Introduction

This paper is an abbreviated, exploratory discussion of a conceptual framework for considering enterprise information systems.

An increasingly popular point of view is that human social systems, including businesses and other enterprises, are living, learning systems. This viewpoint is based on a rich and growing literature, and it is supported by the author's experience with building and maintaining information systems that did seem to evolve and mature along with the organization. 

This paper can only begin to introduce the concepts that support a model of living enterprise information systems.  This introductory treatment begins the synthesis of a number of existing concepts, including autopoiesis, memetics, living systems, viable systems, cognitive architecture and evolution, as well as introducing a brief formal definition of the human social system. This is an extremely wide span of concern that can only be addressed  here in broad strokes.  But it is a span of issues that needs to be addressed in order to understand the technology-driven evolution of business today, and to be able to exert a positive influence on the direction of this evolution.
In the author’s personal experience, information systems are under constant pressure from organizations to extend and refine the information and behavior they can accommodate.  My intuition is that a kind of evolution and maturation process is going on, where information systems (composed of technology and people) are like the nervous systems of organizations.

My education in sociology, library science, and especially systems theory[1] was a preparation to thinking in terms of social systems and information systems.  My systems analysis of a library circulation system led to installation of a turn-key system, which immediately began to change in cooperation with the vendor.  I managed of a group with responsibility for data quality and information systems development at an international data communications provider, where we produced an enterprisewide database system that integrated network control, ordering, billing, asset management, network engineering, and telephone bill reconciliation.  This system became the focal point for continual negotiation among various work groups over definition and use of elements of the database.  My five years in the information systems planning organization of Pacific Bell led me to propose an alliance between business and information systems planners, with a common lingua franca of modeling.[2]  I later discovered support for this concept in the Harvard Business Review, under the rubric of “managing by wire”.[3]  My experiences as an employee of various companies, as an independent consultant, and as a principal in a small consulting company, have given me access to data and process models in many different types of enterprises.  These models exhibit distinct patterns of commonality and variability from one business to another, and across industries.  In recent years I have developed an analytical approach to business language as a way of understanding the complex, multi-dimensional semantics of business information systems.[4]

Pursuit of validation for my original intuition has led to joining forces with a community of compatible thinkers in the strategic studies team at IBM’s Advanced Business Institute where the emphasis is on businesses as adaptive systems.[5]  Adaptivity in a human social system is a function of its ability to:  perceive changes, draw conclusions, invent, decide, form relationships, propagate perceptions, conclusions, inventions, decisions and relationships, and forget outmoded information and break dysfunctional relationships.