Work systems

Work system has been used loosely in many areas. IT-linking systems in organizations. A notable use of the term occurred in 1977 in the first volume of MIS Quarterly in two articles by Bostrom and Heinen (1977). Later Sumner and Ryan (1994) used it to explain problems in the adoption of CASE ( computer-aided software engineering ). A number of socio-technical systems researchers such as Trist and Mumford also used the term occasionally, but seemed to define it in detail. In contrast, the work system approach defines work system carefully and uses it as a basic analytical concept.

A work system is a system in which human participants and / or machines perform work (processes and activities) using information, technology, and other resources to produce products / services for internal or external customers. Typical business entities include a variety of products, services, products, services, products and services.

The work system is a common denominator for many types of systems that operate within or across organizations. Operational information systems, service systems, projects, supply chains, and ecommerce

  • An information system is a work system.
  • A service system is a work system that produces services for its customers.
  • A project is a work system designed to produce a product and then go out of existence.
  • A supply chain is an interorganizational work system that is devoted to procuring materials and other inputs required to produce a firm’s products.
  • An ecommerce web site can be viewed as a worker in a buyer.

The relationship between work systems in general and the special cases that apply to all the special cases, which also have their own specialized vocabulary. In turn, this implies that much of the body of knowledge for the current information systems discipline can be organized around a core system.

Specific information systems to support (other) work systems. Many different degrees of overlap are possible between an information system and a work system. For example, an information system could provide information for a non-overlapping work system, as happens when a business marketing manager provides information to a firm’s marketing managers in other cases, an information system may be an integral part of a work system In highly automated manufacturing and in ecommerce web sites. In these situations, participants in the work system are also participants in the information system, the work system can not operate without the information system, and the information system has little significance outside the work system.

Work system framework

The work system approach for systems integration includes both a static view of a system and a dynamic view of how the system changes and unplanned adaptations. The static view is summarized by the work system framework, which identifies the basic elements for understanding and evaluating a work system. Alter (2002, 2003, 2008, 2013) and elsewhere. This article describes the use of the Alter system. Participants, information, and technologies. Five other elements must be included in a rudimentary understanding of a work system, context, and significance. Those elements are the products / services produced, customers, environment, infrastructure, And strategies. Customers may also be participants in a work system, as happens when a doctor examines a patient. This framework is prescriptive enough to be useful in describing the system being studied, identifying problems and opportunities, describing possible changes, and tracing how these changes could affect other parts of the work system.

The definitions of the 9 elements of the work system are as follows:

Processes and activities include everything that happens within the work system. The term processes and activities is used instead of the term business process because it involves a series of steps, each of which is triggered in a pre-defined manner. In this paper, we present the results of a series of experiments on the quality of the basic actors. Different perspectives for analyzing the activities within a work system. Other perspectives with their own valuable concepts and terminology include decision-making, communication, coordination, control, and information processing.

Participants are people who perform the work. Some may use computers and IT extensively, but others may use little or no technology. When participating in a more complex system of participating in a participatory process, it is important to understand the role of the participant in the process. In this paper, we present the results of the study.

Information includes codified and non-codified information used and created as participants perform their work. Information may or may not be computerized. Data not related to the work system is not directly relevant, making the distinction between data and information secondary when describing or analyzing a work system. Knowledge can be viewed as a special case of information.

Technologies include tools (such as cell phones, projectors, spreadsheet software, and automotive) and techniques (such as management by objectives, optimization, and remote tracking).

Products / services are the combination of physical things, information, and services that the work system produces for its customers’ benefit and use. This may include physical products, information products, services, intangibles. The term “products / services” is used because of the distinction between products and services in marketing and service science (Chesbrough and Spohrer, 2006). Series of design dimensions for characterizing and designing the things that a work system produces (Alter, 2012).

Customers are people who receive direct benefit from products / services the work system produces. Since they have been working for a number of years, they have been able to work with their customers. Customers may also be interested in the products and services offered by the company. (Eg, patients in a medical examination, students in an educational setting, and clients in a consulting engagement).

Environment includes the organizational, cultural, competitive, technical, and regulatory environment within the work system. These factors affect system performance, even though the system does not rely on them directly in order to operate. The organization’s general norms of behavior are part of its culture, and more specific behavioral norms and expectations about specific activities.

Infrastructure includes human, informational, and technical resources that the work system relies on. Technical infrastructure includes computer networks, programming languages, and other technologies, shared by other work systems and often hidden or invisible to work system participants. From an organizational viewpoint such as that expressed in Star and Bowker (2002), which is a purely technical viewpoint, infrastructure includes human infrastructure, informational infrastructure, and technical infrastructure. In any analysis of a work system.

Strategies include the strategies of the work system and of the department (s) and enterprise (s) within which the work system exists. Strategies at the department and company level may help in explaining why the work system is operating properly.

Work system life cycle model

(WSLC) model, which shows how a work system can evolve through multiple iterations of four phases: operation and maintenance, initiation, development, and implementation. The names of the phases were chosen to describe both computerized and non-computerized systems, and to apply regardless of whether application software is acquired, built from scratch, or not used at all. (2004), the distinction between system development and system implementation.

This model encompasses both planned and unplanned change. The first step is to perform a phase-to-phase interoperability analysis. Unplanned change is a process that can occur within any phase. The phases include the following activities:

Operation and maintenance

  • Operation of the work system and monitoring of its performance
  • Maintenance of the work system by adapting, or workarounds.
  • On-going improvement of processes and activities through analysis, experimentation, and adaptation


  • Vision for the new or revised work system
  • Operational goals
  • Allocation of resources and clarification of time frames
  • Economic, organizational, and technical feasibility


  • Detailed requirements for the new or revised work system
  • As necessary, creation, acquisition, configuration, and modification of procedures, documentation, training material, software and hardware
  • Debugging and testing of hardware, software, and documentation


  • Implementation approach and plan (pilot? Phased? Big bang?)
  • Change management efforts on rationale and positive or negative impacts of changes
  • Training on details of the new or revised information system
  • Conversion to the new or revised work system
  • Acceptance testing

As an example of the iterative nature of a life cycle system, consider the sales system in a software start-up. The first sales system is the CEO selling directly. At some point the CEO can not do it alone, several salespeople are hired and trained, and marketing materials are produced that can be used by the CEO. As the firm grows, the sales system becomes regionalized and an initial version of sales tracking software is developed and used. Later, the firm changes its sales system to a salesforce and predict sales several quarters in advance. A subsequent iteration might involve the acquisition and configuration of CRM software. The first version of the work system starts with an initiation phase. Each subsequent iteration involves deciding that the current sales system is insufficient; Initiating a project that may or may not involve significant changes in software; Developing the resources such as procedures, training materials, and software that are needed to support the new version of the work system; And finally, implementing the new work system.

The pictorial representation of the work system. Forward and backward arrows between each successive pair of phases. To encompass both planned and unplanned changes, each phase has an inward facing and unanimous approach, to recognize the importance of diffusion of innovation, experimentation, adaptation, emergent change, and path dependence.

The work-life cycle model is an iterative and includes both planned and unplanned change. It is fundamentally different from the frequently cited Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC), which actually describes projects that attempt to produce software or produce changes in a work system. Current versions of the SDLC may contain iterations but they are basically iterations within a project. More importantly, the system in the SDLC is basically a technical artifact that is being programmed. In contrast, the system in the WSLC is a system that evolves over time through multiple iterations. That evolution occurs through a combination of defined projects and incremental changes resulting from small adaptations and experimentation. In contrast with control-oriented versions of the SDLC,

Work system method

The work system method (Alter, 2002; 2006; 2013) is a method of business professionals (and / or IT professionals) that can be used for understanding and analyzing a work system at whatever level. It has evolved iteratively starting in around 1997. At each stage, the then current version was tested by evaluating the areas of success and the difficulties experienced by MBA and EMBA students trying to use it for a practical purpose. A version called “work-centered analysis” which was presented in a textbook by a number of universities as part of the basic explanation of systems in organizations. Ramiller (2002) reports on the implementation of a framework for the development of an integrated approach to the management of an enterprise. In a research setting, Petrie (2004) used the work system framework as a basic analytical tool in a Ph.D. thesis examining 13 ecommerce web sites. Petkov and Petkova (2006) demonstrated the usefulness of the work system framework by comparing grades of students who did not learn about the framework. More recent evidence of the practical value of a work system is obtained from Truex et al. (2010, 2011), which summarized results from 75 and later 300 management briefings produced by employed MBA students based on a work system analysis template.

Results from analyzes of real world systems employed by typical MBA and EMBA students indicate indication That a systems analysis method for business professionals must be much more prescriptive than soft systems methodology (Checkland, 1999). While not a straitjacket, it should be at least somewhat procedural and must provide vocabulary and analysis concepts while at the same time encouraging the user to perform the analysis at whatever level of detail is appropriate for the task at hand. The latest version of the work system is organized around a general problem-solving outline that includes:

  • Identify the problem or opportunity
  • Identify the work system that has more than one constraints and other considerations.
  • Use the work system framework to summarize the work system
  • Gather reporting data.
  • Analyze using design characteristics, measures of performance, and work system principles.
  • Identify possibilities for improvement.
  • Decide what to recommend
  • Justify the recommendation with regard to metrics and work system principles.

In this paper, we present the results of a computerized system,

  • Encourages the user to decide how deep to go
  • Life cycle model
  • Makes explicit use of work system principles.
  • And its elements.
  • Includes work system participants as part of the system
  • Includes codified and non-codified information
  • Includes IT and non-IT technologies.
  • …………,…………. Changes which are not affected by the operational system.


  • Alter, S. (2002) ” The Work System Method for Understanding Information Systems and Information Systems Research ,” Communications of the Association for Information Systems 9 (9), Sept., pp. 90-104,
  • Alter, S. (2003), ” 18 Reasons Why IT-Reliant Work Systems Should Replace the IT Artifact as the Core Subject Matter of the Field ,” Communications of the Association for Information Systems , 12 (23) pp. 365-394,
  • Alter, S. (2006) The Work System Method: Connecting People, Processes, and IT for Business Results, Larkspur, CA: Work System Press.
  • Alter, S. (2012) “Challenges for Service Science,” Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application , Vol. 13, Issue 2, No. 3, 2012, p. 22 -37.
  • Alter, S. (2013) “Work System Theory: Overview of Core Concepts, Extensions, and Challenges for the Future,” Journal of the Association for Information Systems , 14 (2), pp. 72-121.
  • Bostrom, RP and JS Heinen, (1977) “MIS Problems and Failures: A Socio-Technical Perspective. MIS Quarterly , 1 (3), December, pp. 17-32.
  • Bostrom, RP and JS Heinen, (1977) “MIS Problems and Failures: A Socio-Technical Perspective.” PART II: The Application of Socio-Technical Theory. MIS Quarterly , 1 (4), December, pp. 11-28.
  • Checkland, P. (1999) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice (Includes a 30-year retrospective) , Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Chesbrough, H., and J. Spohrer (2006) “A Research Manifesto for Services Science,” Communications of the ACM (49) 7, 35-40.
  • (2006), “Beyond predictable workflows: Enhancing productivity in artful business processes,” IBM Systems Journal , 45 (4), pp. 663-682.
  • Markus, ML and JY Mao (2004) “Participation in Development and Implementation – Updating an Old, Tired Concept for Today’s Contexts,” Journal of the Association for Information Systems , Dec., pp. 514-544.
  • Petrie, DE (2004) Understanding the Impact of Technological Discontinuities on Information Systems Management: The Case of Business-to-Business Electronic Commerce , Ph.D. Thesis, Claremont Graduate University.
  • Ramiller, N. (2002) ” Animating the Concept of Business Processes in the Core Course in Information Systems ,” Journal of Informatics Education and Research, 3 (2), pp. 53-71.
  • Star, SL and Bowker, GC (2002) “How to Infrastructure,” in L. Lievrouw and S. Livingstone (Eds.), Handbook of the New Media. London: SAGE, 151-162.
  • Sumner, M. and T. Ryan (1994). “The Impact of CASE: Can it achieve critical success factors?” Journal of Systems Management , 45 (6), p. 16, 6 pages.
  • Truex, D., Alter, S., and Long, C. (2010) “Systems Analysis for Everyone Else: Empowering Business Professionals Through a Systems Analysis Methods Fits Their Needs,” Proceedings of the 18th European Conference on Information Systems , Pretoria, South Africa.
  • Truex., D., Lakew, N., Alter, S., and Sarkar, S. (2011) “Extending a Systems Analysis Method for Business Professionals,” European Design Science Symposium, Leixlip, Ireland, Oct. 2011

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