It became obvious to me that the business of computing was a multi-faceted problem of which technology was an important, but perhaps not the most important, piece of the puzzle. The business of computing involved many actors. Technology happened to be the intersection of mutual interests. The application itself was a tool. The interaction of the actors, the modes in which they communicated, their various agendas, and the purchasing process itself was a system.
After the team successfully worked through the implementation issues, the powers that be (purchasing executives and managers, the purchasing systems liaison group, and the IT management and staff) convened a meeting to discuss the production launch. I was asked to give a presentation. The topic I chose was entitled “The Total Systems Concept.” It discussed many of the insights that had occurred to me while in the trenches. I was scared to death. I was not necessarily shy, but I had no experience in public speaking, especially in front of such an important crowd.
The presentation slides were done completely by hand, with lots of circles and lines depicting the actors with technology as the hub. To ease my fears, I prepared like I was about to take the bar exam. The presentation was extremely well received. I was definitely onto something. The something, I would later discover, had a name. It was related to a field of study called “Systems Thinking,” made popular by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline .
My reason for sharing this anecdote is to highlight the fact that in the time since I recognized what I knew to be an important insight, I have seen little evidence that this insight has impacted our craft. The industry has made significant progress on technological fronts, but very little progress on the Systems Thinking front.
I believe that Systems Thinking is even more important today than it was 15 years ago. The buzz phrase that comes closest to getting at this idea is “business process integration.” However, we do not create business process integration. We create systems (knowingly or not) that integrate business processes. Systems have their own social and organizational dynamics that must be recognized and dealt with if we are to increase our effectiveness.