by Dinesh Thakur Category: Information and System Concepts

A special class of systems dealing with the storage, processing and delivery of information is of special significance to business and is called information systems. When these information systems aid the management in taking decisions, they are then broadly classified as management information systems. These are special systems with unique characteristics.

Even though we are focusing here on business systems and information systems, the concept of system lies at the core of many scientific management theories and techniques. In fact, the idea of the system originated from the field of physical and biological sciences. After a lot of deliberations, scientists in these fields of science could define a system with clarity. Management has borrowed the concept from these disciplines and has used it extensively in its theory. Some modern management techniques have evolved from the concept of systems. In fact, the entire study of management decision-making using information is in a way derived from the study of the structured systems based approach and systems concept.

What is a System?

System can be defined as a set of interacting entities with interrelationships/interconnections amongst each other forming an integrated whole. Here in the context of systems concept an entity may be conceptualized as something, which has a distinct existence. The entity may just be abstract without any material or animate existence but it must be distinct. The entities can themselves be systems, in which case they are called subsystems, as they work like components which make up the bigger system. Churchman (1971) has laid down nine conditions for entities to be considered as systems (human-designed systems).

Also, most systems would have with at least one input and one output through which the system would interact with the environment. However, there are systems (theoretical cases), which do not need to interact with the environment.

A system can be conceived of as a 'White Box' where clear understanding of the internal workings of the system is known, i.e., the interrelationships between its constituent elements are understood or as a 'Black Box' where there is no clear understanding of the internal workings of the system.

                        Conceptual White Box and Black Box Model ora System with Subsystems in it

Typically, we conceptualize systems as black boxes when we do not fully understand the inner working of the system and its interrelations within or choose to ignore it for the sake of simplicity.

The boundary of a system is the imaginary line separating the domain of the system from that of the environment. It is more of an abstract concept rather than a physical one. However, in some cases the boundary of a system may indeed be also its physical boundary. A good way of identifying a system boundary is to find out if the boundary encloses a self contained entity and if there is adequate control of the system within the boundary. The environment of a system is the set of variables which interact with the system.

Systems exhibit behavior which helps in their classification. Some of the important dimensions used for such classification are the degree of openness of the system to environmental exchanges, degree of determinism or predictability of the system in terms of given inputs and expected output, degree of dynamism or churn in the system (mostly to adapt to changing environments) and the degree of self-regulation or control of the system. These dimensions help in classification of systems.

Some Basic System Ideas

Let us now discuss some basic ideas about systems, which are generic in nature and are present irrespective of the type or characteristic of a system.

Emergent properties: This is one of the fundamental ideas of systems. It means that the system exhibits a set of properties when working collectively as a whole system, which are not present in any of the entities that make up the system. The manner in which the system will behave cannot be understood by looking only at its constituent elements. An example of this 'emergent property' is a living organism. The organism as a whole system exhibits properties that are quite different from the properties of its constituent element, i.e., cells. By examining cells alone, the behavior of the living organism cannot be determined.

Hierarchy: In most systems the interrelated and interacting entities that make the holistic integrated whole of a system may itself have some entities which are systems in themselves. They have their own input, output, their own set of interrelated entities and their own emergent properties. These are called subsystems. Indeed, the system under study may itself be a subsystem of a larger system called supra system. Like when analyzing organizations as systems we find that there are subsystems of production, HR, etc., which makes up the entire organization as a system but then this organization is itself a subsystem of the larger society and civilization at large. Thus, in most cases we will find that systems are themselves subsystems of some larger system and have in themselves subsystems that come together with other entities to make the system in the first place. Therefore, there is a hierarchy of systems. Each level of hierarchy will present its own set of complexity. We have to understand the level of granularity we wish to approach in understanding a system. At one level we may just wish to know the interrelationships of a system's entities, some of which may be subsystems. At another level we might not restrict ourselves to this kind of macro view and may go into the analysis of the interrelationships of entities of not only the system under review but also the interrelationships of all entities of subsystems of the system under review. This hierarchy helps in the understanding of the abstractions of systems.

Communication: This is an issue that affects all systems and indeed, is the single most important reason for system failures. B communication, in the context of systems, we mean the ability of the interrelated subsystems and entities that make up the system to interact with each other. Sometime s the output of a subsystem may be the input of another subsystem and if this communication between these two subsystems is not good the system will face problems. For example, if in an organization system, the output from the marketing subsystem on the demand scenario in the market is not clearly communicated to the production subsystem then the organization system will face problems. In fact, this issue leads to another important concept in system literature, i.e., the issue of coupling. The degree of closeness of subsystems is known as coupling.

Control: This is the mechanism to regulate the system. It is the internal mechanism to create a stable system so that the output remains within the desired limits. This is one of the most important concepts in systems as without control a system will behave in a chaotic manner.

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About Dinesh Thakur

Dinesh ThakurDinesh Thakur holds an B.C.A, MCSE, MCDBA, CCNA, CCNP, A+, SCJP certifications. Dinesh authors the hugely popular blog. Where he writes how-to guides around Computer fundamental , computer software, Computer programming, and web apps. For any type of query or something that you think is missing, please feel free to Contact us.

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