Computer-based Information Systems as a means of Automating the Use of Knowledge about Information Processing in Complex Systems

Roberto R Kampfner


Information processing can be seen as an aspect, indeed as an integral part, of the dynamics of systems (Kampfner, 1998). Any system uses information in order to control, and coordinate the processes that perform its functions. It is in this broad sense that the dynamics of a system, which comprises the processes that perform its functions, can be seen as the specific way in which a particular system processes information. Information processing in a system or, equivalently, the information processing aspect of its dynamics, can be seen as a manifestation of the ‘knowledge’ about information processing that the system possesses. The notion of information processing that we are using here is very broad. It applies not only to information processing as performed directly by humans or by devices or systems of human design, such as computers and computer-based information systems. It applies to any dynamic system since any such system needs to process information in order to perform, control, and coordinate the processes that perform its functions and achieve its goals. This view confers to information processing a fundamental role in the dynamics of a system, hence in its ability to perform its functions and to achieve its goals.
Computer-based information systems play an increasingly important role in the way in which complex adaptive systems such as modern organizations process information. The effectiveness with which computer-based information systems support the functions of a system is therefore a basic, underlying design goal. In this paper we explore the role that some basic principles for the design of computer-based information systems stated earlier play as a guide for the development of computer-based information systems that provide effective function support and contribute to adaptability. We discuss some design factors on the light of these principles.
The dynamics of complex systems such as modern organizations is composed of a variety of processes including physical, human, social, and economic ones. As an aspect of their dynamics, information processing is correspondingly complex in these systems: it takes a variety of forms that act concurrently with the other aspects of the dynamics. Especially important to us is the fact that it combines human, computer-based, and other forms of information processing. Human information processing is capable of representing, organizing, transforming, manipulating, and communicating information in a variety of ways, both explicitly and through the actions that we take and the processes that we control. Human information processing is capable of exercising judgment, creativity, and general problem solving capabilities. In addition to that, we humans process information in a conscious way and we can acquire, develop, and use knowledge about information processing.
The way a system changes its behavior can be seen as a manifestation of the knowledge it has about how to evolve and to adapt to changes in its environment. This knowledge can be seen as inherent to the system. Part of this knowledge is implicit in its structure and dynamics in the sense that it is not stated in any explicit form. We mentioned earlier that the information processing aspect of the dynamics of a system can be seen as a manifestation of the information processing knowledge that it possesses. The information processing knowledge that a system possesses is, however, only an aspect of the knowledge that it has about all of its dynamics and, consequently, it can be considered an integral part of this broader knowledge. In the systems of interest to us, this knowledge is constantly changing, which means that these systems are constantly developing new ways of processing information. Part of the knowledge that a system has about information processing is meta-knowledge, that is, knowledge about information processing knowledge. This meta-knowledge includes the ability of a system to change its information processing knowledge and, consequently, the way in which it processes information. In the systems of interest here, however, parts of the information processing knowledge and the corresponding meta-knowledge (that is, knowledge about how it processes information) usually exist in an explicit form, including, but not only, the explicit knowledge that people have about computer-based information systems, and the knowledge that is expressed in the documentation of their functions, of the information systems development processes, and of their operation and maintenance.
A basic design principle that we refer to here aims at the achievement of the effective support of function in a manner compatible with the adaptability of the system being supported (Kampfner, 1997, 2002). We also refer to a related design principle that aims at designing the architecture of the computer-based information system in a manner that reduces subsystem interdependence in the system being supported (Kampfner, 2008). In this paper we show that allowing the computer-based information system to use some of the information processing knowledge that it needs only when it needs it, instead of storing and maintaining this knowledge on a permanent basis, may help to improve its contribution to adaptability in a manner consistent with the effective support of function. We discuss the conditions in which this contribution is more significant.


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computer-based information systems, information processing knowledge, information processing, dynamics, human information processing, meta-knowledge

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