Informal information systems

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Document both structured backbone systems and informal information systems to guarantee operations against the turnover of information holders.

Information systems in the broader sense include the informal verbal systems, the coffee machine and water-cooler discussions.

People normally think of the internal management ordering, payment, resource management systems. A good example is an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) such as Odoo which deals with the whole supply chain.

A business relies on a structured backbone, informal, verbal, satellite IT and external systems.

A holistic information system

A holistic view of a business information system includes the escalation and delegation channels from management meetings, communiqués, notice boards, email, intranets, document sharing sites, the internet, etc.

A company won’t run on just accounting software alone; people need systems, methods, and channels to communicate.

Persistent Systems Documentation

Systems may be affected when a person leaves the organisation. The solution may be to insist on information sharing or prohibit information retention. Document systems to provide a record of how a procedure or department works.

Fostering the principles of mind mapping helps to establish an information culture. Company success may depend on the efficiency of its information system.

Information Systems Architecture

It may be possible to examine the formal systems. The objective is to look at where functions overlap, a new system planned, which excludes or removes some features.

It’s advisable to document procedures to protect against the turnover in information holders. The quality system should trigger updates to system documents.

Informal information systems can be documented using the same notation as formal information systems to create a single top-level overview of the company information system.

formal and informal information systems

Using a visual method

The complexity of information systems is a good reason to use visual tools to describe them. A graphical notation uses symbols that have the same meaning throughout.

In UML (as above), a stick man means a human or systemic actor. An oval indicates a use case. In SSADM, boxes mean processes. The point is consistency. A symbol and links between them mean the same thing wherever used.

Visual diagrams improve communication and understanding complex ideas. Hold interviews to determine whether recipients have a full understanding of the system in question. Clarity saves time.

Documenting Informal Information Systems in UML

UML is a notation used for analysis, developed by information workers. It provides an appreciation of the ‘real’ scope and context outside the formal information system.

A vision of the information used in the organisation, the impact and presence of informal networks can determine whether:

  • the formal information systems are adequate,
  • the informal information systems function ‘properly’ and even
  • which parts of the informal information systems to formalise

It’s useful to base assessments on formal definitions of operational function.

Using external analysts

It’s rare that an internal manager has the time or the mandate to effect such an analysis. This requires specialist skills.

Reference Documentation

Reference documentation is most useful in enabling discussion, debate and decision-making about improvement. The analysis may improve lives and profit.

Analysis focuses on operational improvements by eliminating inefficient duplication and rework and ultimately improving system processing and business cycles.

An analysis of your systems, their fitness for purpose and their improvement is part of an evolving business.

Informal information systems

The formal ERP system is key to business operations. But the informal information systems, the verbal communication channels are also a vital part of business operations.

To what degree do we or should we formalise the results of these exchanges? Some actions may result in changes in the ERP, while others may be decisions in meeting minutes. All represent operational actions.

Data flows from meetings

To what degree is there a requirement for documenting these decisions and actions? It may be that when a someone takes over a new job, the history of decisions be made available.

An analyst or manager may look at cause and effect or identify remedial actions in a business area. Analysing decisions against performance helps improve operations.

Data from a meeting (minutes) should flow into action plans, into action.

distinguishing formal and informal information systems

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