What is a “legible”
information system? It is a visible and even understandable IS.
But the IS is often invisible as is the
air we breathe : however
this one is essential to life and its
mass under the current conditions of temperature
and pressure is 1,2 kg per m3…
Who are the
end-users? In the company, everyone is end-user since each one uses the IS, from
the chairman to the operational agent : everyone uses the mail. Here, it is on
the operational agent that we will concentrate our attention. It is him who, in
practice, ensure the production, the contacts with the customers, the marketing
etc. It is to allow him to receive the assistance of the automat that the firm
makes most of the investment in the IS : the great software applications, which
are the most technical part of IS, are conceived for him.
agent, it is the adviser of ANPE, the clerk in a banking branch, the operator in
a call center, the human resource administrator, the accountant, the workman in
general mechanics in front of his machine with numerical control etc. He
is the one who must act, and
for this reason must reflect and decide.
It is advisable to
distinguish among the operational agents those who work in the front office
(relations with the customers, suppliers and partners in the call centers, the
local branches, reception of the mail, the Web) and thus in contact with the
external world, those who provide a logistic function of transmission (“middle
office”) and those who handle the files (“back office”). One can also
distinguish those for which IS is a permanent working tool from those who use it
only a few hours per day. The diversity of the operational agents is matched by
the diversity of the tools they need : the layout of IS, the animation of its
good use must thus be based on an “internal marketing”, a segmentation of the
population of the end-users in sub-assemblies, each with homogeneous need.
firm delegates more and more the responsibility for the operational decisions to
the agents of ground themselves because that enables it to accelerate the cycle
of production and to gain in competitiveness. This caused for these agents an
increase, sometimes heavy, of responsibility. It is one of the reasons for which
Taylorism is not in use any more: one
cannot be satisfied any more to lead to content the division of the labor, then
to specialize each agent in a narrow task, as in the industry of the Twenties.
In order for his decision to be judicious, it is necessary for the operational
agent to be able to anticipate their consequences. This implies that he knows
the finality as well as the operation of the process in which he intervenes.
The managers above
these users must have indicators and alarms allowing to manage the production
process, to locate and correct its failures, to debrief the incidents, to
evaluate the charge of the resources and to reallocate them if need be.
We will show that
IS provides a language to the operational agent. In addition it is a
tool for the action. These two layers of IS articulate
themselves : the layer “what is”, contains the definitions and includes the
semantics of the firm, the layer “how to” assists its
IS, language of the
The firm deposits
in its IS the definition of the beings concerned by its action. They are
represented there by files which data processing
names “objects”. These beings are the customers, the suppliers, the
partners ; products, intermediate consumptions ; techniques and methods of
production ; the employees, the organization etc. To each of these “populations”
corresponds, in the language of data processing, a “class” or a “package” which
defines the way in which each “individual” will be described. Each object,
describing an individual, will initially be identified then characterized by a
choice of variables which one will observe on him, the “data”.
The definition of
the populations, of the identifiers and the data, is the language of the firm.
It will be, in practice, impossible to deviate from
it once engraved in IS. If the file “customer”, for example, does not contain
the indication of the date of birth, it will be impossible for the firm to
segment its customers according to this criterion. For the firm, it will be as
if the customers did not have an age.
determines the categories according to which the firm describes and thinks the
world and it thus delimits its capacity to act. The
bill of material of the products, for example, will be used as guide
for logistics and the inventory list
as well as with the organization of the production
; the identifiers of the products will be used to name and classify them, in the
oral language as in IS.
It often happens
that the IS is badly organized. The language of the firm is then degraded in
local dialects. From one service to another, from one establishment to another,
from one subsidiary to another, from one partner to another, the
identifiers, nomenclatures of the products,
classifications of the agents will change. Difficulties of communication will
result from it : information will be able to cross the partitions of the
language only by a transcribing which will always degrade the quality of the
illogical as it is, is very frequent and one needs a huge effort to be freed
from it. The French tax services used twelve different identifiers for the same
taxpayer ; it was possible to put an end to this anomaly only at the time of the
Copernic project. In such industrial firm, each factory uses a different catalog
of products : it results from it great difficulties to formulate offers
combining products from different factories.
One of the very
first stakes of IS is the consistency of the language of the firm, the
suppression of the local dialects,
so that the entities of the organization can
communicate without loss of information. It is one of the tasks of the data
administration. Once established coherence, it is necessary to maintain it : the
synchronism of the amendment of the tables of coding, the fight against the
degradation of the language are permanent and delicate tasks.
quality, coherence, is however secondary compared to a practical
requirement, the relevance. The definition
of the objects, the data, results from a choice because one could a priori
observe on a customer, on a product, an infinity of various data. It is
necessary that the language of the firm be adequate with its action : it
must observe and preserve the data necessary for it
to act, and these only. It is not really necessary to stress that if the
requirement for relevance is expressed in few words, to satisfy it supposes a
very fine understanding.
And when the action
is mentioned, it is towards the production process that the attention moves:
this naturally leads us to the second aspect of the legibility of IS.
IS, tool for the
agent is implied in various production processes. In each process, he receives a
task to be done, carries it out, then transmits the result of his work to one or
several other agent(s).
Today, it is the IS
which ensures the logistics of the files from one agent to the other (table of
addressing, checking of pre and post-conditions, control
of the deadlines) or which marks out the logistics of the raw materials
and semi-finished product.
which an agent in IS does
is summarized with three actions: to read, write, launch treatments.
certainly remain with this poor definition, and
organize about IS a kind of Taylorism of information : each one would only have
to perform, in a repetitive way, a very limited task. There lies a temptation,
because this Taylorism would be against the decentralization of the
responsibilities and decisions which we mentioned
above, and which became the rule in the contemporary firm.
Legibility of IS,
will thus also be the legibility of the production process. It is thus necessary
that each operational agent can know the answer to the following questions:
- What is the
nature of the event which started the process (the reception of an order, a
letter of complaint, an application for credit, an invitation to tender etc)
- What is the
nature of the customer ?
- What is the
product to which the process must lead ?
- If this product
is an intermediary deliverable, what is the end product to which it contributes?
- What is my
specific task within this process ?
- What can be the
consequences of my decisions ?
- How does my
specific task articulate with that of the other agents intervening in the
- What are the
requirements for quality to which the process must obey (time, satisfaction of
the customer, performance etc) ?
- What are the
indicators at our disposal to check the respect of these requirements ?
- What is my
personal contribution to quality ?
The quality of the
process will be supervised by an administrator who must also check the
consumption of the resources (in particular the workload of the operational
agents), to locate the incidents, to animate their
debriefing, to propose or carry out amendments in the organization of the
process. Daily statistics, alarms, will be provided in
addition to the operational manager who ensures the immediate managing of
organizes IS around the process, one breaks with the former organization in
“software applications” so that the interface
provides to the user, at any moment, exactly the
view which he needs on IS : that implies that one relieves him of the navigation
from one software application to another, of the repeated identifications and
authentications, and that one abolishes the double inputs which are the
corollary. Let us observe that the right of the agent to read, write and
launch treatments is limited by his access right : the legibility of the
process, its “transparency”, do not separate from the correlative management of
To provide the
user, at every moment, with precisely the windows of consultation and input and
the tools for treatment needed, to make so that the interface evolves and adapts
at the various stages of its activity, is to provide him with the simplest and
most convenient tool. For the information system and the data-processing
platform which supports it, it is a very high ambition and it is, in practice,
difficult to entirely reach it. IS which carries it out, and which thus arrived
at the top of the state of the art, will appear however to the user very simple
and, basically, very natural… The user, naturally ungrateful, will not perceive
the difficulties that data processing had to surmount to offer this “simple”
tool, to ensure its performance and operation without breakdown.
synchronism and competition, physics of the data bases and the transactional
motor, dimensioning of the processors, memories and networks, protection of the
relaunching in the event of incidents : these questions,
which are pertaining to data-processing technique, are for the user like the
adjustments of the engine of his car. He expects it
to be well done, will protest in the event of incident, but does not see how it
is done because that does not relate to nor delimit
his action, whereas this action is directly related to the
language of the firm and the
organization of the process.
It results from it
that legibility of IS for the
user is not the same as legibility for the
Project Development and the Analysis. The project development must, of course,
have a clear visibility on the solutions adopted
for the platform ; and the project development must (1) express to the analysis
its requirements concerning the performances of the
platform ; (2) obtain from the analysis the credible
guarantee that these performances will be carried
out, which supposes on behalf of the project development a sufficient
comprehension of the technique.
suppliers and partners are also end-users of IS. The customers
feed it (for example while
filling forms on the Web, or by using the electronic payment) and they
come into contact with the firm via various
channels (telephone, mail, Internet, meetings). The firm
must thus conceive a multi-media IS which will
ensure the uniqueness of the relation with the customer,
whatever the channel of communication that this one
follows. The customer indeed expects, when contacting the firm via the Web, by
telephone, visit or mail, that the indications which he provided at the time of
his former contacts are known of his interlocutor.
To the suppliers,
partners and regular important customers the firm must provide on its IS a
narrow, because delimited by strict access rights, but very clear window. This
requirement will be expressed in terms of interworking. That supposes that IS
are on both sides of good quality, that they ensured the coherence of the
language and the transparency of the process at least for the shared tasks.
Elucidation of the
When the language
is coherent and its relevance was assured, when the processes were organized and
are familiar to the operational agents, the firm itself is legible through its
IS: it is elucidated and radiates its own light.
It results from it,
for the agents, clearness and simplicity. In the elucidated firm, equipped with
a legible IS, one hears sentences like those: “we know what we have to do”, “we
are well managed”, “the job is simple”, “work is interesting, we know our
usefulness” etc. The firm, the general management, are directed towards the
production, the effectiveness, the satisfaction of the customers ; the strategy
was clarified at the time of the definition of the language and the processes ;
the practical problems of the trade, and not the
conflicts between managers, are now feeding the
conversations at the canteen.
operational agent knows the extent of the decisions he can take and
can anticipate their consequences. He knows the
responsibilities which he can assume and which do not crush him. He knows the
indicators of quality which relate to the process : they are forwarded to him as
an obvious drawing, which encourages him to maintain them at a good level.
The process is not
for him a machine defined a long time before, whose
finality was forgotten, and that the firm uses as a habit : it represents a
collective step, with practical purpose, directed towards the production and the
satisfaction of the customer. When it is necessary for him to adapt to a new
situation – new product, news production techniques, new form of marketing, new
market – he will know that the process should be amended, since its finality
Then the firm does
not meet any more these obstacles to change which result
from the conflicts between baronies and between corporate bodies,
or from a rigid following of practices of work whose finality was forgotten. It
has become evolutionary.
Tools of legibility
How to obtain
urbanizing the firm, by modeling the processes, by founding a data
administration, by installing the indicators, by appointing administrators of
process. These steps provide the raw material for legibility, which consists
quite simply of a well conceived IS : and each one
knows that it is not simple.
But it is not
enough to have a well conceived IS : it is also necessary that its presentation
is published in a suitable and legible form. Obviously, the publication
of UML diagrams does not answer to this requirement.
Certain firms use
tools which enable them to produce, over the top of the urbanization and the
process models, the editorial layer which will confer the visibility on IS.
These tools show the processes as cartoons : the agents are represented there by
small characters, located in buildings and in front of materials similar to
those of the firm, who produce documents and swap messages. Graphic simulation
is accompanied by textual explanations which open on demand, as well as a tool
for formation giving to each one the possibility to control his level of
The training thus
given must be renewed in the duration : it accompanies the activity of the
agents. Let us observe that if each segment among the end-users has a specific
“view” on IS, the tool which provides them legibility must be declined according
to each one of these views, coherence between them resulting of the fact that
they give to see the same and only IS. In the duration, these views will have to
be updated to follow its development. It matters that their updates be
sufficiently synchronous so that there is no risk of inconsistency.
One can finally
evaluate legibility, such as it is perceived by the users, by introducing this
question into the surveys of satisfaction relative to IS.
possible, it is convenient, it brings to the firm effectiveness and
evolutionarity. The need thus seems obvious. However, we know it, most of IS are
not legible. Why ?
On the one hand, it
would be impossible to make legible a badly built IS, the IS of a firm whose
language bursts in various dialects and who did not organize his processes. But
even in a firm which has a suitable IS, one will not always think of making it
- It is often
believed that the IS is a technical business and one neglects the semantic
dimension of the firm, the stake of the quality of the language.
- In addition in
certain firms it is still believed that the organization must follow Taylor’s
principles to be effective while at the same time one asks the agents
initiative, decision and use of responsibility.
- It also happens
that the solidarity which is created between the firm, its products, its
customers, its operational agents opposes the baronies which militate, on the
contrary, for the partitioning of the firm and the
bursting of its language and prefer to avoid letting appear their performance in
approach of IS by the processes, finally, runs up against
the inheritance of a data processing which, for perfectly sound
historical reasons, was
organized initially around the algorithms, then around the data, whereas
the organization around the process supposes that one
concentrates on the construction and the cycle of life of the objects.
None of these
obstacles seems insurmountable. The stakes of legibility are expressed in term
of effectiveness, quality, accuracy of the operational decisions, evolutionarity
of the firm. Many firms have understood their importance.
It results from it,
a change in their attitude towards IS. Whereas this one seemed formerly
technical, abstract, far from the practice and not easily visible, it became the
close relation and faithful companion of the professional practice. The
discussions relating to its definition and its development were transformed by
it. The expression of the requirements became more reasonable, selective and
stable. The necessary compromises are reached more easily, which supported the
evolutionarity and the flexibility of the firm still more.