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[alignment] [articulation] [biodiversity] [change] [complexity] [cybernetics] [ecology, ecosystem] [engineering] [evolution] [feature interaction] [flexibility] [infrastructure] [platform] [productivity] [socio-technical] [stability] [system] [user]


Alignment suggests two things:
A state of reasonable consistency and compatibility between the structures, processes and values of two systems.
An ongoing process of maintaining consistency and compatibility.

Business processes, and the technological systems that support them, usually drift apart unless this ongoing alignment is an active management responsibility.


Business systems should be articulated in the same way that a large truck is articulated. There is a flexible joint connecting the cab part with the trailer part. Among other things, this helps the truck to negotiate corners.

Articulation means both separation of parts and connection of parts - decoupling and recoupling. Many writers refer to this (rather imprecisely) as loose coupling.

In other contexts, articulation also means clear expression. This gives us a third principle of articulation.


The multiplicity of available solutions to a given problem or requirement. For example, an office may run some of its computers using Windows NT and some using Linux.

Biodiversity is often regarded as a cause of dissatisfaction in its own right, and IT directors may dream of imposing a software monoculture across their organizations. There are many costs associated with biodiversity, but there are also some potential benefits.

Veryard Project Papers Biodiversity
Internet Links Academic Press Encyclopedia of Biodiversity


In a large organization, every day sees many changes. Most of these changes seem fairly superficial and reversible; the challenge that is faced by consultants and managers is to make deep, meaningful and lasting changes to the organization. However, the distinction between superficial change and deep change is not always clear-cut. What some people see as a minor reform, others may perceive as a major disruption. Indeed, the person championing the change may describe it differently for different audiences.

IBM is a business that survived by redefining itself. Xerox is another well-known example. There are countless examples of other organizations that have remained committed to a particular identity and have, as a consequence, not survived. There are many others in the IT industry alone whose long-term survival appears unlikely. 

For something to change, 
it must remain something.
"We are becoming a service company." "We are still a major software vendor."
For something to survive, 
it must lose something.
Xerox: The Document Company
"We are pre-eminent in photocopiers." "We are pre-eminent in quality."
In understanding how change can coexist with continuity, we need to see both change and continuity as properties of descriptions. There are some descriptions of IBM and Xerox that remain true, and there are other descriptions of these companies that were once true but are now false. This notion of change has been well explored by Bateson, and more recently by K.K. Smith.
 “There are situations in which the most tentative mention of a change makes the status quo untenable.” [G. Vickers, The Art of Judgment (Chapman & Hall, 1965) Harper & Row ed, p 85]
Veryard Project Papers Change Notions

Business Change and Process Improvement (pdf)


There are four notions of complexity.
Complexity is an intrinsic property of structures "out there".
Complexity is a formal (structural) property of (structured) descriptions.
Complexity is a property of a structure (or description) relative to a specified purpose.
Complexity is a property of a structure (or description) relative to some person creating or using the structure (or description), speaking or listening to the (structured) description.

Complex systems tend to have the following characteristic features:
Metacommunication Communication that means different things at different levels. (Bateson)
Contradiction Ambiguity, Equivocality (Weick), Polarity, Oscillation, Khora (Derrida)
Polyphony Diversity (Opinion, Style), Plurality (Values)
Self-Reference Systems that contain a model of themselves.

Veryard Projects Papers Complexity


Cybernetics is both “the electrical engineering theory of the transmission of messages” and “the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society”. [Norbert Weiner, Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (New York, Anchor, 1954) p 15]

“Cybernetics is an elitist theory. … The ‘law’ of entropy legitimates the just cause of the technocratic domination of language and the bureaucratic reduction of meaning to ‘electronic engineering’.” [Mark Poster, The Mode of Information (Polity Press, 1990) pp 28-9]

Ecology, Ecosystem

An ecosystem is a relatively closed environment or space containing multiple populations.  A field of interaction in which entities compete for survival.

Ecology is the study of these ecosystems, and the patterns of behaviour that can be found in them.

Typically, an ecosystem will display emergent properties.  That is to say, the behaviour of the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

For example, in biology, we can predict the outcome of an encounter between a fox and a rabbit.  The rabbit has x% chance of escaping unhurt, and y% chance of getting eaten.

An ecologist wants to go further than this, to understand what happens when lots of foxes meet lots of rabbits, and how this develops over time (for example, as the fox and rabbit populations increase or decrease).

Similar modes of reasoning are relevant in other domains, including economics, business and software.

Veryard Project Papers component ecosystems the context for CBD

Ecological Notions


in preparation


Software and business are two different life-forms, often found yoked together in a quasi-symbiotic relationship. In this context, it seems to make sense to talk about co-evolution - both software and business are changing (evolving) over time, and these changes are somehow linked, with causal influences in both directions.

When engineers talk about the evolution of engineered systems, they may mean several different things.

These differences reveal different notions of what exactly is supposed to be evolving.

Use of the term evolution invites comparison with biological evolution.

Veryard Project Papers Evolution Notes

Feature interaction

A form of interference or emergence, in which the feature or properties of separate components or services interact in an unwanted and unexpected way.  Surprisingly difficult to predict or screen, especially when the components or services are from different sources.
Veryard Project Papers Interference: Feature Interaction


Flexibility is the ability to maintain a given state of affairs (some stable property or description) in the teeth of (a class of) environmental change.

For example, a enterprise remains profitable despite changes in the competitive environment; a pension plan continues to satisfy a set of financial criteria, a building or information system continues to fit its purpose, even though the original designer didn’t know exactly what its purpose would become.

Flexibility entails the ability to make small changes in order to avoid large (catastrophic) changes. For example, when riding a bicycle, you need to be able to make small adjustments to the front wheel to retain your balance. If the front wheel is fixed, you will fall off.

Veryard Project Papers How to remain in business despite IT (pdf)

The nature and nurture of flexibility

Flexibility as the absence of rules

cbdi forum Business Flexibility (June 2001)


There are several levels or types of infrastructure in IT:
Production infrastructure The hardware, software, procedures, skills, and other facilities required to run information systems
Development infrastructure The hardware, software, procedures, skills, and other facilities required to build and maintain information systems
Information infrastructure The central core databases, on which all information systems are dependent, such as Customer database or Product database
Decision-support superstructure General-purpose query and data manipulation facilities that sit on top of the information systems, including report writers, data extracting, spreadsheet and graphics facilities
Management overhead Including all required administration and coordination

But hold on ... some of these are infra (under) and some of them are super (over). Does this matter?
superstructure - infrastructure - infrastructure - superstructure It depends on your perspective whether you regard something as infra- (below) or super- (above).

Whether these items count as infra- or super-, they are technological investments that transcend the requirements of a single information system.


Veryard Project Papers Infrastructure and its Cost-Justification


also application, database, infrastructure, machine
A system (an organization of devices) offering a range of generic services. A collection of (generic) services supporting the implementation of many different service specifications.


Also known as efficiency.  The relationship between the input and the output of a clearly defined and stable system.

“For each human being there exists five hectares of emerged land, but of these one is too cold to be exploited, one too mountainous, one too sterile, and one too arid; that leaves only one hectare per person, but of this, today, only half is cultivated. A single American farmer produces approximately one hundred kilos of grain an hour (but we are not told with what investment); to obtain this result one would require seventeen Chilean farmers, twenty-four Pakistanis, and fifty Japanese.”
[Primo Levi, Other People’s Trades (Penguin: Michael Joseph, 1989) p 113]

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.” [Matthew 13:5-8, also Mark 4, Luke 8]

Veryard Project Papers Demanding higher productivity (pdf)


A description of something (usually a system) that identifies both socially mediated relationships and technically mediated relationships.

Many people think of a socio-technical system as a composite system, containing some social subsystems and some technical subsystems. This is a simplification, which can sometimes be dangerously misleading.

All social systems are technically mediated. We get an increasing amount of our information about our social world through technical media: email, telephone, management information systems, television, Reuters newswire. These technologies screen information for us, screen information from us.

(For example, computers and televisions both provide information as services through a screen. The screen is both literal and metaphorical. It is a surface on which the data are presented, and also a filter that controls what the user sees. The screen is a two-sided device -- it both reveals information and hides information.)

And all technical systems are socially mediated. Technology is produced, distributed and managed by people within social structures, for socio-economic or political purposes. It is interpreted and used according to social intentions.

For some purposes, therefore, it is appropriate to treat all the subsystems, even the smallest components, of a socio-technical system as if they were themselves socio-technical.

Veryard Project Papers SocioTechnical


“Stability, even more than change, demands to be explained, aspired to and regulated. Form may be preserved through change but change may also disrupt form. In particular, linear change is bound in time to be self-limiting or self-reversing and may even destroy the form which it has defined.” [G.Vickers, Human Systems are different (London, Harper & Row, 1983) p xx]


A system is a bounded description of something as a set of interconnected parts.

When people talk about the system, they are usually referring to a particular slice of reality. Thus technical people say The System when they want to refer to some technical infrastructure; clerical staff use the term The System to mean the computer application; and sometimes when senior business managers say The System they actually mean some complete operational business process, which may or may not be supported by computer systems. Confusion reigns.

And when customers or citizens talk about The System, they are often talking about the whole bureaucratic apparatus or "machine".

No amount of prefixes will remove this ambiguity. IT people sometimes say The Business System, but they usually still mean some business-oriented computerized information system.

Veryard Project Papers System Notes (pdf)

Reasoning about Systems (pdf)


A user is a person inside one system and outside another.  The user is a participant or actor in a sociotechnical system, and interacts with one or more technical systems.  The user may also interact with other users, using some technical or sociotechnical system as the medium of communication.

And in the development process, the user is again inside one system and outside another. Project management often makes contradictory statements about the position of the "users".

The word "user" perhaps implies someone who is addicted to the system, like a drug. It is often refers to a community of people who are under a degree of compulsion to use or abuse the system, rather than free volunteers.

Some people proudly describe their systems or development processes as user-driven, as if this distinguished them in some way from the others - and perhaps it does. But does it mean that the user is in control - the driver rather than the passenger? Not necessarily - there are many other engineering labels in the form xxx-driven.


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