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SOCIO-TECHINICAL SYSTEM and DECISION SUPPORT SYSTEMS

SOCIO-TECHINICAL SYSTEM and DECISION SUPPORT SYSTEMS

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11/04/2012

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SOCIO-TECHINICAL SYSTEM or STS:
Socio-technical systems
(or STS) inorganizational developmentis an approach tocomplex organizationalwork designthat recognizes the interaction between peopleand technologyinworkplaces.The term also refers to the interaction between society's complex infrastructures and human behaviour. In this sense, society itself, and most of itssubstructures, are complex socio-technical systems. The term socio-technical systemswas coined in the 1960s byEric TristandFred Emery,who were working as consultants at theTavistock InstituteinLondon. A socio-technical system is a mixture of people and technology. It is, in fact, a muchmore complex mixture. Many of the items are found in STS. Many of the individualitems of a socio-technical system are difficult to distinguish from each other because of their close inter-relationships.Socio-technical systems include:
Hardware
 
Mainframes, workstations, peripheral, connecting networks
. This isthe classic meaning of technology. It is hard to imagine a socio-technical systemwithout some hardware component (though we welcome suggestions). In our 
 
above examples, the hardware is the microcomputers and their connecting wires,hubs, routers, etc.
Software
 
Operating 
 systems, utilities, application programs, specialized code
. Itis getting increasingly hard to tell the difference between software and hardware, but we expect that software is likely to be an integral part of any socio-technicalsystem. Software (and by implication, hardware too) often incorporates socialrules and organizational procedures as part of its design (e.g. optimize these parameters, ask for these data, store the data in these formats, etc.). Thus,software can serve as a stand-in for some of the factors listed below, and theincorporation of social rules into the technology can make these rules harder tosee and harder to change. In the examples above, much of the software is likely tochange from the emergency room to the elementary school. The software thatdoes not change (e.g. the operating system) may have been designed more withone socio-technical system in mind (e.g. Unix was designed with an academicsocio-technical system in mind). The re-use of this software in a different socio-technical system may cause problems of mismatch.
Physical surroundings
. Buildings also influence and embody social rules, andtheir design can effect the ways that a technology is used. The manager's officethat is protected by a secretary's office is one example; the large office suite withno walls is another. The physical environment of the military supplier and theelementary school are likely to be quite different, and some security issues may behandled by this physical environment rather than by the technology. Moving atechnology that assumes one physical environment into a different environmentone may cause mismatch problems.
People
 
 Individuals, groups, roles (support, training, management, line personnel,engineer, etc.), agencies
. Note that we list here not just people (e.g. Mr. Jones) but roles (Mr. Jones, head of quality assurance), groups (Management staff inQuality Assurance) and agencies (The Department of Defense). In addition to hisrole as head of quality assurance, Mr. Jones may also have other roles (e.g. a
 
teacher, a professional electrical engineer, etc.). The person in charge of themicrocomputers in our example above may have very different roles in thedifferent socio-technical systems, and these different roles will bring with themdifferent responsibilities and ethical issues. Software and hardware designedassuming the kind of support one would find in a university environment may notmatch well with an elementary school or emergency room environment.
Procedures
 
both official and actual, management models, reporting relationships, documentation requirements, data flow, rules & norms
. Proceduresdescribe the way things are done in an organization (or at least the official lineregarding how they ought to be done). Both the official rules and their actualimplementation are important in understanding a socio-technical system. Inaddition, there are norms about how things are done that allow organizations towork. These norms may not be specified (indeed, it might be counter-productiveto specify them). But those who understand them know how to, for instance, makecomplaints, get a questionable part passed, and find answers to technicalquestions. Procedures are prime candidates to be encoded in software design.
Laws and regulations
. These also are procedures like those above, but they carryspecial societal sanctions if the violators are caught. They might be lawsregarding the protection of privacy, or regulations about the testing of chips inmilitary use. These societal laws and regulations might be in conflict with internal procedures and rules. For instance, some companies have implicit expectationsthat employees will share (and probably copy) commercial software. Obviouslythese illegal expectations cannot be made explicit, but they can be made known.
Data and data structures
. What data are collected, how they are archived, towhom they are made available, and the formats in which they are stored are alldecisions that go into the design of a socio-technical system. Data archiving in anemergency room it will be quite different from that in an insurance company, andwill be subject to different ethical issues too.

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