Structural prerequisites for the design of information systems : a cybernetic diagnosis of a steel distribution organisation
Information systems design has been strongly influenced by computer technology. However, there are other aspects which can also influence information systems design. It seems that organisational design can greatly influence the success of information systems design. In this thesis we set out to investigate this very issue. This research begins by the discussion of information systems design. The conclusion from this initial probing of the subject is that an information system is a mirror image of the organisation for which it is designed. Also, the notion of the hierarchical structure is built into the models of informations systems and information systems design methodologies. This is being the case, the logical step to follow is to investigate the models of the organisation. The remaining chapters of part I are devoted to discussing models of the organisation. It is argued that, apart from the cybernetic model, none of the other models provide good enough basis for information processing and transmission. These models may differ in certain aspects; however, they are all (except the cybernetic model) built on the hierarchical notion of the organisation. It is argued that an hierarchical structure is a major hindrance to the smooth flow of information inside an organisation. As to the cybernetic model, as exarnplified by Beer's viable system model (VSM), the picture is fundamentally different. This model discards the traditional notion of hierarchy, and replaces it by that of logical hierarchy. The model of organisation it provides is built around the information needs of the organisation. The organisation is provided by an elaborate network to facilitate its internal functioning, and enable it adapt to its environment. Since it is our chosen model of the organisation for providing a suitable basis for information systems design, the totality of part II is dedicated to this model. In part III we set out to test the model. The means by which this is carried out is an emirical investigation of a steel distribution organisation. In this empirical part the model proved to be a very powerful diagnostic tool. By mapping the model onto the organisation in question we could discover that the problems of information processing and transmission of the organisation are largely due to its faulty design. Before we can seriously attempt to redesign its information system, we must look into the organisation itself. In other words, there need be certain structural prerequisites for successful information system design.