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Wednesday, August 5 • 14:00 - 14:30
A Critical Systems Approach to Business Intelligence System Development

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The quality, timeliness and availability of appropriate information to appropriate decision makers determine the quality of decisions; it therefore also determines the subsequent effect of these decisions on organisations.  Organisations that make better decisions quicker than their rivals are more agile and competitive.  Well-informed decisions improve organisations’ economic results and value; it improves planning processes and enables organisations to swiftly react to ever-changing business climates.  Business intelligence (BI) systems enable organisational leaders to make decisions more effectively and efficiently.  BI is a business differentiator in a world where organisations are becoming increasingly reliant on relevant, timeous, and intelligible information to improve their operational efficiency.

Business intelligence is built on the technological infrastructure of a data warehouse (DW).  There are various approaches available to develop a DW, i.e. the Kimball lifecycle approach, Inmon’s corporate information factory (CIF), and Linsted’s data vault method.  These traditional approaches are heavily influenced by the paradigm within which traditional software development approaches emerged, i.e. the hard systems thinking paradigm.  This paradigm is dominated by deterministic problem solving methodologies such as operational research and systems engineering; they focus on optimisation and design and are suitable for well-defined problem contexts. 

Traditional approaches enable the development of a technically good and robust DW.  However, a BI system is a social artefact as well as a technical artefact; it should aim to improve the organisational context of its users, rather than merely automate existing business processes.  Successful BI requires more than appropriate architecture and infrastructure; it requires more than a data infrastructure and platform built to access existing/known information better and faster.  Successful BI system development requires a critical reflective process that improves organisational decision making capabilities beyond what is imaginable, rather than merely automate what is easily observable.     

The critical systems thinking (CST) paradigm aims to explore relevant social dimensions of a problem context and provide richer, more meaningful solutions.  CST aims to facilitate social improvement.  CST is founded in critical and social awareness; methodological complementarism; and a dedication to human emancipation.  Critical systems thinkers aim to emancipate the oppressed by exploring and removing supressing societal structures.  This study views business users with unrealised business benefits as the oppressed; non-people oriented (traditional) BI system development approaches are viewed as the suppressing structures. 

The CST paradigm does not render other paradigms, such as the hard systems thinking paradigm where BI development approaches emerged, invalid.  Rather, within the CST paradigm the epistemological debate moved from the question of selection a single problem solving method, to recognising the value of combining different methods from different paradigms.  Therefore, CSH is consequently applied to complement a traditional BI system development approach to critically determine: what is relevant; who should assist to determine it; and how to handle conflicting views amongst relevant stakeholders pertaining to the BI system being developed. 

This paper describes an action research (AR) study whereby CST principles (operationalised by critical systems heuristics (CSH)) were developed and applied as part of a BI system development project.  CSH was applied during the business requirements analysis phase.  The application of CSH resulted in a BI system that are both technically feasible and realise business benefits in meeting users’ requirements. 

The paper starts with a discussion of the problem context followed by the theoretical underpinnings of the intervention. It then discusses the action research intervention in terms of: the diagnosis; action planning; intervention; specification of learning; and reflection on the learning.


Presenter / Artist

Carin Venter

Senior Lecturer, North-West University
ISSS Student
avatar for Roelien Goede

Roelien Goede

SIG Chair Action Research, North West University South Africa, Potchefstroom
I stay in Potchefstroom, South Africa, it is about 90 min drive South-West of Johannesburg. I'm an associate professor in Computer Science and Information Systems. I have a passion for teaching and my formal training is in Computer Science. I teach advanced programming techniques... Read More →

Wednesday August 5, 2015 14:00 - 14:30 CEST
Elk Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19, 10963 Berlin, Germany

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