International Conference on
    Enterprise Information SystemsICEIS'99

1st International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems


27-30 March, 1999



The information-field paradigm and new directions for systems analysis and design


Ronald Stamper

University of Twente

Information systems analysis and design is stagnant. It exists largely as an adjunct to software engineering to facilitate the application of computers. Its fundamental ideas, which have scarcely advanced since the 1950s, are based a paradigm that makes us think with a technical bias. This paper proposes a new perspective that can make ISAD more productive, both practically and intellectually.

We are used to treating an information system as the flow and manipulation of data to produce more data, which we re-label "information". This old "flow" paradigm fails to acknowledge that computers and data are not ends in themselves but only the means to achieve ends that are essentially social. Data have no value until they change how people think and how they are disposed to act. Starting from this different point, we arrive at an "information field" paradigm.

An information field is established by a group of people who share a set of norms. Norms are the units of knowledge that enable us to co-operate in an organised way. They regulate our behaviour, beliefs, values and perceptions, and they all have the form IF condition THEN subject HAS attitude TO proposition Information then serves the norm subject who needs to know when the condition is met. When this happens, for example, in the case of a behavioral norm, to be obliged, permitted or forbidden to act as the proposition specifies. For example: IF the goods are faulty THEN the vendor HAS an obligation TO replace them As a result of the norm being activated in this example, the vendor will tend to replace the goods or offer to do so. Either output produces more information that enters the social system. The information needed by the group in the information field is defined by the set of norms they share. The requirements for any computer-based system to serve these people are simply a logical consequence of the formally defined field.

This field paradigm leads to a theory of information systems as social systems in which IT can play its limited role. It transforms our discipline from an aid to computer application into a formal and precise study of organised social behaviour with wide intellectual and practical implications. Our discipline will be able to underpin all kind of organisational re-engineering, with or without the use of IT. It has the potential to change the present broad-brush study of organisation into a precise science. In practice, with computer applications, we have shown that the field paradigm can lead to massive reductions in development, support and maintenance costs, increased system stability, greater reusability of design elements and far less documentation that is also easier to understand.

The lesson will illustrate the basic ideas of this theory and the methods of analysis (MEASUR) that it has generated.