3.1 Motivation

There are several motivations for taking an alternative view of information systems.  One motivation is the trend toward ever-increasing amounts of information being held and manipulated by automated data processing systems.  Hardware has become a commodity, as have many basic software components.  As more technical issues are resolved, and as information technology penetrates deeper into business enterprises, we are better able to focus attention on  the use of business information as a strategic resource in an increasingly competitive environment. 

Increasing business complexity, competitiveness, and speed is part of the motivation.  Stephan Haeckel and Richard Nolan present an analogy for today's fast-moving business climate in the notion of managing by wire.  “Flying by wire” means flying an aircraft by controlling an information representation of the aircraft through the use of heads-up displays and electronic controls;  the computer actually manipulates the aircraft control surfaces and powerplant controls.  Success-ful companies are able to sense and respond to rapidly changing customer needs.  “The ideal manage-by-wire implementation uses an enterprise model to represent the operations of an entire business.  Based on this model, expert systems, databases, software objects, and other technical components are integrated to do the equivalent of flying by wire.”

However, the problem is actually more complex than this analogy would suggest.  Managing a business involves social and personal dimensions, as well as physical forces.  This is critical to the challenge of building systems that support information needs.  Tom Davenport proposes an ecology of business information.  He claims that the information technology community is in a mid-life crisis, brought about by failure to deliver anticipated value to its constituency.  It been dominated by the engineering design and architecture model - the technological plumbing.  "Information management must begin by thinking about how people use information - not with how people use machines. ... A human-centered approach assumes information is complex, ever-expanding and impossible to control completely.  The natural world is a more apt metaphor for the information age than architecture."

This alternative view is also motivated by the shifting, insatiable nature of information systems requirements.  Experience has demonstrated that the more application functionality is provided, the more users demand.  We need to get out in front of this requirements gap, by anticipating user needs before they materialize.  How is it possible to anticipate user needs?  The only way is by understanding common patterns of behavior and semantic structure, which arise because of the true nature of organizations and the information systems that serve them.  At the most basic level, we need to recognize that both businesses and information systems are indeed systems, to be understood by applying lessons from general systems theory.