Kecheng Liu, Navid Karimi Sani, Shokoofeh Ketabchi and Eilish Mcloughlin
Informatics Research Center, University of Reading, Reading, U.K.
Keywords: Co-design, Adaptable information systems, Corporate asset, Organisational semiotics, Organisational onion,
Semantic analysis method, Norm analysis method.
Abstract: Information management is a discipline dealing with creation, communication, utilisation and disposal of
information. In the 21st century, the volume of information forces the organisations not only to have formal
processes for information management, but also employing effective IT systems to leverage the value of
information. This paper introduces a method for improving the process of information management and co-
design the business process and IT system to support the information management practice in organisations.
This method takes into account stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities, and their needs for information
provided by the information management processes. Adopting organisational semiotics as theoretical and
methodological foundation, the IT system designed will be adaptable to the changes of requirements due to
the changes of the business environment and stakeholders’ interest.
In today’s business environment, many
organisations regard information as asset (Best,
1996; Burk and Horton, 1988; Owens et al. 1997;
Nicolls, 2002; Mathkour et al. 2005; Abdul Karim
and Hussein, 2008; Yassine and Shirmohammadi,
2008, Blazic and Saljic, 2010). Examining closely, it
can be found that most of the organisation are not
able to manage this asset in the way as other types to
maximise the value of information. The lack of
effective methods and techniques for capturing,
storing, using and disposal of the information has
constrained the organisations to benefit to the full
potential. A need for standards, policies and
techniques is clearly felt which should be able to
support the organisations to make strategic decisions
and perform business operations (Ladley, 2010).
Some organisations have some standards and
even procedures to apply manually. But the
challenging issue still remains in that a large volume
of information overloads on the users and
information system and technological support are
not capable of selecting and supplying relevant
information at the right time to the right users. Some
organisations suffer from insufficient control of
quality and processes in information management
activities. This leads to a number of risks, e.g. (i) not
knowing where the information is, who is
accountable for the quality of information, who has
access to that information; (ii) incompliance with
regulatory policies because of improper procedures
for retention and disposal of information. In
addition, knowledge and expertise cannot be shared
among different parts of the organisation due to the
lack of proper communication channels. Therefore,
organisations are not able to react to internal and
external forces and make agile decisions based on
required information.
One solution is to design the system of business
processes of information management and the IT
system to support information management activities
at the same time. In other words, a proper
information management process should consider
the business system and IT system as one integral
unit (Liu et al. 2002). Therefore, they should be
designed together and evolve seamlessly.
In this paper, the co-design of business and IT is
described as a cross organisational processes in
which people are involved from different parts of the
organisation. The co-design is seen as a continuous
process and a change in the system can be
introduced when there are changes in information
management processes. The rest of the paper is
organised as follows: a brief background on
information management (IM) and organisational
Liu K., Karimi Sani N., Ketabchi S. and Mcloughlin E..
DOI: 10.5220/0003548603240332
In Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems (ICEIS-2011), pages 324-332
ISBN: 978-989-8425-55-3
2011 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
semiotics (OS) are presented in section two and
three respectively. Then, a co-design method for an
adaptable information system is discussed in section
four, followed by its application in section five.
Finally, the validity of the method is discussed in
section six and paper is concluded in section seven.
Information is one of the important corporate assets.
It is essential that it is managed efficiently to meet
business needs and comply with internal policies and
external regulatory requirements. Information
management is a process which helps to achieve this
goal. Academically, IM is also a discipline which is
concerned with capturing, storing, organising,
structuring and processing relevant information
accurately and timely from many sources as well as
delivering or publishing it to relevant audience to be
used to realise their objectives (Newman and Logan,
The AIIM community introduces a set of guiding
principles for information management (AIIM,
2010), including (1) information is corporate assets
and the principles of IM should be agreed across the
organisation; (2) Information must be made
available and shared by relevant people; (3) The
retention and archiving information is managed
corporately; (4) Senior management involvement as
well as front line workers is necessary as IM is a
corporate responsibility. The guidelines also state
the importance of employee education and training
to achieve better IM practices.
However, this is not the case in many
organisations. Many do not have proper IM policies
and procedures and have not paid sufficient
attention. This may lead to some undesired
consequences. These are some examples to illustrate
such consequences. First, some companies,
according to regulatory authorities in their sectors,
are obliged to keep employees’ records for more
than twenty years. If the company did not have
proper retention policies of employees’ records, they
would not be able to produce defendable records and
evidences in the event of litigation. Therefore, they
would fail to comply with the regulatory
requirements and high legal discovery costs might
be incurred to the organisation. Secondly, as a result
of improper (or lack of) IM practice, required
information may not be shared among different parts
of the organisation. This may lead to a number of
problems; such as, no collaboration among people
and no sharing of information and knowledge in
different sections. Finally, although some
organisations have basic infrastructure and practice
for IM; the lack of effective IM processes would not
lead the realisation of the full value of the
infrastructure. For example, in our case studies, we
found that a company bought Sharepoint 2010 but
without configuring it properly to fit into its IM
processes these problems can be solved by a proper
IM practice with the support of an IT system.
Many technical systems are available and have
been adopted in industrial practice; for example,
Microsoft SharePoint, Open Text Document
management System (eDoc), Oracle Enterprise
Content Management (ECM), IBM Document
Manager, and Autonomy Record Manager.
Acquiring the best IM IT system requires an
understanding of the IM practice in the organisation
if a close fit is expected; while the maximum value
from such as technical system requires carefully
analysis and alignment of IT system functions and
IM processes in the organisation. Therefore the
organisations’ processes and activities should be
analysed before a proper IT system is bought or
developed in-house. In a survey carried out by IDC,
the fit between business and IT is mentioned as the
highest priority from business managers’ view (Ortis
and Pallares, 2007 )
. This provides a key motivation to our work in
the co-design of business and IT systems. The co-
design will also address some of the other issues
(Figure 1).
Figure 1: IM priority activities (Ortis and Pallares, 2007).
Organisational Semiotics (OS), the study of signs
related to organisations, facilitates designing an
integrated system and related processes to support
IM by considering an organisation as an information
system (Stamper, 1992). OS will shed light on the
use of information as a sign and its relation to
objects through interpretations made by actors.
Based on OS, organisations are information systems
in which information is created, processed, stored,
used and presented (Liu et al., 2002). From a
semiotic perspective, an organisation is a multi-
layered system in which IM activities take place in
all three spheres in the “organisational onion”
(Figure 2).
Figure 2: IM activities in three spheres in the
“organisational onion”.
Informal Layer. Whole organisation, including
relationships not officially defined and activities not
formally specified; e.g. t raining and awareness is
crucial for effective information management.
Leadership team must also practice and support
good IM. This leads to a culture of managing
information over time in the organisation and
provides suitable environment for this purpose.
Formal Layer. Relationships defined in the
organisational structure, responsibility and activities
explicitly specified by the organisation or enforced
by law. IM practice in each organisation must
comply with the standards and policies imposed by
the regulatory bodies or governing organisations. In
addition, “best practice” emerged through past
experiences offers a useful reference model for IM
processes and the functions of the technical system.
Technical Layer. Activities and functions
performed by the IT system for information
management. Those patterns of practice and
knowledge of IM must be captured and incorporated
into the design of IM processes and relevant IT
Knowledge and practice of IM can be captured
and analysed with the Norm Analysis Method
(NAM) (Liu, 2000). NAM treats patterns of
behavior and business knowledge as norms which
govern people’s actions. Identifying the norms will
enable us to understand and model the IM practice in
the organisation.
The general form for specifying a norm is as
follows (Liu, 2000):
Whenever <context>
if <state>
then <agent>
is <deontic operator> to <action>.
The <context> refers to the situation while the
<state> shows the conditions. The <agent> is the
actor which this norm is applied to. The <deontic
operator> can be obliged, permitted or prohibited.
The <action> is the behaviour that the specified
agent should carry out. For example, consider this
rule: all online shopping can be returned within 14
days. This can be specified in a norm as follows:
whenever a person shopped online,
if within 14 days of shopping,
then the purchaser is
permitted to return the item.
Analysing norms in this way brings more
flexibility into the system since norms capture
patterns of behaviour and are attached to system
functions; therefore, changes in one of these (norms
or system functions) will not affect the other. Few
methods provide guideline on analysing norms and
most methods assume to hard code them at the end;
therefore, any changes in business rules may end up
with changing the coding and in some cases even
rewriting the software. NAM helps to prevent this
kind of disastrous situations. More information on
NAM can be found in (Salter and Liu, 2002). An OS
motivated method for IM helps organisations solve
mentioned issues and achieve competitive
advantages through proper information management.
Alignment of business and IT systems has been seen
an important challenge to be faced by the industry
and researchers (
Thevenet and Salinesi, 2007).
Integration between business processes and IT
functions in IM has been an ambition to many. As
Ladley (2010) stated: “separation of IM from
business processes must become [a] historical
ICEIS 2011 - 13th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
Co-design is the process that addresses this
problem and tries to solve the issue by encouraging
analysts to concentrate on the organisational and
technical design issues concurrently. Co-design
should be a continuous process to make sure that IT
systems and business processes are effectively co-
The model for co-design (Figure 3) is an
extension of the work of Liu et al. (Liu et al., 2002)
with reference to other recent research in other
relevant fields, particularly soft systems
methodology (SSM) (Checkland and Scholes, 1990)
and organisational semiotics (e.g. organisational
onion) (Liu, 2000). In this model, an organisation is
presented in three layered information system,
informal-formal-technical, and tasks to be performed
in each layer are explained subsequently.
Figure 3: Dynamic co-design of business-IT systems.
Phase 1. Problem identification: The aim of this
phase is to identify an existing problem and
formulate it in a structured way to be investigated
and solved. The rationale behind this phase is that,
for the same problem, individuals see different
symptoms, but they do not understand the root cause
of these symptoms. Therefore, knowledge from
different domains of an organisation should be
gathered to find the main problem.
Phase 2. Current Formal System Analysis: This
phase involves identifying involved business
processes and activities related to the problem.
Phase 3. Target Formal System Analysis: This
phase represents the target situation in the
organisation. Desired changes should be applied to
the business processes determined at the second
Phase 4. Current IT System Analysis: The current
technical system should be analysed as well. This
phase includes two main activities:
1. Identifying applications and related IT
systems (entities)
2. Identifying the structure of the database
currently working in the organisation.
Phase 5. Comparison of Target Formal and IT
systems: The target model of the organisation shows
the desired situation which IT should support.
Therefore, a comparison should be made between
the target model and IT systems to find that which
parts of IT systems need to be changed to support
changes in business effectively and efficiently. For
this purpose, followings should be identified:
1. The processes which are automated into
machine will be identified and shown to
what extent they are automated into IT
2. Norms and business entities that should be
supported by IT.
Phase 6. Conflict Resolution: The aim is to
validate changes and whether they can be
implemented or not. Until this phase, all the required
changes in formal layer (phase 4) and technical layer
(phase 5) are identified; however, there are some
issues, such as, conflicts, interactions and overlap
between informal, formal and technical layers and
should be studied carefully.
Phase 7. Implementation: The outcome of phase 6
will determine which identified changes are
affordable for the organisation. Therefore, an action
will be taken to apply changes as simultaneously as
possible in both formal and technical layers.
The dynamic model for co-design proposed here
shows an organisation in three layers surrounded by
dash lines, because modern organisation do not have
defined borders which separate them from their
environment. This argument has been justified in
Daft (2007) although the same author specified solid
border as one of the main elements of an
organisation in Daft (1998) (Daft, 1998; Daft, 2007).
In addition, the border between different layers is
not defined either. That is why dashed lines are put
to separate layers from each other.
The loop between phases 1 - 3 is to address the
complexity of the problem and due to the
consideration that there may not be a single and
straight answer to the problem. The negotiation
between stakeholders and the changes made will
hopefully result in a more promising solution to the
problem in hand.
The main outcome of the co-design model is an
adaptable information system which is responsive to
business needs. By applying this model, business
processes and IT systems are designed as one
integral unit and can interact effectively to support
business needs and decisions. Such a system will
bring competitive advantages. In summary, the
model for co-design aims to overcome the limitation
of current methods. The proposed model will be
evaluated through using a case study and its benefits
and validity will also be justified through its
In the previous section, the proposed method and its
theoretical benefits has been discussed. Here, we
demonstrate its practice and application in a real
world situation. The case study is based on the
practice in a large British shipping company. This
company is well established and has a defined
structure for every department. However, they have
many problems for managing information,
documents and contents as they consider IM as part
of each department rather than a universal section on
its own.
The company introduced the notion of controlled
document, referring to those which should be
created, stored, updated and published to related
audiences. Each control document has a set of
controls, such as document owner, approver (who
approves the content) and revision history shown in
front or back of the document in addition to page
number, ID, status (draft or obsolete) and
date/number displayed in all pages. All the
documents should be recorded in the controlled
document register by relevant document controller
role. Every registry includes the owner, approver
and next review date. All these policies in place, yet
the company is still struggling with the overload of
information and maintaining controlled document
Phase 1. Having the proposed model in mind, the
problem identification step seeks to find the root of
the problem described by different people who see
different symptoms and look for different solutions.
As a result of communication and brainstorming
sessions inside the organisation, the analyst will
realise the root problem which causes different
symptoms. This phase might have a standard pattern
of sessions, but the whole process is highly informal.
Moreover, there is no straight answer to the
problems identified and experience of analysts and
stakeholders involved in this stage has an effect on
the quality of the solution.
Phase 2. By articulating the problem, all the
processes and activities related to the controlled
document practice will be analysed to understand
which of them lead to the problem and should be
removed, changed or improved. In addition, business
rules related to each activity will be studied in this
phase to specify the expected behaviour of agents,
either human or computer, performing the action.
Figure 4 shows the concise version of the document
management processes using use case diagram in
which every use-case contains a set of activities, two
of which, ‘distribute document’ and ‘dispose
document’, are investigated closely.
Figure 4: Document management use case diagram
Distribute Document Process.
The current activities of distribute process are
shown in figure 5. Several issues can be addressed in
this activity diagram. For example, the activity to
“put the main copy in the safe place” is not defined
based on the fact that a “safe place” can differ for
each person; personal computer, company email,
personal email and etc.. Moreover, when
interviewing related people in the organisation,
nobody could define who is authorised to identify
the audience of a document and who controls the
distribution. In other words, it is not clear who is
responsible for the distribution of information to the
unauthorised audiences.
Figure 5: ‘Distribute document’ activity diagram Dispose
Document Process.
ICEIS 2011 - 13th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
The disposal process is presented in figure 6 and
entails some issues; there is almost no action for
informing audience about the disposal of a document
and no clear job description for “Document Admin”.
It is always mentioned that document admin liaise
with others to handle the disposal of document but
who disposes it and what exactly is document
admin's job. In addition, responsibilities of a
document controller can be carried out by a
computer agent without any need for communication
or liaise between document admin and document
To specify the business rules, NAM is used as
explained in previous section. Considering “dispose
document” activity diagram (figure 6) an example of
written business norm in which document approver
should control disposal of a document is:
Whenever a controlled document exists,
if it is no longer applicable or needed,
then the document owner
is obliged to consult the admin about its
This way of writing norms is readable and
understandable for both business and technical
people and can be easily transferred to the
programmer for coding if a new IT system is needed
to be written.
Any of these problems and many more that has not
been mentioned affect the day to day job of the
organisational and make it less efficient and
productive. Therefore, they should be studied well
and improved.
Phase 3. As a result of the analysis of all
processes and activities, some improvements are
proposed and a new process model is proposed. The
roles of the document admin and document
Figure 6: ‘Dispose document’ activity diagram.
controller were blurred and can be delegated to other
roles or automated. The new proposed process
model is presented in figure 7. Document admin and
controller are removed and the job of registering
documents is delegated to the document owner. In
fact, document registering activity will be automated
and an IT system will handle it on behalf of
document owner. Problems in activity diagram can
also be addressed and the related changes be
reflected both in activity diagrams and norms.
Phase 4. After detailed analysis of processes and
activities, target ones are proposed. Now this is the
time to see whether the current IT system can
support these changes or not. Two main questions
should be answered in this phase: (i) what
information for carrying out and controlling
activities is being captured and processed by IT
system and (ii) which IT applications support which
processes identified in phase 2 and to what extend.
Figure 7: Improved document management processes.
In our case, the company has already had an IT
system to support the IM process even though the IT
system itself made everything more complicated. It
might have been helpful someday, but as a result of
several changes in business processes and not
reflecting them in the IT system. It has become the
bottleneck to the business.
Phase 5. As a result of analysis of the target
process and activities and comparing with current IT
system, a target IT system is put forward. Semantic
analysis method (SAM), one of organisational
semiotics methods, is used here for data modelling
(Liu, 2000). Ontology charts are the output of SAM.
An ontology chart is drawn from left to right while
the existence of right nodes (dependents) is
dependent on left nodes (antecedents). For example,
for an employment to exist there must be a person
and a company. Role names are written on the line
to clarify each side in relationships (figure 8).
Figure 8: Sample ontology chart.
A simplified version of the data model, one of
ontology charts, is presented here as a case in point
(figure 9). The shipping company is accompanied by
a # sign to show it is one of the companies that we
keep track of their information. So, if in the future
the company is extended or split into two
companies, there is no need to redo the IT system.
Moreover, the list of all document audiences is
worked out by the shipping company related
authority and document owner should not be
concerned with it. He will publish it to the related
people as shown in the fig. 9. The result of SAM can
acts as a database schema which captures necessary
and quality data as mentioned in (Jiang et al., 2009)
the schema of a database plays a significant role in
ensuring quality of data in the database”. Such a
database is stable and acts as base for the IT system.
In figure 9, terms written on the lines are role
names. Role names (or labels) exist because of an
association between two entities. For example,
document audience is an employee (a person who
has an employment contract with a company) to
whom a document is related. Moreover, a document
is only published to related audiences and, in the
case of disposal of the document, only related
audiences will be informed.
Figure 9: A current data model supporting the IT system.
The proposed IT system can be bespoke or an off-
the-shelf package. For the shipping company, a
package application was proposed and configured
carefully to the need of the business; the ontology
chart has been applied easily and the problems of
which some discussed here have been addressed.
Phase 6. Related stakeholders were involved in a
series of discussions and meetings to come to an
agreement and, as mentioned in the model, the
conflict resolution stage led to an agreement on the
solution followed by the full implementation in
phase 7. It should be emphasised that the analyst
played a key role in the conflict resolution stage.
The result of the applicability of the proposed
method and solutions are discussed in the next
The organisational semiotics realm regards
organisations as information systems. Long before
the existence of technology, there were organisation,
human interactions and needed information was
captured with other means (Beynon-Davis, 2009).
We tend to follow the same principle and consider
organisations as information systems with three
layers; the classification of “informal-formal-
technical” provides analysts with a better view of
who should be contacted and what should be
studied. Those tasks put in the informal layer are
concerned with human interaction, organisational
culture, employees view towards changes and etc.
Consequently, tasks in the formal layer include
studying the organisation including human
interactions, but repetitiveness and predictability are
main features of actions in this layer. Finally, in the
technical layer, the main concern is the automation
of the business processes and the interaction with
machine. This distinction organises the analysts’
mentality and helps through the process of co-
A well defined design method must have three
main elements (Buede, 2009); (i) a good view of
organisation’s processes along with activities
performed in each process, (ii) business rules which
control these activities, and (iii) an information
system to capture and feed the necessary information
for carrying out activities. The proposed co-design
method includes these elements and the applicability
has been discussed in detail in section 5. In other
words, use case and activity diagrams are familiar
methods in business practice and help to obtain a
clear view of current states of an organisation and
facilitate communication among different people to
reach an agreement for the desired state. This shows
that the proposed co-design method has the first
main element of a well defined design practice. The
ontology chart resulted from SAM is a conceptual
model of information needed to be captured. This
model can later on be transformed into database to
form an integral information system.
ICEIS 2011 - 13th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
Since business rules are identified in a way that it
is readable by human and machine and it is specified
that which rules are related to which activity and
which agent is carrying out that activity, any
changes in these rules can be reflected immediately.
In addition, Database designed based on ontology
chart is immune from redesign, and extendable to
adapt to future changes in activities.
In conclusion the advantages of proposed tools
and techniques are to make the co-design process
flexible enough to be adaptable to changes. In other
words, it will be able to adapt and adjust to future
needs. Therefore, the co-design model is well-
defined, adaptable and extendable, and helps
organisation to manage problems and changes
effectively as it did for the shipping company.
That “information is an asset” is a common
statement. Therefore it should be better managed.
Although this makes sense, it does not get the
information management activities funded. Although
the first step to have a good information
management is to standardise its activities, a good IT
system should be employed due to the overload of
information. In this paper, we proposed a co-design
method which helps to design a better information
management practice by involving people from
different disciplines aligned with IT systems. A
shipping company is examined as a case study and
findings are discussed. Adopted tools and techniques
in the co-design model are industry standardised; it
makes the co-design model easily applicable and
users can spend time on main and new principles
instead of learning new techniques. This also
facilitates communications of concerns and
objectives. As a result of several follow up
interviews with related stakeholders, the benefits of
employed system identified and brought here.
Future work includes extending the norm analysis
to provide a formal procedure for capturing
communications and norms. In addition, the problem
identification and conflict resolution stages, which
are quite informal and does not have strict structure,
needs further research regarding cultural, social, and
individual behaviour towards change; due to the fact
that the proposed changes might cause resistance
against change or alter the change process since
individuals have their own agendas.
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