A viewpoints conceptual framework for improving the organisational information requirements process: A System Dynamics perspective.

Ddembe Williams1 and Michael Kennedy2

School of Computing, South Bank University

Borough Road, LONDON SE1 OAA

E-mail: williadw@sbu.ac.uk1; kennedms@sbu.ac.uk2

Tel: (+44) 171 815 7416 Fax: (+44) 171 815 7499

ABSTRACT: This paper proposes a viewpoints framework for deriving organisational information requirements in a manner that takes into account the need to continuously review and capture information needs as they change over time. The viewpoints are endogenous forces emanating from within a balancing-loop of an organisational information system that cause dynamics in its information requirements. The viewpoints captured are used as the basis for qualitative modelling and performing quantitative assessment of the system's functional and non-functional performance. System Dynamics has developed a role as a methodology for modelling the behaviour of complex socio-economic systems. The viewpoints conceptual framework proposed in this paper provides a powerful approach to understand and improve the requirements engineering process of an organisational information systems as a useful way to improve its effectiveness.

Key words: Conceptual Modelling, Organisational Information Systems, Requirements Engineering Process, System Dynamics, Viewpoints.


Organisational information systems (OIS) have become an important area of research. Conceptual models of OIS have been applied to many aspects of the information systems (IS) development life cycle, particularly addressing issues of requirements engineering (RE) (Wieringa, 1995). Loucopoulos and Karakostas (1995) define conceptual models as cognitive structures used for purposes of understanding and communicating aspects of the physical and social world around us. The above definition forms a basis for the viewpoints conceptual framework for capturing and improving the RE process in OIS.

The RE process has been the focus of many recent organisational systems' projects (Macaulay, 1996). These changes in the organisations' environment affect organisational performance and indeed OIS effectiveness over time. The two main problem areas in RE process are problem analysis and system description (Davis, 1993). While the first issue is characterised by uncertainty, an expansion of information and knowledge, the second is characterised by organisation of ideas, resolving conflicting views and eliminating inconsistencies and ambiguities (Macaulay, 1996).

Systems dynamics (SD) has become an important methodology for understanding and formalising conceptual process models (Abdel-Hamid and Madnick, 1990). The conceptual framework proposed by the authors recognises the role of systems thinking and the application of SD (Forrester, 1961; Meadows, 1982; Coyle, 1986; Senge, 1993; HPS, 1994) within the traditional requirements engineering process. In this paper, viewpoints are defined as expressed organisational information needs of strategic, tactical and operational management levels within an OIS necessary to achieve organisational business objectives. It is long established that most information systems fail to meet the performance expectations of users at different levels of management (Munro and Gordon, 1977; Anthony, 1977). This highlights the inadequacies of traditional requirements analysis techniques coping with complex and dynamic changes in user viewpoints over the OIS life cycle.


RE process in OIS must embrace methods and techniques that support understanding of organisations and management information needs. Organisation and management literature highlight the fact that information needs are different at various levels of management (Anthony, 1977), and the nature of decisions is different too (Ackoff, 1981). Anthony (1977) further shows how failure to make distinctions between information needs for strategic planning, management control and operational control, have led to mistakes in designing and using systems. Mintzberg's (1979) synthesis of the research on organisational design is very important in understanding of organisational structures and their processes.

Current methods used in OIS can be designed to produce different modes of information. However, it is difficult to use these traditional methods to design a system that takes into account information needs for all its users. Although several methods and techniques have been proposed to support requirements engineering process (Bubenko et al, 1994; Yadav, 1983; Lyytenin, 1981; Mumford, 1984; Wieringa, 1996; Macaulay, 1996), most of these are suitable for specifying design requirements. They are not effective for eliciting information requirements of an OIS. The use of systems thinking and the application of SD modelling notation (Abdel-Hamid and Madnick, 1990; Meadows, 1992; Peterson, 1992) to describe changes in organisational structures and their processes, may be useful in eliciting and capturing the information requirements an OIS.


SD has developed a role as a method for modelling the behaviour of complex socio-economic systems (Forrester, 1961; Keys, 1988; Coyle, 1995). SD notation can be applied to build detailed conceptual model of organisational processes (Meadows, 1982; Pidd, 1992) and therefore identification of information needs at different levels of managerial activity. The viewpoints are the endogenous forces emanating from a system's structure (Forrester, 1987) within a balancing-loop (HPS, 1994) of an organisational information system's that causes the dynamics in its information requirements. The use of systems thinking and application of SD modelling notation in RE process provides the analysts with a balanced perspective between "hard" (Davis and Vick, 1977; Boehm, 1981) and "soft" (Checkland and Scholes, 1990) systems problem-solving paradigms. The hard systems approach (e.g Structures Systems Analysis and Design method and Operational research) are too detailed and support a narrowly focused operational viewpoint. "Hard" systems thinking approach is unable to tackle adequately problems which are ill structured (Keys, 1988). While the soft systems approach (e.g Soft Systems Methodology) is a very broad systems viewpoint and supports a cosmic perspective. The "soft" systems approach sees the real-world situations as inherently complex and difficult to understand so that it cannot permit effective operating contact with reality. The balanced perspective provided by SD to handle both "hard" and "soft" systems-based problems (Meadows, 1982; Wolstenholme, 1992), seems to break the paradigm incommensurability (Kuhn, 1970). The SD conceptual model is a "bridge" between the non-technical world view of the user and the technical world view of designers and programmers.


This framework uses influence diagram-based technique to assist with the process of requirements elicitation. Influence diagrams provide a systematic approach to capturing data and structure (Senge, 1993) and identifying knowledge gaps.

Figure 1. Proposed Organisational Information Systems Conceptual Framework

The viewpoints framework combines traditional business and systems analysis techniques and high level SD conceptual models of the OIS performance over its life cycle. As individual system viewpoint changes, information requirements also change and these changes are compared to organisational performance objectives. The use of information feedback systems facilitates OIS performance measurement. As the performance gap in its effectiveness increases, so is the need to review and change requirements. The process is continuously monitored and controlled, and improvements in the OIS performance introduced as the new business rules are defined and specified in a properly managed RE process.

The proposed framework can be explained in terms of operational thinking (Senge,1993; HPS, 1994) using influence diagram. Due to mounting pressure to adjust desired performance, the management interacts with external organisational factors to produce changes in business objectives. These changes after some time influence changes in the business rules. Changes in organisational business rules influence user viewpoints to increase pressure on management to adjust desired performance after a delay period. Performance indicators introduced in desired system performance interacts with current or planned performance to reduce a performance gap. The larger the gap the stronger the influence to introduce RE process.

The RE process influences the move of current or planned performance and, after some delay, user satisfaction. Time delay affects the user satisfaction which subsequently impedes the migration of the current or planned performance in the intended direction. As current or planned performance moves to desired performance the performance gap is reduced towards zero. The desired system performance is undermined by the current or planed performance as it works to reduce the performance gap lessening the influence towards RE process. Finally, the system reaches an equilibrium (haemostasis) other than what was the initial desired performance. Due to defined organisational structures and their processes in an OIS, responses to patterns of behaviour in their environments ensure that the system sends control messages to their environment. Messages are sent either to analysts or other control meta-systems, responsible for RE process. In return, information requirements document is updated through information feedback mechanisms identified in the framework (Figure 1).


This paper proposes a conceptual framework for identifying and improving organisational information requirements in the context of system dynamics. The concept of continuous review of IR is emphasised as IR changes over time in the OIS life cycle. The fundamental understanding that emerges from this framework is that the effectiveness of OIS is affected by the organisational context to which they are applied (Mintzberg, 1979; Munro and Gordon, 1977; Macaulay, 1996; Loucopoulos and Karakostas, 1996). To improve the effectiveness of OIS, the framework identifies that:

RE in OIS cannot be considered apart from organisational context (Yadav, 1983). IR change over time as both the organisation and its environment are dynamic in nature. Viewpoints of all system users and stakeholders must be taken into account for the resulting OIS to be effective. Of course taking into account the conflicting interests of stakeholders and its cost effectiveness. Deriving OIR must take into account the complexity and dynamic nature of viewpoints and their changes over time in the OIS life cycle. The use of system dynamics high level models to handle both hard (Boehm, 1981; Pidd, 1982) and soft organisational data (Checkland and Scholes, 1991; Senge, 1993) and its ability to facilitate understanding and learning, is an effective way to improve RE process of organisational information systems

The authors contend that this proposed conceptual model provides a powerful framework for improving the requirements engineering process, particularly for information requirements of OIS. Empirical studies will be vital in testing the usefulness of system dynamics in improving the requirements engineering process. Results of such studies and further refinement of the viewpoints framework will be reported in subsequent papers.


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