Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January 21, 2008


There has been a lot of discussion in I.T. circles the last couple of years regarding system architecture, yet there appears to be general confusion over the inherent properties of an information system. To some, a system is nothing more than a collection or suite of programs. Computer hardware manufacturers tend to believe it is either a collection of physical components or the operating system itself. Data Base people think it is nothing more than the interfaces to the DBMS. These are all rather myopic points of view and a source of confusion to a lot of people in the industry, not just now but over the last four decades as well. And if I.T. people are confused, imagine the effect on the end-users who must work with the systems they produce. Fortunately, there is a rather simple and proven solution to all of this; something that was first introduced 37 years ago. Let me explain.

First, let's ask what type of system we're talking about; an irrigation system, a communications system, a software system or what? If we are talking about satisfying the information requirements of a business, than I guess we mean an "Information System"; a systematic approach for collecting, storing and retrieving the data necessary to produce information to support the business. So far we have not addressed the method of implementation. Undoubtedly we will use the technology of the day, namely computers, but we can also implement information systems manually as well (and have for centuries). Does this mean the design and development of information systems should be treated differently to suit the technology of the day? Surprisingly, the answer is "No." But to do so requires standardization of terminology and agreement on the fundamental structure of an information system.

Taking a chapter from industry, we have always contended that an information system is a product that can be engineered and manufactured like any other product. This is a difficult concept for some people to grasp as information systems tend to be much less tangible than other products, such as automobiles or other mechanical devices. But if we can break through this barrier we can make use of the same concepts as found in engineering and manufacturing.

Using this product orientation, an information system can be depicted as a four level hierarchical structure:

LEVEL 1 - representing the system overall (the product).

LEVEL 2 - represents the sub-systems contained within the system. Each sub-system represents a business process to collect, store and retrieve data that is executed within a specific time frame such as daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or upon request (on demand). As an aside, "Chronological Decomposition" is an effective design technique for specifying sub-systems. Perhaps the best way of thinking of sub-systems here is to think in terms of "assemblies" as found in manufacturing.

LEVEL 3 - represents the procedures needed to implement each sub-system. Here, emphasis is placed on designing the work flow of the business process, consisting of procedures implemented by human beings, office automation equipment, and by the computer. The selection of technology to implement each sub-system at this level should be based on what is cost-effective to implement. Again, going back to the manufacturing analogy, procedures represent "subassemblies."

LEVEL 4 - represents the steps needed to implement each procedure. For manual procedures, specific actions and decisions are defined in terms of what the human-being must perform. For computer procedures, the programs are defined in terms of what the computer must perform. In manufacturing terms, this level represents specific "operations" to be performed.

Standard System Structure

The glue holding this structure together is the data base representing the standard and reusable parts to be used between assemblies (sub-systems). In this regards, data represents the formal interfaces between the various parts of the system. This is no different than how parts are shared and reused between assembly lines in production.

This hierarchical structure is commonly referred to as a "four level bill of materials." and offers many benefits:

  • In terms of design, the structure is designed top-down, from the general to the specific, yet testing and implementation is performed bottom-up, from the specific to the general. This is commonly referred to as an "Explosion/Implosion" approach to design and development.

  • Designs are recorded using layered blueprinting to show the various levels of abstraction in the hierarchy, for example, a system flowchart shows sub-systems; a sub-system flowchart shows procedures; a computer procedure flowchart shows programs. This approach is also referred to as "stepwise refinement."

  • The hierarchy ultimately represents the project structure. Following decomposition of the system into sub-systems, the project branches into separate parallel paths to be followed. By doing so, the hierarchy ultimately represents the road map for the project and, as such, provides the means for effective estimating and scheduling. It also provides greater flexibility in terms of deploying human resources to its development and allows for the completion and delivery of some sub-systems before others, yet assuring everything will fit when completed.

  • Because virtually any information system can be depicted using this model, it provides for the effective re-engineering of sub-systems without having an adverse affect on others.

This concept of standard system structure helps bridge the gap between system architects and software engineers by using a standard model that is elegantly simple and has been proven to work on just about every information system imaginable. By using a standard approach to design, it materially improves productivity simply by improving communications between project participants. It also brings uniform consistency to the work effort. In other words, all parties know where they stand in the design and communicate on a common level.

So you have to wonder why people in the I.T. field are trying to reinvent the wheel when a practical and universal approach already exists. I tend to believe the reason is twofold; first, because we live in a fast paced world of changing technology where there is a tendency to resist standardization of any kind, and; second, over the last few decades the industry has become immersed in programming and has lost sight of total systems. Hacking away at systems one program at a time obviously hasn't been successful, hence the renewed interest in designing enterprise-wide systems. So, instead of other esoteric approaches, how about a little commonsense for a change, such as thinking of systems as products and designing them as such? After all, if it's good enough to build just about every other product, why not information systems as well?

For additional information on this subject, see the "PRIDE"-Information Systems Engineering Methodology (ISEM).

If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is... "An information system is a product that can be engineered and manufactured like any other product."


Friends, we have just published a new book entitled, "MORPHING INTO THE REAL WORLD - A Handbook for Entering the Work Force" which is a survival guide for young people as they transition into adult life.

Bonnie Wooding, the President-elect of the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) said, "Many of our members are just starting their careers and I will be recommending that they read this book, especially Chapter 3, Professional Development - a primer for business skills and filled with basic common sense advice that is simple, easy to follow and extraordinarily practical; and Chapter 5, Do’s and Don’ts of the Workplace, an excellent resource for those questions you are too embarrassed to ask for fear of looking foolish."

The Miami Hurricane recently reviewed it (10/22/2007) and said,

"the abundance of information the book provides is a good start for anyone about to take the first step into the real world. Though the concept of adulthood may seem intimidating, it's comforting to know that someone has at least written a guidebook for it."

Reviewer Bill Petrey praised it by saying, "Every young person entering the workplace for the first time should be given a copy of this book."

The book includes chapters to describe how a young person should organize themselves, how to adapt to the corporate culture, develop their career, and improve themselves professionally and socially. Basically, its 208 pages of good sound advice to jump start the young person into the work force. Corporate Human Resource departments will also find this book useful for setting new hires on the right track in their career. It not only reinforces the many formal rules as contained in corporate policy manuals, but also includes the subtle unwritten rules we must all observe while working with others. The book lists for $25 and can be ordered online through MBA or your local book store. Complementing the book is a one day seminar of the same name which can be purchased separately for $4,000.00 (U.S.) plus instructor travel expenses. For more information on both the book and the seminar, visit our corporate web site at:
ISBN: 978-0-9786182-5-4


One of the touchiest subjects in any office is the room temperature. This has probably touched off more arguments in the office than just about anything else. It may seem like a small thing but people tend to be passionate about the temperature. When it comes to controlling the thermostat, women typically like to turn it up, while men turn it down.

There are pros and cons to keeping the office cool or warm. If it is cool, people tend to be more alert but it may also affect the joints (as anyone with arthritis can tell you). Interestingly, certain office equipment, such as computers, operate better under cooler temperatures. On the other hand, a warm room on a cold winter day is welcomed by just about everyone, but if it becomes too warm, especially on a summer day, it can put people to sleep particularly after lunch. It can also cause people to slowly become irritable, impatient and irrational which isn't exactly conducive for a cooperative work environment.

If you leave the temperature to the employees to control, you'll probably hear the thermostat click up and down like a pogo stick which inevitably drives heating and air conditioning bills sky high. If you're an office manager, you would be wise to put a lock on the thermostat and hide the key. Whatever you do, don't turn the temperature over to the employees by a show of hands. I've seen this done and believe it or not has led to a division in the employees and hurt morale. As manager, you are responsible for controlling the work environment which includes the temperature of the room as well as other things, such as noise and cleanliness.

As for me, I'm of the school of keeping it "cool" as I would rather keep the employees more alert during the work day. If you've got a problem with it, they've got this new thing out to keep you warm: sweaters.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.


Folks, a couple of years ago I started to include my "Pet Peeve of the Week" in these "Management Visions" podcasts. They have become so popular that I now syndicate them through the Internet and they are available for republication in other media. To this end, I have created a separate web page for my writings which you can find at Look for the section, "The Bryce is Right!" Hope you enjoy them.


I received the following responses from my "Pet Peeve" on "$3 Words":

An F.S. in Williamsburg, VA wrote...

"A wonderful post to read this morning... I totally agree with what you've said here. I love to read, but more than that I love to comprehend what I'm reading without having to read more than once! Speaking should be as concise and easy to understand as the written word."

A D.M. in Redmond, Washington wrote...

"Spanking 'linear', what a magnificent opus of words carefully crafted on only the finest of electrons. LOL! Sorry."

Thanks for your comments. For these and other comments, please visit my "Bryce is Right!" web site.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

Our corporate web page is at:

Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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Copyright © 2008 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."




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