[alignment] [articulation] [biodiversity] [change] [complexity] [cybernetics] [ecology, ecosystem] [engineering] [evolution] [feature interaction] [flexibility] [infrastructure] [platform] [productivity] [socio-technical] [stability] [system] [user]
|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.
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.
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.
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.
|For something to survive,
it must lose something.
|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 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 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.
When engineers talk about the evolution of engineered systems, they may mean several different things.
Use of the term evolution invites comparison with biological evolution.
|Veryard Project Papers||Evolution Notes|
|Veryard Project Papers||Interference: Feature Interaction|
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)|
|Business Flexibility (June 2001)|
|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?
|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|
“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)|
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
|Veryard Project Papers||SocioTechnical|
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.
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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