Incorporating More System-Related Knowledge into Systems Analysis and Design

Steven Alter
2013 Americas Conference on Information Systems  
This paper introduces a new, intuitively straightforward approach for thinking about important aspects of systems that are being analyzed, designed, and constructed. Building on past research highlighting metaphors related to organizations, IS, and projects, it shows how considering common, broadly applicable types of subsystems (not standard IS categories such as MIS and DSS) might provide direction, insight, and useful methods for analysis and design practitioners and researchers. A
more » ... model identifies eight types of subsystems that are relevant to most systems in organizations. For each subsystem type, this paper identifies relevant metaphors, concepts, theories, methodologies, success criteria, design tradeoffs, and openended questions that could augment current analysis and design practice. Keywords Systems analysis and design, design metaphors, knowledge-based design FROM METAPHORS TO SUBSYSTEMS Systems analysis and design (SA&D) for information systems is associated with creating rigorously documented specifications of software/hardware configurations used by people or embedded within other objects. Emphasis on rigorous documentation increases the likelihood of creating high quality software, but may ignore important business, social, and conceptual issues that are relevant to SA&D. This paper's focus on different types of subsystems emerged from an attempt to explore how metaphors might help in SA&D. The IS and organization literature contain a number of articles related to using metaphors for understanding complex, multifaceted topics. Images of Organization (Morgan 1986) identifies seven metaphors for understanding organizations that go beyond the then-dominant organization-as-machine view: organism, brain, culture, political system, psychic prison, flux and transformation, and instrument of domination. Oates and Fitzgerald (2007) applies Morgan's images of organization in system development projects and provides 12 maxims for effective metaphor use. Winter and Szczepanek (2009) parallels Morgan (1986) by identifying seven images for projects in general: social processes, political processes, intervention processes, value creation processes, development processes, temporary organizations, and change processes. Kendall and Kendall (1993) identifies nine metaphors for IS development: journey, game, war, machine, organism, society, family, zoo, and jungle. These examples show that metaphors illuminate topics that might not be evident otherwise. This paper identifies generic subsystems of most technical and sociotechnical systems as a way of identifying metaphors that can be used while analyzing, designing, and evaluating information systems and other systems in organizations. For example, instead of differentiating between MIS and EIS, we look at generic subsystems of both types of IS, such as informing subsystems and communication subsystems. Attention to metaphors at the subsystem level may help in identifying issues and concepts for SA&D. The basic approach is simple: Look at any IS or other subsystem of an organization and say, "Let's assume this is a communication system, a decision system, or a subsystem of several other types, and then let's see what types of issues we would look at and what would constitute success." CATEGORIES OF ARTIFICIAL SYSTEMS AND SUBSYSTEMS IN THE IS FIELD The subject matter of the IS field is artificial systems (Simon 1969) created by people through various processes. The conceptual model in Figure 1 identifies five types of artificial systems that are discussed in the IS discipline, plus eight common types of subsystems. (Figure 1 says that artificial systems of all five types consist of one or more subsystems; a particular type of artificial system may have subsystems of some types and not other types.) Building on a distinction between "system thinking" and "tool thinking" (Alter 2004), two system types on the left have human participants, whereas three on the right do not have participants but may have human users. We identify these system types to illustrate the broad
dblp:conf/amcis/Alter13a fatcat:63mqksp47be2hdrjcvjouin7j4