"A Layered Context Perspective on the Design of Enterprises and Information Systems"


Ian Simmonds and David Ing


Most information systems requirements approaches mirror the techniques of business planning methods prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. This was a period in which requirements, like plans, could be established in advance, and then implemented. Gradual changes in requirements could be analyzed and foreseen, and could result in slight modification requests.

Today, businesses operate in an increasingly complex, networked economy. They face changes that are discontinuous and increasingly less predictable. In contrast to the mechanistic, production-line view of work, enterprise processes are now considered as social activities founded in organizational knowledge. More and more business professionals perform information-intensive work within empowered work groups.

A new perspective is required. Firstly, enterprises which seek to be adaptive are finding their informational support systems to be mission-critical. The need for change in the enterprise outstrips the pace of change in existing information systems. Secondly, many traditional approaches to capturing requirements are inadequate. As the human-computer interaction and management information systems communities have long known, there are deep epistemological reasons why detailed system requirements cannot be simply captured into a static document prior to development.

We seek to develop practices, technologies and underlying theory that will ease change in information systems as enterprises adapt to changes in their environments. From Stewart Brand's study of built environments we borrow a model of change as layers that shear against each other at different rates. We follow the development of ideas by Christopher Alexander best known in software circles for his 1970s work on patterns towards a greater understanding of design and construction practice.

At the center of our approach are concepts of 'context,' 'context support,' 'context support machine' and 'mutual awareness.' We describe how these enable an enterprise to render its information technologies more adaptable.

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Ian Simmonds and David Ing, "A Layered Context Perspective on the Design of Enterprises and Information Systems", in Behavioral Specifications of Business and Systems, (Haim Kilov, Bernhard Rumpe and Ian Simmonds, editors), Kluwer Academic Publishers (1999).

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