details such as name, address and telephone number.

 

The advisor uses a standard keyboard with a pc to enter this data required by the customer’s transaction. The advisor can only enter data into the format requested by the system. The advisor can add no additional information into the system apart from the transactions being undertaken. It is however possible to type in information wrongly leading to devastating results such as entering the decimal point in the wrong place. All information is gathered either from the customer over the phone or from the customer’s details that have be retrieved by the system.  There are no other information sources for the advisor.

 

2.2       PROCESS

 

At the Manchester call centre there is a unit called Barclays Technology Services, this is the heart of the call centre network. It manages key systems in all the other call centres (Candle 1999). This involves both human interaction and technology to control the processes carried out within Barclaycall.

 

During processing the information system takes the data inputted by the advisor and classifies it as to the type of transaction i.e. payment, transfer of funds or balance enquiry. All transactions are listed in date order within the database. The data is aggregated under heading such as debits and credits. The overall balance is calculated on the main page. The only comparison used during processing is to check that there is enough credit available to pay any transactions. All data is quantative and formal there is no option for the advisor to add qualitative data into the system.

 

2.3             STORE

 

All data is stored within the computer systems at Salford, with a simultaneous back up at the call centre at Walsgrove.  The back-up data only feeds back into the system if there is a malfunction of the primary data storage system. The system uses a Wide Area Network (WAN) and therefore does not store any information on the individual computer terminals.

 

 

2.4             OUTPUT

 

The output is in the form of numerical data, such as balances, and transactions such as paying credit card bills.  Managers rate out of the CARTA (completeness, accuracy, relevance, timeliness and appropriateness) criteria for information that timeliness and accuracy are the two most important (Reid 1998). Though according to Heeks (2002c) information technology has little impact on accuracy. Despite the ever-increased use of technology, there is still a considerable amount of paper work within the industry (Reid et al. 1998). Therefore that not all transactions can be carried out using a call centre, customers still need to use their own branches for certain transactions.

 

The management information system (MIS) incorporated into the software can give the team leader a summary of the advisors work over a set period of time. Normally a periodic report produced weekly. This is in a Microsoft Excel format (checkmate).

 

2.5             DECISION

 

Though the system can be programmed with some parameters, such as an overdraft limit, where the system can refuse to pay a bill if there are insufficient funds.  The system relies on human intervention to make decisions about a customer’s transaction.  A department external to this system does this such as Barclaycard to approve credit card applications etc. There are no modeling capabilities within the system available to the advisor. The data generated by the information system is fed back into the central information system and therefore the output from this system is not used directly by the organization except for future calls with the customer. The advisors themselves make no decisions and only carry out transactions.

2.5       ACTION

 

The final stage of the process is carrying out the transaction, which the system confirms through pop up screens.  Once the customer has disconnected from the system, it automatically looks for the next caller. The difference with this information system compared to many others is that the output and action are never tangible, it is very isolated from any product though intrinsically linked.

 

3.0       INFORMATION SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY AND PEOPLE

 

In this section the components of the information will be discussed.

 

3.1             TECHNOLOGIES USED

 

According to the Candle case study, Barclays has a network of over 3000 Automated Tiller Machines (ATMs), which are all controlled by the 30-mainframe computers at the head office in Salford, Manchester. The information system used by the call centre is a centralized computing system.  Which is sub-sectioned firstly into the different floors of the call centre, and then secondly by teams, as each team leader can use their computer to mirror one of their team members at any time. Connected to the team leaders computer are the computers of the team members. Connected to each computer is a telephone that can under certain circumstances be used independently, but this needs it to be unlocked by the team leader.  Strangely enough there is no calculator within the system, so that the standard windows calculator must be used, which means the advisor needs to switch screens.

 

This information technology infrastructure manages and supports customer service applications 24 hours a day (Candle, 1999). Checkmate have created a Management Information System (MIS) which integrates the call centre into the rest of the Barclays network, which also allows the extraction of data to be viewed in an Excel spreadsheet. The advisors do not use any materials apart from what is available on their computer terminal. 

 

3.2             PEOPLE AFFECTED BY THE SYSTEM

 

Barclays has over 600,000 customers (Checkmate) of which more and more are joining Barclaycall. Barclaycall has approximately 750 call centre employees spanning its three centres in Salford, Sunderland and Walsgrove. In addition to the customers and staff as the banking network is interlinked, any transaction in the system could potentially have an affect on anyone or any organisation either directly or indirectly.

 

4.0             CONTEXTUAL INFLUENCES

 

Information flows are highly regulated with no room within the system for the advisors own input, with the exception of a call back facility that allows the advisor to write a memo to a different department to get in touch with the customer. 

 

4.1       THE CULTURE WITHIN BARCLAYCALL

 

Culture can be defined as the set of understandings (values, attitudes and norms), shared by members of an organisation that prescribe the behaviour of individuals within that organisation (Heeks 2002e). Though Barclays as an organisation is very much a power culture, Barclaycall is in itself a role culture (Kakabadse 1987). There are clear boundaries with each team having their own responsibilities, and when a customer requires more than the system will allow the advisor transfers them to another department.  The information flow within the organisation is completely controlled by the information system. By definition it is also a communication culture, where the value is placed on information (Heeks 200e).

 

4.2       THE MANAGEMENT ROLES WITHIN BARCLAYCALL

 

Barclaycall like most call centres have a very flat structure. Many call centres run with a flat organisational structure with up to 87% of the staff handling the calls  (Benedy 2001). The only apparent management roles within the call centre are team leaders, though there are higher-level managers these are never seen by the advisors. Each team leader supervises a team of approximately 8 advisors, and the team leaders main function is to ensure that the preset targets are being by the team and giving feedback on targets.

 

5.0             VIEWPOINTS ON RATIONALITY

 

Barclaycall operates with a very hard perspective, it emphasises very formal and quantities (Heeks 2002f) approach to operation. The viewpoint in which it operates is organizational rationality, all decision made by the organisation are made to best meet the objectives of the organisation. There is no room for personal politics. The advisors, due to the controlling influence of the information system, cannot change the systems implemented within Barclaycall.

 

 

6.0       SYSTEM SUCCESS AND FAILURE

 

Because the system is so restrictive in use, it is very successful as there is no opportunity for a reality gap as there is no personal input.  However human errors are still very possible. Entering the decimal place wrongly is common, as such as transposition errors like entering credit card and account numbers in the wrong order. Though this is always double checked by the advisor before the transactions are completed. Barclaycall like many companies, is totally reliant on the 24*7 availability of IT systems, it is only closed Christmas day and New Year’s Day.  Therefore it is exposed to the challenges of that dependency (Candle, 1996). As previously stated there is a full backup of the system should any thing happen to the Salford system. According to Candle (1999) there are safety systems in place, which alert the operators at BTS of a potential application failure prior to the system being effect.  This doesn’t always work in practice, the author remembers a time when a trainer, without understanding the system, used her own log in for her trainees during a training session.  The computer system on knowing it was being accessed by the same operator more than once (a potential security risk) automatically shut down, leaving customers without service for hours all due to one mistake. The trainer did not realise that the computers in the training rooms were networked to the ones on the call centre floor.

 

As with all human interaction there is always the risk of the advisors themselves being the cause of failure within the system, and it is known for unscrupulous advisors to log into the system under another’s login name (which is shown on ID passes) and alter their own account. This is something the system cannot really protect against, as already the system is protected by passwords. From experience users tend to choose passwords they remember, the author has had her protected files read at another place of work, by another user simply entering the names of her pets.

 

The system is a successful one with very few failures, but because it is interlinked with other systems there are sub abnormalities that occur. the some of Barclays central information system batch updates at the end of each working day, and the call centres information system works in real time, there can be discrepancies.  The most common of which is when a customer has spent an amount of money on their debit card which the system updates in real time, but their account details at an ATM will not show this change to their account on that day, so may show a balance but will not let them withdraw against it.

 

BENEDY D., 2001, Follow a Calling, Marketing Week, November 22, pages 55-56

 

BOCIJ P. et al., 1999, Business Information Systems, Technology, Development and Management, London, Pearson.

 

CANDLE, 1999, Candle helps Barclays deliver 24-hour Customer service 365 Days a year, [online] available at http://www.candle.com, accessed 21/12/2002

 

CHECKMATE, date unknown, Barclaycall – Case Study, [online] available at :

 http://www.checkmate.co.uk/Solutions/CaseStudies/barclay.pdf, accessed 21/12/2002

 

HEEKS R, 2002b, Information Systems: Rationality and Reality – Handout, IDPM, University of Manchester, Unpublished.

 

HEEKS R., 2002a, Information Systems in Organisations – Hand Out 1, IDPM, University of Manchester, Unpublished.

 

HEEKS R., 2002c, Data Quality in Information Systems, IDPM, University of Manchester, Unpublished

 

HEEKS R., 2002d, Information Technology Trends – Handout 1, IDPM, University of Manchester, Unpublished

 

HEEKS R., 2002e, Information in Organisations – Handout 2, IDPM, University of Manchester, Unpublished

 

 

HEEKS R., 2002f, Information Systems: Rationality and Reality - Handout, IDPM, University of Manchester, Unpublished

 

HOWCROFT B., HAMILTON R., HEWER P., 2002, Consumer attitude and the usage and adoption of home-based banking in the United Kingdom, International Journal of Bank Marketing, 20(3), pages 111-121

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KAKABADSE A et al., 1987, Working in Organisations, Penguin, Harmondsworth, UK

 

PRABHAKER P., SHEEHAN M., COPPETT J., 1997, The power of technology in business selling: call centres, Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, 12(3/4), pages 225 – 235

 

REID C., THOMSON J., WALLACE-SMITH J., 1998, Impact of information on corporate decision making: the UK banking sector, Library Management, 19(2), pages 86 – 109.

 

WEEVER P., 1996, Millions answer the call to switch to 24 hour by telephone” The Times, 26 December.

 

ZHU F. X, WYMER W., CHEN I., 2002, IT-based services ands service quality in consumer banking, International Journal of Service Industry Management, 13(1), pages 69-90