Innovating then and Now
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Innovating then and NowPaul Gray aa School of Information Science, Claremont Graduate University , Claremont, CaliforniaPublished online: 21 Dec 2006.
To cite this article: Paul Gray (2006) Innovating then and Now, Information Systems Management, 23:4, 80-84, DOI:10.1201/1078.10580530/46318.104.22.16860901/95117.11
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1201/1078.10580530/46322.214.171.12460901/95117.11
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INNOVATING THEN AND NOW
Steven Alter. The Work SystemMethod: Combining People, Pro-cesses, and IT for Business Results.Larkspur, CA: Work System Press,2006, 280 pp.
Stanley Bing. Rome Inc.: The Riseand Fall of the First MultinationalCorporation . New York: W.W.Norton & Co., 2006, 197 pp.
Victor Fey and Eugene Rivin. Inno-vation on Demand: New ProductDevelopment Using TRIZ. Cam-bridge University Press, 2005, 242pp.
Jay Liebowitz. Strategic Intelligence:Business Intelligence, CompetitiveIntelligence, and Knowledge Man-agement. Boca Raton, FL: AuerbachPublications, 2006, 223 pp.
LL FOUR OF THE BOOKS RE-viewed for this column reflectthe reality that IS managementissues are intertwined with
management trends, as IT is becom-ing a more routine part of doing busi-ness. In two cases (Bing in Rome, Inc.and Fey and Rivin in Innovation), thebooks do not target IS managementreaders but contain valuable lessonsfor us all.
(One of the books reviewed, Stra-tegic Intelligence: Business Intelli-gence, Competitive Intelligence, andKnowledge Management by Jay Lie-bowitz is published by Auerbach Pub-lications, which publishes this
journal. It was selected because of thesubjects it covers and the authorship,not because of its publisher. A previ-ous book by the same author, Knowl-edge Management Handbook, alsopublished by Auerbach, was reviewedhere in 1999.)
WORK SYSTEMSFor more than a decade, Steven Alterhas been working on the appropriateway to think about and describe infor-mation systems. He is that rare individ-ual whose work background includeseight years as a vice president for alarge Silicon Valley company; he holdsa Ph.D. in the management of informa-tion systems from MITs Sloan School;and he is now a professor in San Fran-cisco. What he does in The Work Sys-tem Method is present an importantsystemic, integrated way of approach-ing the underlying concepts of theMIS field.
Alter argues that systems in organi-zations are best viewed as work sys-tems. He defines a work system as asystem in which human participantsand/or machines perform work usinginformation, technology, and other re-sources to produce products and/orservices for internal or external cus-tomers. Work systems can be any ac-tivity, whether it be approving loansin a bank, finding and qualifying salesprospects, buying gifts on a Web site,or developing software. Thus, worksystems focus on more than IT, butIT is an integral part of most work
systems today. By changing our viewabout IT from being an entity unto it-self to being embedded in work sys-tems, Alter changes the way we thinkabout what it is we do.
Alter creates a work system frame-work consisting of nine elements, asshown in Figure 1 (taken from thebook). At the base are participants, in-formation, and technologies, whichinteract with work practices. Workpractices, in turn, affect products andservices, which interact with custom-ers. All are affected by infrastructure,environment, and strategies. Con-ceived in this way, the frameworkhelps summarize almost all systems inan organization.
The work system method can beused in three levels:
Identifying the systems problem Analyzing the work system and find-
ing possible ways of improving it Recommending and justifying
Alter presents chapters dealingwith how to define a specific worksystem, how to identify issues andpossible improvements, how to justifyrecommendations, and the work sys-tem life cycle. In doing so, he enunci-ates 24 work system principles thatsupport the nine-element frameworkin Figure 1. Individually, these princi-ples are straightforward; for example,minimize effort consumed by technol-ogy or provide information where itwill affect action. Their power comeswhen all 24 are applied together,
PAUL GRAY is professor emeritus at the School of Information Science, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California.
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because then the full force of theframework comes into play.
In discussing the work system lifecycle, Alter points out, for example,that the development phase for awork system involves much morethan building the software. Becausechanging the software used in a sys-tem usually changes the work system,business and IT people need to inter-act during the development process.They need to recognize that businessrequirements change once the projectis underway and make sure that whatIT does is aligned with the needs ofthe business.
Having talked about the conceptu-al aspects of the work system methodas a whole in the first seven chapters,Alter turns to the practical problemsthat need to be solved in the booksremaining eight chapters. He beginswith a detailed analysis of the worksystem for generating a banks loanportfolio, focusing on each of the indi-vidual elements in Figure 1. He thenexamines the elements individually.Because these discussions can bequite complex, Alter often resorts to
lists and tables to make his points. Hestarts with customers and ends withenvironment and strategies.
The book concludes by consideringthe work system ideas in a broad con-text. Here Alter considers not only thepositive findings but also the limita-tions of work systems. The work sys-tems approach, although highly usefulin most situations, is not always appro-priate. Among his examples are infra-structure decisions, which should beanalyzed from an enterprise perspec-tive, and organizational politics. Infor-mation systems are a work system thatprocesses information. In some cases(e.g., a dispatching system in a trans-portation company), it supports otherwork systems, and in others, informa-tion is the output (e.g., a business intel-ligence system) and the informationsystem is a work system of its own.Alter categorizes systems for officeautomation, communications, transac-tion processing, management informa-tion, decision support, knowledgemanagement, enterprise requirementsplanning, and customer relationshipplanning, among others, in terms of
whether they are work systems, partsof other work systems, or somethingelse. For example, enterprise resourceplanning systems are categorized aspart of a firms infrastructure.
Alters concluding points include:
A work systems approach can helpeven when a complete analysis isnot needed.
Business and IT professionals canuse work systems as an organizedway to think about systems (and away to reduce complexity).
A purely techno-centric approachcan be misleading. Not only does itleave out people i s sues but ,because of its fascination with thelatest technologies, it can lose sightof the continual changes that affectthe way work systems perform.
A lengthy appendix, which in-cludes analysis checklists and tem-plates, should help practitionersbegin to use the work system method.
This book is well written and easyto follow. It should appeal both to prac-titioners and to academics because itpresents a different way of thinking
FIGURE 1 Alters Work System Framework ( Steven Alter, 2006. Reprinted with permission of the author.)
I N F R A S T R U C T U R E
PRODUCTS & SERVICES
PARTICIPANTS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES
82 W W W . I S M - J O U R N A L . C O MF A L L 2 0 0 6
about what information systems areand the role they really play in busi-ness today.
INTELLIGENCE THE BIG PICTUREOver the last several years, I havelooked at (and in some cases reviewedin this column) books on knowledgemanagement, business intelligence,and occasionally competitive intelli-gence. All these fields are related to oneanother; for example, knowledge man-agement is a prerequisite for businessintelligence and competitive intelli-gence is a subfield of business intelli-gence. Until the appearance of JayLiebowitzs Strategic Intelligence, abook that ties these separate fields to-gether had not been identified by thisreviewer. Liebowitz pulls them togeth-er and argues that they are part of anew I that he calls strategic intelli-gence.
As is true for many books that in-troduce a new concept, Strategic In-telligence is a small book; it consists of88 pages (including brief cases) writ-ten by the author, plus 119 pages thatcontain nine full cases contributed byothers. Furthermore, many of thechapters and cases deal with the indi-vidual components, and only a smallpercentage of the book deals with thesubject of their convergence. What isnew is the material that deals withconnecting the pieces.
Liebowitz defines strategic intelli-gence as follows:
SI is the aggregation of the othertypes of intelligence to provideadded information and knowl-edge toward making organiza-tional strategic decisions.
He points out that in the military,strategic intelligence is used to refer toknowledge and information that canhelp in high-level decision making.
As indicated, the strategic intelli-gence process involves knowledgemanagement, business intelligence(in the sense of knowing about yourown company), and competitive intel-ligence (knowing about the externalenvironment). To reach a decision
also requires assessing the competi-tive strategic risk. Many techniquesare available. The classic SWOT(strengths, weaknesses, opportuni-ties, threats) analysis, usually donequalitatively, is perhaps the simplest.Others include the balanced score-card, scenario planning, social networkanalysis, and the analytic hierarchy pro-cess (AHP).
Social network analysis involvesdrawing and analyzing the connected-ness between individuals. The basicassumption is that each individual in afirm is connected to others throughrelationships, information exchange,and other forms of mutual support.The extent of the connections rangesfrom individuals who are highly con-nected to others to people who arenearly loners. The same kind of analy-sis can be performed for the connec-tivity with other firms.
AHP, a simple analytic technique de-veloped by Thomas Saaty of the Univer-sity of Pittsburgh more than 25 yearsago, involves ranking decision ele-ments and then making comparisonsbetween each possible pair. The resultis a weighting of the possible decisionsas well as a consistency ratio that al-lows one to check the consistency ofthe data. Liebowitz describes using theAHP for deciding which of seven docu-ment management tools to select.
Although discussed only briefly,these techniques are the beginningsof tying together the various elementsof strategic intelligence.
The case studies deal mostly withthe elements of strategic intelligence.They cover both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. They range fromknowledge management at a nonprof-it foundation to help disadvantagedchildren; to Motorolas use of strategicscenarios; to the use of competitiveintelligence at a telecom, NorthropGrumman Corporation, and an inte-grated chip maker; and to two instanc-es of strategic intelligence studies,one for a highly influential nonprofit(AARP) and one for a biotech compa-ny in Mexico.
This book is at the leading edge ofa new field. What is striking is that weare just at the beginning of the strate-
gic intelligence wave. The studies, likethe explication of the concepts, arestill relatively simplistic. Yet it is a di-rection to watch.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ROMEThe premise of Stanley Bings RomeInc. is that we can look at the ancientRoman Empire as the original interna-tional mega-corporation. It lasted forapproximately 12 centuries. The booktreats the historical characters as mo-guls who were CEOs of the corpora-tion. Beautifully written, it providesmany insights about the way firms stillwork today. A chapter of the book ap-peared in the March 6 issue of For-tune magazine, for which the authoris a columnist. I was so fascinated bythis sample that I decided to read thebook and review it here to share myimpressions with you.
Bing believes that Romes rise andfall provides many lessons about mul-tinationals that are still valid today. Heargues that the Mongols and the May-ans (who were also creators of largeempires) did not behave in a corpo-rate fashion, whereas Rome did: ev-eryone who was conquered by Romewas brought into the corporation.Rome sold citizenship to the world.Thus, if you were a minor functionary(read as minor manager) in a corner ofGaul, for example, would you want tobe top dog in your small, local fiefdomor would you rather be giv...