The Concept of Systems

Scholars in various disciplines who are concerned about the tendency toward the fragmentation of knowledge and the increasing complexity of phenomena have sought a unifying approach to knowledge. Luduring von Bertalanlfy, a biologist, developed a general systems thereby that applied to any arrangement of elements such as cells, people, societies or even planets. Norbert Wiener, a mathematician observed that information and communications provides connecting links for unifying fragments or elements, His systems concept of information theory, which shows the parallel between the functioning of human beings and electronic systems, laid the foundation for today’s computer systems. Herbert A. Simon, a political scientist, related the systems concept to the study of organizations by viewing an ongoing system as a processor of information for making decisions.

Systems analysis and information systems were founded in general systems theory, which emphasizes a close look at all parts of a system. Too often analysts focus on only one component and over look other equally important component. General systems theory is concerned with “developing a systematic, the theoretical framework upon which to make decisions’. It discourages thinking in a vacuum and encourages consideration of all the activities of the organization and its external environment. Pioneering work in general systems theory emphasized that organizations be viewed as total systems. The idea of systems has become most practical and necessary in conceptualizing the interrelationships and integration of operations, especially when using computers. Thus a system is a way of thinking about organizations and their problems. It also involves a set of techniques that helps in solving problems.

Definition of a System

The term system is derived from the Greek word systema, which means an organized relationship among functioning units or components. A system exists because it is designed to achieve one or more objectives. We come into daily contact with the transportation system, the telephone system etc. Similarly we talk of the business system and of the organization as a system consisting of interrelated departments such as production, sales, personnel.

There are more than a hundred definitions of the word system but most seem to have a common thread that suggests that a system is an orderly grouping of interdependent components linked together according to a plan to achieve a specific objective. The word component may refer to physical parts or a subsystem in a multilevel structure. The components may be simple or complex, basic or advanced. They may be a single computer with a keyboard, memory and printer or a series of intelligent terminals linked to a mainframe. In either case each component is part of the total system and has to do its share to work for the system to achieve the intended goal. This orientation requires an orderly grouping of the components for design for a successful system.

The study of systems concept, has three basic implications:

  1. A system must be designed to achieve a predetermined objective.
  2. Interrelationship and interdependence must exist among the components.
  3. The objectives of the organization as a whole have higher priority that the objectives of its subsystems.

Characteristics of a System

Here are some important characteristics that are present in all systems: organization, interaction, inter dependences, interaction and central objective.

  • Organization: Organization implies structure and order. It is the arrangement of components that helps to achieve objectives. In the design of a business system, for example, the hierarchical relationship starting with president on top and leading downward to the blue-collar workers represents the organization structure. Such an arrangement portrays a system subsystem relationship, defines the authority structure, specifies the formal flow of communication and formalizes the chain of command. Likewise a computer system is designed around an input device, a central processing unit, and output device and one or more storage units.
  • Interaction: Interaction refers to the manner in which each component functions with other components of the system. In an organization, for example, purchasing must interact with production, advertising with sales, and payroll with personnel. In a computer system the central processing unit must intract with input device to solve a problem. In turn, the main memory holds programs and data that the arithmetic unit uses for computation. The interrelationship between these components enables the computer to perform.
  • Interdependence: Interdependence means that parts of the organization or computer system depend on one another. They are coordinated and linked together according to a plan. Our subsystem depends on the input of another subsystem for proper functioning i.e. the output of one subsystem is the required input for another subsystem. This interdependence is crucial in systems work.
  • Integration: Integration refers to the holism of systems. Synthesis follows analysis to achieve the central objective of the organization. Integration is concerned with how a system is tied together. It is more than sharing a physical part or location. It means that parts of the system work together within the system even though each part performs a unique function.
  • Central Objective: The last characteristics of a system is its central objective. Objective may be real or stated. Although a stated objective may be the real objective, it is not uncommon for an organization to state one objective and operate to achieve another. The important point is that users must known the central objective of a computer application early in the analysis for a successful design and conversion.

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