Overview

This course is primarily about Information and Organizations; how information is gathered, stored and used.  By now most of us can readily distinguish between data and information.  The most common distinction is that information is data in a context that  that is useful to humans.  This usually requires organization of the data which may include sorting, selecting, aggregating and identifying or labelling the data for presentation to a human.  The presentation may include tables, graphs, charts, and other visual mechanisms to help the human consumer reach conclusions about the underlying data.  We will cover all of these.  There is also a need to secure our data and information and we will cover Social Media Information systems ,which many of us interact with regularly and which may be used by participating organizations and which are hosted by other  organizations.

There will be several recurring themes through this text.

  • Analysis or more specifically System Analysis and  Systems thinking.
  • The notion that information about transactions in aggregate may have more value than the individual transactions themselves.

We will cover some useful mechanisms or models that help us understand how organizations function and how and where data may originate and how it is processed to become information.  These include:

  • The Business Context Model
  • Data Flow Diagrams
  • Use Cases

It is useful to have a tool to use to express the above models.   Knowledge of and the ability to use  a flowcharting tool is highly recommended for this course.  I prefer MS Visio, however there are other tools available, for free in some cases, that can be used just as effectively  (e.g. Lucidchart, Draw.io, LibreOffice Draw.)

Analysis

  • Analysis | Definition of Analysis by Merriam-Webster 1a : a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features : a thorough study doing a careful analysis of the problem. b : a statement of such an examination. 2 : separation of a whole into its component parts.
  • Analysis | Definition of Analysis Business Dictionary1. A systematic examination and evaluation of data or information, by breaking it into its component parts to uncover their interrelationships. Opposite of synthesis.2. An examination of data and facts to uncover and understand cause-effect relationships, thus providing basis for problem solving and decision making.

Old Dad Joke – How Do you Eat an Elephant?  …  One bite at a time.  This oldie is really valuable for us.  When we try to understand complex systems with many inputs processes, actors and outputs it is help to break them down into their component parts (flowcharting comes in handy here) and build a logical model of how data is created, read, updated and deleted and how in turn it becomes useful information.  The task of breaking the complex process or problem into its component parts, to understand them, to solve the problem, or understand the system is our operational definition of “Analysis” for this course.

 

Systems Theory and Systems Thinking

  • Systems theory is the interdisciplinary study of systems. A system is a cohesive conglomeration of interrelated and interdependent parts which can be natural or human-made. Wikipedia
  • What is systems thinking? – Definition from WhatIs.com Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. … According to systems thinking, system behavior results from the effects of reinforcing and balancing processes.
  • “A system is a set of related components that work together in a particular environment to perform whatever functions are required to achieve the system’s objective” Donella Meadows

See this article on systems thinking, and this article of 6 fundamental concepts of systems thinking.

 

Systems thinking is a wholistic way of looking at things.  For example, suppose you are in the grocery store produce section and you are looking at large bin of apples.  You may thinking those look great and I am hungry!  The systems thinker might see back down a series of processes or process steps that result in the apples presented to him/her.  The farmer that planted the orchard and tended the trees during the growing season, the harvesting, sorting, packing and shipping from the orchard to the distributor, the distributor selling them to the grocery store chain, and then the breaking apart and delivering the apples to each grocery store in the chain.

These can be viewed as a sort of apple value chain, where value is added at each step, resulting in what you see before you at the store.

Plant orchard

Grow apples (water, fertilize, prune)

Pick apples

Sort and pack apples

Ship to distributor

Distributor ship to grocery chain DC

Grocery Chain distribute to individual stores

Of course each process step can be decomposed further as an example we identified watering, Fertilizing, and Pruning as part of the grow process above.  After reading this will you think differently about produce next time you are in the store.  How about a book as example, try creating a simple diagram of what goes into a book delivered to you via a giant online bookstore like Amazon.

Systems theory and in turn systems thinking  is another way of looking at the world around us.  these disciplines help us understand how organizations operate and how they rely on data and information in their normal course of operations.  They will help you view systems with a broader perspective and allow us to see overall structures, patterns and cycles within organizations.

One more term to add to the mix here is Abstract Reasoning, which for our purposes, we will define as the ability to construct a model or representation of something we are studying (in our case a system or organization.)  Once we have a working model (again flowcharting tools useful here) we will take some steps to validate it and then we can use it to predict outcomes.

E.g. If we vary an input the result will be X.

If we have a drought early in the season that will result in fewer apples being delivered and they will be smaller.  This in turn, with a constant demand, causes the price of apples to go up at my local grocery.

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