On the research front, I am continuing to work on the theoretical underpinnings of organisational informatics. I am also attempting to demonstrate the importance of my conceptual framework as a way of positioning a more theoretically-driven approach to business analysis.
On the books front, a new completely revised edition of my book eBusiness, was published in 2012. A new edition of my book Business Information Systems will also appear in 2013. Any comments on these projects are welcomed by the author.
Office: R11, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University
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Paul Beynon-Davies is currently Professor of organisational informatics in the Cardiff Business School at Cardiff University. He received his BSc in Economics and Social Science and PhD in Computing from University of Wales College, Cardiff. He is currently a member of the British Computer Society and the Association of Information Systems. Before taking up an academic post he worked for several years in the IT industry in the UK both in the public and private sectors. Prof. Beynon-Davies has published widely in the field of information systems, information management and information technology. He has currently published eleven books, numerous academic papers (Journal papers, Conference Papers) and professional articles on topics ranging from the nature of informatics, electronic business, electronic government, information systems planning, information systems development and database systems. Paul Beynon-Davies still regularly acts as a consultant to the public and private sector particularly in the area of information and communications technology (ICT) and its impact on organisational performance. Over the last decade he has engaged in a number of government-funded projects related to the impact of ICT on the economic, social and political spheres including an evaluation of electronic local government in Wales, the evalution of the National Assembly for Wales' Cymru-ar-Lein/Information Age strategy for Wales. Between 2006 and 2008 he was director of the eCommerce Innovation Centre at Cardiff University which included the Broadband Observatory for Wales.
Signs have become cool, due largely to the enormous success of a trilogy of novels by Dan Brown (Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol). Within these thrillers archaic and religious signs open up conspiracies and offer secret, sacred knowledge. But signs play a much larger and much more mundane part in our world and are no less magical for this.
Consider the following recent case (Webber-Maybank and Luton, 2009). The orthopaedic unit at Llandough hospital in Cardiff, UK introduced a simple initiative using signs which radically improved discharge times for patients. It costs up to 400 pounds sterling per day to care for an average patient on a UK National Health Service (NHS) surgical ward. It is also estimated that a reduction in the length of stay for a typical patient of between 2 to 6 days could save the NHS up to 47 million pounds sterling per annum. Shorter lengths of stay are also associated with increased patient satisfaction and lower risk from infections related to healthcare.
On entry to hospital an expected discharge date is typically recorded and held within records maintained by administrators, clinicians and nurses, but it is never immediately available to patients. The orthopaedic unit manager at this hospital thought it would be a good idea if patients themselves were given notice of this date on arrival. The main aim was to improve the patient experience, particularly allowing them to feel more in control of their own recovery. The unit therefore instituted a system in August 2008 which they referred to as the ticket home initiative. On arrival at the hospital unit the patient is given an A4 laminated card on which is printed the patient's name, clinical consultant and their expected date of discharge. This date is predicted on the basis of appropriate lengths of stay for specific surgical procedures and clinical diagnoses. The 'ticket' is then placed on display for all to see on the patient's locker next to the patient's bed. The various multi-disciplinary healthcare teams which care for the patient while on the hospital ward can add information to the ticket such as whether the patient needs transport home or whether their take-home X-ray and medication have been completed.
To their surprise this initiative, which had the simple intended purpose of making information more visible to patients, had an unexpected side-effect. For some reason it improved their discharge rates to a level at which over 70 per cent of patients were discharged on their expected date. As a consequence, the average length of stay for a patient needing a hip replacement fell from 6.2 days to 5 days and the initiative also seems to have contributed to increased patient satisfaction.
The key aim of this book is to explain how and why things like this happen. Why are signs so magical? We want to argue in this work that the side-effects experienced at Llandough hospital can be commonplace, but only if we understand the ways in which the nature of significance arises at the intersection of signs and systems. It is at this intersection that significance is enacted. Signs are created within systems of activity, communication and representation but they are also resources for activity, communication and representation.
The concept of information is clearly central and foundational to the information, behavioural and the systems sciences. Not surprisingly, much debate has occurred over the proper conceptualisation of the term, not only within literatures such as information science (Capurro and Hjorland, 2003; Bates, 2006; Hjorland, 2007; Zins, 2007a) but also more widely (Stamper, 1973; Dretske, 1981; Mingers, 1995; Stonier, 1997; Brier, 1999; Floridi, 2011).
It is evident from a close reading of this literature that the nature of information is multi-faceted. On the one hand, information is characterised as fundamental 'stuff' which helps any physical system maintain organisation (Stonier, 1994; Bates, 2006). As such, information is faceted as an objective phenomenon, independent of the actor. On the other hand, information is seen to be created within acts of sense-making by individual actors (Boland, 1987; Weick, 1995). In this guise it is faceted as a subjective phenomenon, bound to the actor. More recently, information has been considered an inter-subjective phenomenon; reliant on the negotiation of collective intentionality and intensionality (Tomasello and Carpenter, 2007; Searle, 2010). As such, information is considered an inter-subjective accomplishment amongst groups of actors (Mingers, 1999; Hjorland, 2007). In this paper we propose that the term information is clearly overloaded and suggest that a new vocabulary is needed to enhance our powers of understanding and explanation, based fundamentally in the nature of significance. Our aim is to describe a framework in which information is re-conceptualised as a component element of a phenomenon we refer to as the enactment of significance (Author, 2010b). To summarise our perspective: we maintain that information emerges within the accomplishment of significance and that this process in turn is naturally located at the intersection of signs, patterns and systems. To help illustrate the utility of this conception we deliberately unpack a strange and well-documented case from an extinct culture in terms of our framework. This case, being one of the earliest cases of symbolic record-making known, helps us re-examine and re-position the concept of information. Over 10,000 years ago cultures in the Middle East were using clay tokens to stand for things. Many see such significant artefacts as the earliest attempt to 'account' for such things and hence as the necessary forerunner of numerous further technologies that contribute to the accomplishment of significance such as sound writing (Ascher, 2002) as well as modern information and communication technology. Our account of this case within the current paper is an elaboration and extension of an earlier account published by the author (Author, 2009).
Performa: performa constitutes the use of signs in support of coordinated, instrumental action.
Informa: Informa constitutes the content or communication of signs.
Forma: Forma constitutes the substance or representation of signs.
Formative acts: Formative acts amount to the enactment of forma: acts of data representation and processing.
Informative acts: Informative acts constitute the enactment of informa: acts of communication involving message-making and interpretation.
Performative acts: Performative acts constitute the enactment of performa: the performance of coordinated action amongst a group of actors.
Performative pattern: A performative pattern is an abstraction of the regularity of performance, consisting of a coherent collection of performative acts.
Informative pattern: An informative pattern is an abstraction of the regularity of communication, consisting of a coherent collection of informative acts.
Formative pattern: A formative pattern is an abstraction of the regularity of representation, consisting of a coherent collection of formative acts.
Activity system: Activity systems consist of the patterning of performa: of regular and repeating patterns of performative acts.
Information system: Information systems consist of the patterning of informa: of regular and repeating patterns of informative or communicative acts.
Data system: data systems consist of the patterning of forma: of regular and repeating patterns of formative acts.