|Expanding Access to Science and Technology (UNU, 1994, 462 pages)|
|Session 5: From new technologies to new modalities of cooperation|
|Systems management for information technology development|
While information technology does indeed enable better design of systems and existing organizations, it also enables the design of fundamentally new organizations and systems. Thus, efforts in this area include proactivity in the sense of being aware of future technological, organizational, and human concerns so as to support graceful evolution over time to new information technology-based services. Among these would be improved access to knowledge of all types.
The initial efforts at provision of information technology-based systems concerned support through more advanced information technology-based hardware and software. Some time ago it was recognized that support could be provided not only to individuals in accomplishing such tasks as report preparation but that the ubiquitous computer could provide support for groups in answering queries of a what if nature with an if then response. This led, two or three decades ago, to the development of support through management information systems (MIS). These systems have become quite powerful today and are used for a variety of purposes, such as scheduling airplane flights and booking passenger seats on them, and registering university students in classes.
As management information systems began to proliferate, it soon became recognized that at least two difficulties remained. While the MIS was very capable of providing support for organizing data and information, it did not necessarily provide much support for human judgement and choice activities. Many such activities need support. They range from providing support in assessing situations, such as to better detect issues or faults, and to support diagnosis in order to enable the identification of likely causative or influencing factors. Nor did the classical MIS provide support for decision-related issues that involve selection of alternatives that have multiple and non-commensurate attributes. This capability was provided by support through judgement and decision support systems. These systems involved linking the database management systems (DBMS) so common in the MIS era with the model base management system (MBMS) capability made possible through advances in operations research and artificial intelligence with the visualization and interactive presentation capability made possible through dialogue generation and management systems (DGMS). The resulting systems are generally known as decision support systems (DSS) . These systems provide needed support for information processing by individuals and organizations.
An additional difficulty is that it has become essentially impossible to cope with the plethora of new information technology-based support systems. The major reason for this is the lack of systems integration across the large variety of such products and services. This has led to the identification of an additional role for information technology professionals, one involving support through information systems integration engineering. An information systems integration engineer is responsible for overall systems management, including configuration management, to insure that diverse products and services are identified and assembled into total and integrated solutions to information systems issues of large scale and scope. There are many contemporary technological issues here. There is a need for what are often called "open systems architectures," or open systems environments, that provide for such needs as inter-operability of applications software across a variety of heterogeneous hardware and software platforms. The key idea here is the notion of open, or public, a notion that is intended to produce consensus based developments that will ameliorate difficulties associated with lack of standards and the presence of proprietary interfaces, services, and protocols.
When brought to fruition, these information systems integration developments, and the associated open systems environments, will enable more efficient and effective configuration managements. This will result in the development of information technology solutions in enabling existing organizations to function "better." However, there is also a need for "better" organizational designs. These needs exist in a variety of areas that range from more efficient and effective enterprise management, to more efficient and effective education of students in universities, to more efficient and effective manufacturing processes. It is in this area that contemporary proactive information technology developments promise the greatest pay-off. This is what we attempt to illustrate in figure 13. Through appropriate development efforts, and aided by effective approaches to operational and strategic quality assurance and management, systems integration, and standards, it should be possible to achieve the many objectives for development through systems engineering illustrated in figure 14.
It is important to consider the many impacts that various usages of contemporary information technology have on the environment. Huber , in an especially insightful article, identifies 13 propositions that relate to the effect of information technologies on organizations and on associated organizational situation assessment and decision-making.
The first three of the propositions deal with the effects on subunit structure and processes. Huber states that the use of information technology will lead to: a larger number and variety of people participating as information sources in the making of decisions; decreases in the number and variety of people comprising the traditional face-to-face decision unit; and less organizational time being absorbed by decision-related meetings. Six propositions deal with the organization as a whole. He indicates that the use of information technology in a given organization will lead to: a more uniform distribution, across organizational levels, of the probability that a specific organizational level will make a particular decision; a greater variation across organizations in the levels at which a particular type of decision is made; a reduction in the number of organizational levels involved in authorizing proposed organizational actions; fewer intermediate nodes within organizational information processing networks; more frequent development and use of computerized databases as components of organizational memory; and more frequent development and use of in-house expert systems as components of organizational memories.
Huber presents two propositions that deal with situation assessment. He states that the use of information technology will lead to more rapid and more accurate identification of problems and opportunities and to organizational situation assessment that is more accurate, comprehensive, timely, and available. Finally, he presents three propositions that deal with information technology effects on decision-making. It is postulated that the use of information technology will lead to higher quality decisions, to a reduction in the time required to authorize proposed organizational actions, and that the time required to make decisions will be reduced. On the basis of these 14 propositions, Huber-identifies four elements or constructs and obtains a causal structural model as shown in figure 15. This is a fitting concluding picture for this paper, as it does indicate the considerable role that modern information technology-based systems can be expected to have in present and future organizational environments. This will involve: generating the context for information technology through integrating and aligning the strategies for the organization and for information technology developments; engineering the design of an information technology-based system through involvement of users in all life-cycle phases of systems design; and fielding the system in a manner that provides maximum benefits to organizations and humans, including their access to science and technology. This will require very careful attention to such critical ingredients as software systems engineering  and related efforts that involve information processing in systems and organizations .