Information Systems
College of Business Administration
University of Missouri - St. Louis

Kenny Z was a talented singer/guitarist on top of the pop music landscape, enjoying commercial success for years. People around the world loved Kenny Z for his guitar work and his potent emotionality. For his newest album, Kenny decided, “I've sold so many pop-music albums. It’s time to change it up. I think I'll produce a concept album with an East Mediterranean theme. Fans are gonna love it.” So Kenny hired the world’s most renowned East Mediterranean musicians and created his new album. But sales for the new album declined. Kenny, puzzled at the lukewarm response, decided that he needed to shake things up to get sales growing again, and set to work on his next album: a blistering homage to ragtime music set against New-Age thematic elements. Again, only the finest and most experienced musicians were involved in production given the album’s “exotic instrumentation and subtle tempo shifts” (Rolling Stone). Kenny knew he had a winner. “Fans are really gonna appreciate what we've done here.” But sales declined even faster. Kenny, always the realist, was concerned.

In addition to being a realist, Kenny was also a heavy partier; and all the partying combined with declining album sales was beginning to dent his financials. Kenny knew he had to pull out all the stops on his next album while he still could. To get back on track, he had to prove to the world his musical prowess. It was going to be a gamble, but Kenny knew he had it in him. So Kenny decided to pour every last nickel into his upcoming tour-de-force. He hired orchestras; studio musicians; and scores of lesser-known artists in pursuit of that “sound”. He rented the most advanced recording studios, and secured the most gifted engineers for months on end. He worked with the world’s most accomplished composers to craft the perfect musical progressions. And that was simply scratching the surface of Kenny’s bold musical vision. He added much more to this latest album (he even secured the services of several familiar East Mediterranean musicians). All in all, the album was phenomenal in its precision, ambition, and creativity. It pushed the bounds of numerous musical frontiers, and was thought by some to be the most proficient piece of music ever produced.

And when it released on Dec. 21, 2012, sales fell completely and utterly flat, leaving Kenny Z broke.

The ensuing years were hard on Kenny Z. With minuscule royalties from several shabby recording contracts and concert deals, Kenny’s housing situation went from mansions to homes, to apartments, to motels, and finally to the streets. Kenny’s appearance deteriorated significantly – most of his music-industry friends wouldn't have recognized him if they saw him – and his guitar-playing days were long gone (although he was somehow able to keep his original guitar, and still carried it with him). One afternoon, Kenny’s downward spiral became too much to bear, and he found himself slumped down on a busy sidewalk in a downtown business district. Without thinking, he pulled his guitar from its tattered case. The feeling was far from familiar and welcoming, bordering on alien. The strings were moldy and clumsy under his grimy fingers. And the sound that came out was uneven and hollow. But his fingers continued to crawl and press the worn-out frets, awkwardly strumming out chords he learned as boy. And eventually – almost imperceptibly – an unfamiliar and tentative moan struggled its way from his chest, past his unshaven throat, and out through his lips. And then another. After a few more, the moans began to resemble something close to “music”. Even Kenny would have admitted, had anyone asked, that it felt good to at least hear some kind of sound coming from him again. So Kenny continued his moaning, eyes closed, lost in his beaten and grizzled sounds, when he was interrupted by the soft thud of something landing in his empty guitar case. A crumpled piece of paper? “Nice sound, man. Gritty. Best of luck.” Kenny opened his eyes just in time to see the pair of strange pants walking away from him into a sea of strange pants. And when he looked down, his guitar case held a crumpled $5 bill.

Moral:While there are many tools to enhance the quality of information systems, people involved in systems analysis must make sure to keep the ultimate end-user requirements in mind. Just like the primary purpose of music is to elicit an emotional response from the listener; the primary purpose of information systems is to support an individual or organizational goal. Kenny lost sight of the purpose of music when he decided to focus entirely on creativity, precision and perfection. And although he achieved those ends, Kenny suffered. Systems analysts will also suffer whenever they get lost in all the “bells and whistles” of information systems, and lose focus of the end-user goal... Don't be a Kenny.

These stories are adapted examples written in my class, IS 6840 (formerly MSIS 488).
© Vicki L. Sauter. All rights Reserved.

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