Organisations as complex adaptive systems : implications for the design of information systems

Prasad, Kumkum (1999). Organisations as complex adaptive systems : implications for the design of information systems. PhD thesis The Open University.



Today a paradigm shift in the field of organisation and management theories is no longer disputed and the need to switch from the Command-and-Control to the Leaming Organisation Paradigm (LOP) in the area of organisational theory is well understood. However, it is less well appreciated that learning organisations cannot operate effectively if supported by centralised databases and tailor-made application programs. LOP emphasises adaptability, flexibility, participation and learning. It is important to understand that the changes in organisational and management strategies will not on their own be able to produce the desired effects unless they are supported by appropriate changes in organisational culture, and by effective information systems. This research demonstrates that conventional information system strategies and development methods are no longer adequate.

Information system strategies must respond to these needs of the LOP and incorporate new information systems that are capable of evolving, adapting and responding to the constantly changing business environment. The desired adaptability, flexibility and agility in information systems for LOP can be achieved by exploiting the technologies of the Internet, World Wide Web, intelligent agents and intranets. This research establishes that there is a need for synergy between organisational structures and organisational information systems. To obtain this desired synergy it is essential that new information systems be designed as an integral part of the learning organisational structure itself.

Complexity theory provides a new set of metaphors and a host of concepts for the understanding of organisations as complex adaptive systems. This research introduces the principles of Complex Adaptive Systems and draws on their significance for designing the information systems needed to support the new generation of learning organisations. The search for new models of information system strategies for today's dynamic world of business points to the 'swarm models' observed in Nature.

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