Chapter 2: Knowing What You Need
Functional specifications contain a description of the technical capabilities your technology solution should have.
What Should Be Included in a Set of Functional Specifications?
Up to now, your task has been to describe the needs of your organization that might be addressed by technology. Everyone knows that technology generally means computers. However, there are many components that make up a computer system, and you may not know what all those components are. (In the next chapter, you will learn about computer and networking technology components.) So the discussion, thus far, has focused on a "technology solution," rather than a computer system, that will meet your needs.
Even if you are not thoroughly knowledgeable about computer and networking technology, you may know enough to begin considering how to address your organization's needs through the use of computer systems, including the reengineering of some existing procedures. If so, you will find it worthwhile to follow up the Needs Statement document with a Functional Specifications document. A Functional Specifications document states in detail what exactly an upgraded (or new) computer system should be expected to do (rather than what your organization should be able to do).
Consider this analogy. You're shopping for a new car, but you first create a check list of your needs. Your investment must be able to:
The Functional Specifications document plays the same role (as the list of car characteristics) in specifying what capabilities the computer system must have. You don't care how such a system works internally; you do care what services it delivers to those who will use and maintain it.
There are many different views on what should go into a set of Functional Specifications. Consultants and product vendors tend to recommend their favorite or proprietary methods of data or process modeling, function charts, and other items that most non-technical decision makers find very difficult to understand. The best rule of thumb is to view the Functional Specifications as a concise description of a new computer system's capabilities, which can then be compared to what can be bought from a commercial vendor or built by developers.
When developing a Functional Specification, determine whether it makes sense to include details related to your current computer system, the information in the system, and processes the system performs. Even though the current system may do some things fairly well, there may be better ways to do the same functions, or there may be ways to combine functions to improve efficiency.
This is a place where you may need to work with someone with technical expertise to help you think through these more technical specifications. It is probably wise to give some thought to your technical requirements now, rather than to expect a vendor or consulting firm to cover all these areas in their response to your bidding and/or purchasing process. Be sure to have a vendor respond to your specific technical and functional requirements. Don't accept a proprietary solution developed by a vendor in response to the needs they perceive you will have.
Figure 2.3 contains a suggested outline for a Functional Specifications document. This document is organized somewhat like the Needs Statement, but it is concerned more with the characteristics of a system itself than with the requirements it would meet. Include all the information that you feel comfortable with; but don't feel like you must include everything.
While the terminology in the sample Functional Specifications document may look technical, it is just a listing of the information your system has to address, the functions you need your system to perform, and performance specifics on how much, how fast, and how many users need to use the system. Here is a description of the types of items that might go into a set of Functional Specifications. Section 1 just provides an overview and introduction to the functional specifications, hence the descriptions start with Section 2 - System Contents.
Section 2 - System Contents
Section 3 - System Functions
Section 4 - Access and Capacity
For security purposes, your software and network specifications must allow you to restrict who has access to the system, who has access to specific programs, and even access to data elements within programs. You need to have software that will search and report viruses and vandals to you. You will also need backup and recovery tools, which will help with security as well as other disasters. It is at this point that the technology committee should meet with the people in the organization who are already providing these services. Whether it is the college registrar's office or the school district, county, or state department of education, many of these questions might already have been answered. Remember the Wheel! It does not need to be reinvented?
Section 5 - Interfaces
Beginning with Chapter 3, you will learn more about the technical components of computer systems and functions. The information in Chapter 3 will help you prepare your Functional Specifications document.
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