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Determining the feasibility of a solution

This material describes and illustrates the role of the feasibility study in the software development cycle.

Syllabus Outcomes

H3.1 A student identifies and evaluates legal, social and ethical issues in a number of contexts.

H4.1 A student identifies needs to which a software solution is appropriate.

H6.2 A student communicates the processes involved in a software solution to an inexperienced user.

H6.3 A student uses and describes a collaborative approach during the software development cycle.

Students must learn defining a problem. This requires identifying the problem and determining the feasibility of the solution.

The following headings may help you navigate:

What is a feasibility study?

Feasible means practical, possible or plausible. Feasibility means able to be achieved within the given constraints. A feasible solution is a solution which is reasonable under the circumstances. There can be many feasible solutions to any one problem.

A feasibility study is an analysis of a problem to determine if it can be solved effectively given the budgetary, operational, technical and schedule constraints in place. The results of the feasibility study determine which, if any, of a number of feasible solutions will be developed in the design phase. The aim of the feasibility study is to identify the best solution under the circumstances by identifying the effects of this solution on the organisation.

Within the system development cycle the feasibility study is undertaken after the problem has been defined and analysed, but before undertaking detailed design of a solution. Defining the problem has quantified the needs, the objectives and the boundaries of the problem. This, to a significant extent, identifies the constraints.

The systems analyst undertakes the feasibility study. Based on analysis of the problem, presented in the Requirements Definition Report, the systems analyst uses his or her understanding of software design and development to describe and evaluate a feasible solution to the problem. Commonly a number of feasible solutions are described and evaluated. These are presented to management as alternatives or options in the Feasibility Report to allow management to select the best solution.

In the feasibility study a cost-benefit analysis of each option is undertaken. In cost-benefit analysis each option must be understood in sufficient detail to assign a monetary value to components. For each option the systems analyst must describe the technical feasibility and determine the impact on, and the cost to, the organisation from a number of viewpoints: budgetary; operational; schedule; social, and ethical.

Activity 1

  1. Imagine that you want the best, the ultimate games experience in your home.
    Describe options which are not feasible from a technical, a budgetary, an operational and a schedule view point.
    Describe options that are feasible from these four viewpoints. Depressing isn’t it?

  2. Draw a diagram of the systems development cycle used in the structured approach to software development and include the feasibility study. Draw an IPO chart of the feasibility study using the information provided above.

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Is the problem worth solving?

One result of defining and analysing a problem and undertaking a feasibility study may be that a simple solution is identified. A solution which does not warrant taking the structured approach to system development. A bug in an existing computer system may be found and this can be easily fixed. It may be discovered that we already have the capability to solve the problem but staff require training if it is to be used. The problem may be solved with a simple change at the operational level. For example, the addition of one field may mean that an existing array of records can be used throughout an organisation rather than in just one section of the organisation. It is common for problems of communication within an organisation to be identified during the systematic process of defining, analysing and developing feasible solutions to a problem.

Another result may be to decide the problem is not worth solving. The problem may be too expensive to solve. Cost-benefit-analysis may show there is no financial advantage. All solutions to the problem may be beyond current technological capabilities. Solving the problem may disrupt the organisation’s activities to an unacceptable extent. Many organisations have decided not to proceed with an expensive development after the feasibility study has alerted them to the high cost and detrimental impact to their plans. Many more have “gone broke” as a result of undertaking a development without a reliable feasibility study to warn them of the real costs. The feasibility study provides a “break point” when a project can be evaluated and modified or abandon if it will not benefit the organisation. The decision to abandon a project should not be seen as a failure but as a sensible “business decision”.

The most common result lies between these two extremes. For most problems the systems analyst can identify a number of feasible, computer-based solutions which are presented as options in the Feasibility Report. The management can then decide on the solution which best meets the needs of the organisation. It is this option which is taken into the next phase of the system development cycle, the detailed design phase.

Activity 2

Classify the following scenarios into one of three groups: too simple to require a structured solution; too hard to solve, and should have a feasible, computer-based solution.

  1. The Receptionist is using an integrated package. He wants to “automatically” print client addresses on letters when he has a large batch of mailing for the Marketing Department.
  2. An art gallery owner has read that it is possible to scan pictures of oil paintings into a computer and show them on the monitor. He wants to scan his stock of oil paintings and have the computer “work out” how much each painting is worth.
  3. The Director has decided to alter the company logo so that it is on the right hand side of the letterhead not the centre. At present the letterhead prints from a template onto each letter.
  4. A university professor has heard that, using optical character recognition software, scanned text can be “read” by computers. He wants a computer system to read, check and assign a mark to essays about English literature.
  5. A publisher wants to reduce re-typing by using a computer to read typed manuscripts submitted by authors into a word processing package for editing.

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What are the constraints?

Constraints are identified and analysed, to a significant extent, by the user and systems analyst when they are defining the problem. Constraints are outlined in the Requirements Definition Report. However, the factors brought to light by the systems analyst during the feasibility study can reveal constraints that were not apparent to the user at this early stage. These constraints are identified for each option in the Feasibility Report and the user considers them when selecting an option. It may be that, given the constraints, there is no achievable or feasible solution to the problem.

Commonly the constraints are:

Activity 3

  1. Given a budgetary constraint of $2,500, use this week’s newspapers and magazines to determine the best computer-printer-scanner suite you can buy.

  2. Given the schedule constraints listed below work out what is feasible for you.
    Your first priority is the HSC which starts on the first of October.
    You need to study 16 hours a day for 50 days to finish your preparation.
    How many free days do you have between now and the start of the HSC?
    Is it feasible for you to do the following before the HSC?
    1. Have ten days holiday in Queensland.
    2. Join a sports club and devote one day a week to training and one day a week to competition.
    3. Go to granny’s for the weekend.

  3. The motorway toll booths are changing from an automatic system using a credit card to a system using a stronger, plastic token. The toll gate readers have to be changed over and all the drivers who are using credit cards need to get new tokens in the mail. It is estimated this will take three months. The road company cannot afford to miss any toll income during this time. Design a system to change over the cards and equipment which will allow for this operational constraint.

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Budgetary feasibility

Budgetary feasibility is also referred to as economic feasibility, financial feasibility or monetary feasibility. In this part of the study we ask the fairly obvious questions about costs. Management wants to know: How much each option will cost? What can we afford? What can we get for our money? Setting up a new computer system is an investment. Management also wants to know “When will we see a financial advantage for our investment?”

The systems analyst does most of the work in this area of the feasibility study. Cost-benefit-analysis is part of the budgetary feasibility study. A cost-benefit analysis must be undertaken for each alternative. However, many benefits cannot be assigned a direct monetary value and these intangible benefits must be considered.

Activity 4

Use the following bank of prices below to calculate how much each of the following options cost?

Computer or work station $1,500, laser printer 10ppm $750, laser printer 40 ppm $1,200, separate word processor $120, network licence sold in minimum batch sizes of ten for $600, hub $300, peer-to-peer protocol software $250, client-server protocol software $350, fileserver $3,500, cabling peer-to-peer $50, cabling client-server $75.

  1. Equipping three word processor operators with three stand-alone computers, three laser printers capable of 10 pages per minute and three separate licences for word processor software.

  2. Equipping three word processor operators with three computers, one peer-to-peer networked laser printer capable of 40 pages per minute and three separate licences for word processor software.

  3. Equipping three word processor operators with three work stations on a client-server network with one laser printer capable of 40 pages per minute and a networked copy of word processor software.

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Operational feasibility

Here we evaluate the effects of each alternative on the routine operations of the organisation. Management has to be heavily involved in this area of the feasibility study because management understands the operations of the organisation. Here we answer questions like:

Activity 5

Imagine a small dry-cleaning shop converting from a manual system of job control to a computer system. What operational effects will the following tasks have?

  1. All electricity is off for three hours while a new circuit and surge protector is installed for the computers.

  2. Management refuses to pay overtime for staff training and insists staff learn the new system during trading hours.

  3. All old dockets and receipts are taken away and trashed the day the new system is installed.

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Technical feasibility

Here the systems analyst asks the question “Do we have the technology?” Realistically the question asked is “Is the technology commercially available?” for there should be very few feasibility studies which evaluate technology which is under development or even at beta testing stage. It is the analyst’s job to find hardware and software to meet requirements. This includes determining that the hardware and software recommended will operate effectively under the proposed workload and in the proposed environmental conditions.

Only hardware and software which is compatible and which interfaces with existing computer system should be included in a feasibility study; because only equipment which is compatible is feasible. The analyst also needs to consider warranty conditions, the availability of service contracts and help desk facilities as some inexperienced users may find these necessary.

Management and users can have unrealistic ideas about computer systems, based more on science fiction than on fact. The feasibility study can be where imagination is forced to meet reality. It is the role of the analyst to provide realistic solutions to the user’s problems. To determine technical feasibility a systems analyst must be up to date with the latest developments in hardware and software.

Activity 6

  1. Using the newspapers, magazines and Internet, research the status of voice recognition and wireless networks. List the advantages and disadvantages of each for your school environment.

  2. Is it technically feasible to undertake the following using a computer-based system. Justify your answer:
    1. mark poetry
    2. mark technical drawing, hand drawn
    3. mark technical drawing, computer-generated in CAD application software
    4. mark a piece of sculpture
    5. mark arithmetic calculations, hand written
    6. mark arithmetic calculations, word processed
    7. mark arithmetic calculations, on maths tutor software
    8. mark spelling in a word processed document.

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Scheduling feasibility

Here we evaluate the effect of each option on our scheduling constraints. Every organisation has a schedule of events it must meet; for example:

Management wants to know how operations will be disrupted by each option. While management has to provide the scheduling constraints it is the analyst who evaluates the scheduling implications of each option.

Activity 7

Year 12 Major Project for SDD is due at the end of August. It is now the beginning of March. The computer equipment at school needs a serious upgrade that will have the system offline for ten school days. It will take three school days to train Year 12 in the new system. It will take two school days to convert any work they have saved onto the new system. Year 12 have three hours a week in the computer rooms to devote to their Major Project and they cannot work on school holidays. Each child should spend 50 hours in the computer rooms working on their Major Project. Given these schedule constraints can the computer teacher upgrade the equipment without interfering with the Year 12 Major Project?

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Possible alternatives

The feasibility study is an investigative phase where a variety of reasonable solutions are presented. Each feasible alternative is described, the advantages and disadvantages are identified and the cost is estimated. Both long and short term advantages and disadvantages should be considered from all view points: budgetary, operational, technical, scheduling, social and ethical. Developing a number of feasible solutions and gathering enough information on each alternative to provide an indication of cost can be a very difficult exercise. It may well exceed the work required to design and implement the chosen alternative. Systems analysts must, in a relatively short time, come to understand the constraints and operations of the organisation and add to this their own knowledge and experience of software design and development. If their solutions and advice is to be relevant, the systems analyst must maintain an up to date knowledge of the developments in the IT industry.

Activity 8

Analyse the three alternatives below and select the best solution.

Capital cost $7,500 $10,000 15,900
Running cost $500 $500 $500
Set-up cost $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
Cost benefit 1 to 2 years $5,200 $5,900 $5,700
Cost benefit 3 to 5 years $2,400 $5,900 $2,600
Indirect and intangible benefits No expansion capability.
Does not meet new tax laws coming in 2 years.
Expansion capability.
Meets new tax laws coming in 2 years
Expansion capability.
Does not meet new tax laws coming in 2 years.

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Social and ethical issues

Here the systems analyst must outline the social and ethical implications of each option for management to consider when selecting the best solution. Some social and ethical issues will be reinforced by legislation. All costs associated with social and ethical issues must be included in the cost-benefit analysis.

Social issues to consider are:

Ethical issues to consider are:

Activity 9

A company has a licence for one copy of a database programme. The manager wants you to prepare a feasibility study on setting up a 20-user network. He believes he will achieve great savings by networking his one licence of the database. Write a report explaining that it is not possible to do this for social and ethical reasons.

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Cost-benefit analysis

A cost-benefit analysis must be undertaken for each option presented in the feasibility report. To undertake a cost-benefit analysis the systems analyst must design each option but only to the point where an estimate of cost can be made to within 15 to 20%. Detailed design is undertaken in the next phase. Cost-benefit analysis requires determination of capital costs (the cost of purchase of equipment), set-up costs (the cost of system development) and running costs (daily operating costs). Usually the major costs (capital and set-up costs) occur at the beginning of the project and the benefits come later. Management wants to know the “break-even point” of the investment in a new computer-based system. This is the point at which the new system stops costing money and starts to make money. To do this a measure of the life of the project is required. This is an estimate of the length of time the system will operate effectively in the environment. Like many elements required for cost-benefit analysis the life of the system can be difficult to estimate and accurate estimates rely largely on the knowledge and experience of the systems analyst.

Determining the break-even point

In cost-benefit analysis we often need to put a dollar value on something which is not normally measured in dollar terms, an indirect monetary benefit. For example, if we speed up our phone ordering system, customers will be “happier” because they spend less time on the phone. What will this “happiness” be worth? Will they place more orders? Will we get more customers? We must make an estimate, say 12% more orders will come from “happier” old customers and 20% more orders from new customers. Such an estimate can be translated into a monetary benefit for our cost-benefit analysis.

These indirect and direct monetary benefits are called tangible benefits and they can be evaluated using cost-benefit analysis. However, some benefits are intangible, they cannot be given a dollar value and cannot be included in a cost-benefit analysis. Benefits such as providing managers with access to market information through the Internet or perceptions among our customers that our company is an “up-to-date”, “with it” or “progressive” company are intangible. These intangible benefits for each option are very important and need to be described in the Feasibility Report.

Activity 10

Consider the following scenario:

A hairdresser wants to convert to a computer system for appointments and charging. The appointment system has a customer history facility which will allow him to market products by mail to those clients most likely to use them. He estimates he will get 5 new product sales averaging $15 each per week using this function. Each appointment will take two minutes to make on the computer system, not the five minutes it now takes. He is paying his receptionist/stylist $10 per hour and he has 160 appointments per week. He charges clients $20 per hour for a haircut by the receptionist/stylist. Stylists will get a client history for each appointment which tells them exactly how each client likes their hair done, even if another stylist normally does the client’s hair. The charging system has a daily and weekly balance facility which means he will not have to employ a bookkeeper to do the balances. This currently costs him $70 a week. The system will do all the GST and tax returns, saving accountant’s fees of $1,500 per year. His new system costs $12,500 capital costs, $1,750 set-up costs and $10 per week to run. He will have to cancel all his appointments the morning it is installed to help re-arrange the salon, so he will lose $500 income, but the rest of the stylists will be working as usual.

  1. Identify the direct and indirect tangible benefits, and the intangible benefits, of the proposed new system in the first year of operation.

  2. Do a cost-benefit analysis of the new system over five years.

  3. Assuming the new system has an estimated life of five years, calculate the break-even point of the proposed computer system.

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Activity 11

  1. Prepare a feasibility study on the issuing of laptop computers to: all students at your school just to the Year 12 SDD students at your school. Consider all aspects of feasibility: budgetary, technical, operational and schedule.

  2. Prepare a feasibility study on your school installing a fast colour laser printer in the library networked to all computers in the school.

  3. Given the job descriptions below, trace the involvement of each person through the system development cycle, and in the various elements of a feasibility study.

    User: someone who uses a computer system.

    Manager: someone who makes decisions in an organisation. May also be a user.

    Systems analyst: an IT professional who specialises in analysis and design of computer systems. May be “in house” or “outsourced”.

This work was prepared by Jennifer Thomson

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