SOCIO-TECHINICAL SYSTEM or STS

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Socio-technical systems (or STS) in organizational development is an approach to complex organizational work design that recognizes the interaction between people and technology in workplaces. The term also refers to the interaction between society's complex infrastructures and human behaviour. In this sense, society itself, and most of its substructures, are complex socio-technical systems. The term socio-technical systems was coined in the 1960s by Eric Trist and Fred Emery, who were working as consultants at the Tavistock Institute in London. A socio-technical system is a mixture of people and technology. It is, in fact, a much more complex mixture. Many of the items are found in STS. Many of the individual items 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 is the classic meaning of technology. It is hard to imagine a socio-technical system without 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. It is 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-technical system. Software (and by implication, hardware too) often incorporates social rules 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 the incorporation of social rules into the technology can make these rules harder to see and harder to change. In the examples above, much of the software is likely to change from the emergency room to the elementary school. The software that does not change (e.g. the operating system) may have been designed more with one socio-technical system in mind (e.g. Unix was designed with an academic socio-technical system in mind). The re-use of this software in a different sociotechnical system may cause problems of mismatch.

Physical surroundings. Buildings also influence and embody social rules, and their design can effect the ways that a technology is used. The manager's office that is protected by a secretary's office is one example; the large office suite with no walls is another. The physical environment of the military supplier and the elementary school are likely to be quite different, and some security issues may be handled by this physical environment rather than by the technology. Moving a technology that assumes one physical environment into a different environment one 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 in Quality Assurance) and agencies (The Department of Defense). In addition to his role 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 the microcomputers in our example above may have very different roles in the different socio-technical systems, and these different roles will bring with them different responsibilities and ethical issues. Software and hardware designed assuming the kind of support one would find in a university environment may not match well with an elementary school or emergency room environment.

Procedures both official and actual, management models, reporting relationships, documentation requirements, data flow, rules & norms. Procedures describe the way things are done in an organization (or at least the official line regarding how they ought to be done). Both the official rules and their actual implementation are important in understanding a socio-technical system. In addition, there are norms about how things are done that allow organizations to work. These norms may not be specified (indeed, it might be counter-productive to specify them). But those who understand them know how to, for instance, make complaints, get a questionable part passed, and find answers to technical questions. Procedures are prime candidates to be encoded in software design.

Laws and regulations. These also are procedures like those above, but they carry special societal sanctions if the violators are caught. They might be laws regarding the protection of privacy, or regulations about the testing of chips in military use. These societal laws and regulations might be in conflict with internal procedures and rules. For instance, some companies have implicit expectations that employees will share (and probably copy) commercial software. Obviously these illegal expectations cannot be made explicit, but they can be made known.

Data and data structures. What data are collected, how they are archived, to whom they are made available, and the formats in which they are stored are all decisions that go into the design of a socio-technical system. Data archiving in an emergency room it will be quite different from that in an insurance company, and will be subject to different ethical issues too.

SOCIO-TECHNICAL THEORY:
Socio-technical systems theory is theory about the social aspects of people and society and technical aspects of machines and technology. Sociotechnical refers to the interrelatedness of social and technical aspects of an organisation. Socio-technical theory therefore is about joint optimization, with a shared emphasis on achievement of both excellence in technical performance and quality in people's work lives. Socio-technical theory, as distinct from socio-technical systems, proposes a number of different ways of achieving joint optimisation. They are usually based on designing different kinds of organisation, ones in which the relationships between socio and technical elements lead to the emergence of productivity and wellbeing. Socio-technical refers to the interrelatedness of social and technical aspects of an organization. Socio-technical theory is founded on two main principles:

One is that the interaction of social and technical factors creates the conditions for successful (or unsuccessful) organizational performance. This interaction is comprised partly of linear ‘cause and effect’ relationships (the relationships that are normally ‘designed’) and partly from ‘non-linear’, complex, even unpredictable relationships (the good or bad relationships that are often unexpected). Whether designed or not, both types of interaction occur when socio and technical elements are put to work.

The corollary of this, and the second of the two main principles, is that optimisation of each aspect alone (socio or technical) tends to increase not only the quantity of unpredictable, ‘un-designed’ relationships, but those relationships that are injurious to the system’s performance.

Some of the central principles of socio-technical theory were elaborated in a seminal paper by Eric Trist and Ken Bamforth in 1951. They are:-

Responsible autonomy
Socio-technical theory was pioneering for its shift in emphasis, a shift towards considering teams or groups as the primary unit of analysis and not the individual. Sociotechnical theory pays particular attention to internal supervision and leadership at the level of the ‘group’ and refers to it as ‘responsible autonomy’ The overriding point seems to be that having the simple ability of individual team members being able to perform their function is not the only predictor of combat effectiveness. There are a range of issues in team cohesion research, for example, that are answered by having the regulation and leadership internal to a group or team. These, and other factors, play an integral and parallel role in ensuring successful teamwork which socio-technical theory exploits. The idea of semi-autonomous groups conveys a number of further advantages. Not least among these, especially in hazardous environments, is the often felt need on the part of people in the organisation for a role in a small primary group. It is argued that such a need arises in cases where the means for effective communication are often somewhat limited. As Carvalho states, this is because “…operators use verbal exchanges to produce

continuous, redundant and recursive interactions to successfully construct and maintain individual and mutual awareness…” The immediacy and proximity of trusted team members makes it possible for this to occur. The co-evolution of technology and organizations brings with it an expanding array of new possibilities for novel interaction. Responsible autonomy could become more distributed along with the team(s) themselves. The key to responsible autonomy seems to be to design an organization possessing the characteristics of small groups whilst preventing the ‘silo-thinking’ and ‘stovepipe’ neologisms of contemporary management theory. In order to preserve “…intact the loyalties on which the small group [depend]…the system as a whole [needs to contain] its bad in a way that [does] not destroy its good”. In practice this requires groups to be responsible for their own internal regulation and supervision, with the primary task of relating the group to the wider system falling explicitly to a group leader. This principle, therefore, describes a strategy for removing more traditional command hierarchies.

Adaptability
Carvajal states that “the rate at which uncertainty overwhelms an organisation is related more to its internal structure than to the amount of environmental uncertainty”. Sitter in 1997 offered two solutions for organisations confronted, like the military, with an environment of increased (and increasing) complexity: “The first option is to restore the fit with the external complexity by an increasing internal complexity. ...This usually means the creation of more staff functions or the enlargement of staff-functions and/or the investment in vertical information systems”. Vertical information systems are often confused for 'network enabled capability' systems (NEC) but an important distinction needs to be made, which Sitter et al. propose as their second option: “…the organisation tries to deal with the external complexity by ‘reducing’ the internal control and coordination needs. ...This option might be called the strategy of ‘simple organisations and complex jobs’”. This all contributes to a number of unique advantages. Firstly is the issue of ‘human redundancy’ in which “groups of this kind were free to set their own targets, so that aspiration levels with respect to production could be adjusted to the age

and stamina of the individuals concerned”. Human redundancy speaks towards the flexibility, ubiquity and pervasiveness of resources within NEC. The second issue is that of complexity. Complexity lies at the heart of many organisational contexts (there are numerous organizational paradigms that struggle to cope with it). Trist and Bamforth (1951) could have been writing about these with the following passage: “A very large variety of unfavourable and changing environmental conditions is encountered ... many of which are impossible to predict. Others, though predictable, are impossible to alter.” Many type of organisations are clearly motivated by the appealing ‘industrial age’, rational principles of ‘factory production’, a particular approach to dealing with complexity: “In the factory a comparatively high degree of control can be exercised over the complex and moving ‘figure’ of a production sequence, since it is possible to maintain the ‘ground’ in a comparatively passive and constant state”. On the other hand, many activities are constantly faced with the possibility of “untoward activity in the ‘ground’” of the ‘figure-ground’ relationship” The central problem, one that appears to be at the nub of many problems that 'classic' organisations have with complexity, is that “The instability of the ‘ground’ limits the applicability […] of methods derived from the factory”. In Classic organisations problems with the moving ‘figure’ and moving ‘ground’ often become magnified through a much larger social space, one in which there is a far greater extent of hierarchical task interdependence. For this reason, the semiautonomous group, and its ability to make a much more fine grained response to the ‘ground’ situation, can be regarded as ‘agile’. Added to which, local problems that do arise need not propagate throughout the entire system (to affect the workload and quality of work of many others) because a complex organization doing simple tasks has been replaced by a simpler organization doing more complex tasks. The agility and internal regulation of the group allows problems to be solved locally without propagation through a larger social space, thus increasing tempo.

Whole tasks
Another concept in sociotechnical theory is the ‘whole task’. A whole task “has the advantage of placing responsibility for the […] task squarely on the shoulders of a single, small, face-to-face group which experiences the entire cycle of operations within the compass of its membership.” The Sociotechnical embodiment of this principle is the notion of minimal critical specification. This principle states that, “While it may be necessary to be quite precise about what has to be done, it is rarely necessary to be precise about how it is done” This is no more illustrated by the antithetical example of ‘working to rule’ and the virtual collapse of any system that is subject to the intentional withdrawal of human adaptation to situations and contexts. The key factor in minimally critically specifying tasks is the responsible autonomy of the group to decide, based on local conditions, how best to undertake the task in a flexible adaptive manner. This principle is isomorphic with ideas like Effects Based Operations (EBO). EBO asks the question of what goal is it that we want to achieve, what objective is it that we need to reach rather than what tasks have to be undertaken, when and how. The EBO concept enables the managers to “…manipulate and decompose high level effects. They must then assign lesser effects as objectives for subordinates to achieve. The intention is that subordinates’ actions will cumulatively achieve the overall effects desired”. In other words, the focus shifts from being a scriptwriter for tasks to instead being a designer of behaviours. In some cases this can make the task of the manager significantly less arduous.

Meaningfulness of tasks
Effects Based Operations and the notion of a ‘whole task’, combined with adaptability and responsible autonomy, have additional advantages for those at work in the organization. This is because “for each participant the task has total significance and dynamic closure” as well as the requirement to deploy a multiplicity of skills and to have the responsible autonomy in order to select when and how to do so. This is clearly hinting

at a relaxation of the myriad control mechanisms found in the more classically designed organizations like. Greater interdependance (through diffuse processes such as globalisation) also bring with them an issue of size, in which “the scale of a task transcends the limits of simple spatiotemporal structure. By this is meant conditions under which those concerned can complete a job in one place at one time, i.e., the situation of the face-to-face, or singular group”. In other words, in classic organisations the ‘wholeness’ of a task is often diminished by multiple group integration and spatiotemporal disintegration. The group based form of organization design proposed by sociotechnical theory combined with new technological possibilities (such as the internet) provide a response to this often forgotten issue, one that contributes significantly to joint optimisation.

DEVELOPMENTS IN SOCIO-TECHNICAL SYSTEM:
More recently, the Internet and information systems (IS) hold the potential to link information technology (IT), such as search engines, message boards, e-zines, and knowledge management (KM), for instance, together with "tacit" experiences that connect people with technology. In every aspect this has the appearance of a sociotechnical experience. Today, many organizations are developing KM systems that are intended to increase the flow of knowledge at multiple levels: in the workplace, at home, and in the broader community. With the advent of the Internet, our work experiences continue to transform from production-oriented to knowledge-centered, from competitive to collaborative, and from mechanistic to organismic. IT and KM provide the technical framework for knowledge sharing while allowing supervisors to manage the boundary conditions of the workplace environment. As such, autonomous work groups have once again emerged everywhere freeing its members to flexibly manage their own activities. It is this continued redirection away from one person/one task micro-management focusing instead on information exchange and the advancement of knowledge technology that is fueling the re-emergence of socio-technical systems at the primary group and

organizational level. The innovations of many entrepreneurs and the combined knowledge derived from “think tanks,” “skunk-works,” and rogue sub-groups within organizations are contributing to the advancements that continue to connect us socially and technically. Indeed, producing and sharing knowledge is a key characteristic of socio-technical systems. Current IT and KM systems attempt to shrink the epistemic gap by creating a virtual space for collaborative learning. In this view, autonomous work groups enact common values, social cooperation, and self-control. After all, the Internet is fundamentally based on the cybernetic concept of self-regulation. Trist always believed that a catalyst for change was new technology--more complex primary work systems would emerge as computer-aided technology advanced. This appears to be so. On the surface such IT, KM, and e-learning have the appearance of a true sociotechnical system. But not all efforts to connect people with technology are sociotechnical systems. Emery distinguished between operative and regulative institutions. Socio-technical systems are exclusively operative. The vast majority of Internet-based learning processes described above are regulative in that management is primarily concerned with instilling the "interest group's" (those in power positions), values, norms, and goals upon their subordinates. A technocratic approach has the appearance of the appropriate technology, one that fits people with technology. However, such regulative models fail to spark innovation and change. The Internet exemplifies many of the socio-technical features first set forth by Emery and Trist. Many organizations are enabling the goodness of fit between technology and human systems applying STS at the primary group and organizational level. On the Web, virtual learning community members participate in structured and nonstructured learning experiences made possible by open systems or e-learning technology. Another area where STS has once again emerged is online learning or e-learning. Both traditional and nontraditional universities now offer online classes. Computer-mediated learning or elearning as it is currently practiced and applied connects people with technology. In addition, the open systems nature of e-learning enables collaborative decision-making, self-regulation, and work group autonomy. This interface again has the appearance of a socio-technical system. A few distant learning programs have emerged with an intentional socio-technical

design. Individuals participating in virtual work groups undergo a transformation through which they establish the validity for new ways of learning and knowing. This type of learning is often an emotional as well as an intellectual experience undertaken in terms of the concept of a learning society. In this example learning and knowing takes place at three levels, the individual level, the group level, and at the macrosocial level where participants are encouraged to apply theory to practice. This is the basis for the researcher/practitioner model. However, the vast majority of distance-learning institutions are much more regulative as they are not a genuine STS effort. Trist often referred to these type of efforts as technocratic bureaucracies overemphasizing the technologies that drive the system from a strictly (IT) or scientific view, the view that science and technology are the only legitimate and useful modes of knowledge. Trist believed that an over-emphasis on an (IT) solution—a system for change belonging to engineering disciplines far removed from socio-technical considerations—minimizes the role of the individual and the significance of social interaction. In other words, IT-developed e-learning frameworks often remove responsibility from the individual by placing it instead on the technology. In this view engineers following the "technological macrosocial imperative" simply designing whatever organization the technology seems to require. Proceeding in this way creates barriers that are presumed to be offset by improving socioeconomic conditions. For instance, regulative e-learning resembles that of an online classroom where learning is hierarchical and highly transactional. Information has a price.

DECISION SUPPORT SYSTEMS (DSS):

Decision Support Systems (DSS) are a specific class of computerized information system that supports business and organizational decision-making activities. A properly designed DSS is an interactive software-based system intended to help decision makers compile useful information from raw data, documents, personal knowledge, and/or business models to identify and solve problems and make decisions. Typical information that a decision support application might gather and present would be:

Accessing all of your current information assets, including legacy and relational data sources, cubes, data warehouses, and data marts Comparative sales figures between one week and the next Projected revenue figures based on new product sales assumptions The consequences of different decision alternatives, given past experience in a context that is described

• • •

DEFINITIONS:
• • DSS are a model-based set of procedures for processing data and judgments to assist a manager in his/her decision [Little, 1970] DSS couple the intellectual resources of individuals with the capabilities of the computer to improve the quality of decisions. It’s a computer-based support for management decision makers who deal with semi-structured problems [Keen & Scott-Morton, 1978] • DSS is a system that is extendable, capable of supporting ad hoc analysis and decision modelling, oriented towards future planning, and of being used at irregular, unplanned intervals [Moore & Chang, 1980] • DSS enable mangers to use data and models related to an entity (object) of interest to solve semi-structured and unstructured problems with which they are faced [Beulens & Van Nunen, 1988] • Main feature of DSS rely in the model component. Formal quantitative models such as statistical, simulation, logic and optimization models are used to represent the decision model, and their solutions are alternative solutions [Emery, 1987; Bell, 1992] • DSS are systems for extracting, summarising and displaying data [McNurlin & Sprague, 1993]

FEATURES:
• assist managers in unstructured/semi- structured tasks • support rather than replace the human DM • improve the effectiveness rather than the efficiency • combine the use of models or analytical techniques with data access functions • Emphasise flexibility and adaptability to respect changes in the decision context

TYPES OF DSS:
A decision support system may present information graphically and may include an expert system or artificial intelligence (AI). It may be aimed at business executives or some other group of knowledge workers. Typical information that a decision support application might gather and present would be, (a) Accessing all information assets, including legacy and relational data sources; (b) Comparative data figures; (c) Projected figures based on new data or assumptions; (d) Consequences of different decision alternatives, given past experience in a specific context. There are a number of Decision Support Systems. These can be categorized into five types:

Communication-driven DSS
Most communications-driven DSSs are targetted at internal teams, including partners. Its purpose are to help conduct a meeting, or for users to collaborate. The most common technology used to deploy the DSS is a web or client server. Examples: chats and instant messaging softwares, online collaboration and netmeeting systems.

Data-driven DSS
Most data-driven DSSs are targeted at managers, staff and also product/service suppliers. It is used to query a database or data warehouse to seek specific answers for specific purposes. It is deployed via a main frame system,

client/server link, or via the web. Examples: computer-based databases that have a query system to check (including the incorporation of data to add value to existing databases.

Document-driven DSS
Document-driven DSSs are more common, targeted at a broad base of user groups. The purpose of such a DSS is to search web pages and find documents on a specific set of keywords or search terms. The usual technology used to set up such DSSs are via the web or a client/server system. Examples:

Knowledge-driven DSS:
Knowledge-driven DSSs or 'knowledgebase' are they are known, are a catch-all category covering a broad range of systems covering users within the organization seting it up, but may also include others interacting with the organization - for example, consumers of a business. It is essentially used to provide management advice or to choose products/services. The typical deployment technology used to set up such systems could be slient/server systems, the web, or software runnung on stand-alone PCs.

Model-driven DSS
Model-driven DSSs are complex systems that help analyse decisions or choose between different options. These are used by managers and staff members of a business, or people who interact with the organization, for a number of purposes depending on how the model is set up - scheduling, decision analyses etc. These DSSs can be deployed via software/hardware in stand-alone PCs, client/server systems, or the web.

BENEFITS OF DSS:
1. Improves personal efficiency 2. Expedites problem solving (speed up the progress of problems solving in an organization) 3. Facilitates interpersonal communication

4. Promotes learning or training 5. Increases organizational control 6. Generates new evidence in support of a decision 7. Creates a competitive advantage over competition 8. Encourages exploration and discovery on the part of the decision maker 9. Reveals new approaches to thinking about the problem space 10. Helps automate the managerial processes

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