Information Management CyberneticsViable Systems ModellingThe use of Viable Systems Modelling (VSM) recognises that management systems are builtup of self managing sub-systems that interact with the wider organisational systems thatsurround them. The key success factor for any management sub-system is that it should beviable in its own right and able to self-manage, given appropriate support services andresources.The value of the VSM approach is that it specifically addresses the issues of communicationsand control capacity in the management system. It seeks to balance the high and lowcomplexity components of the system through structures that ensure requisite variety. It isfor this reason that it falls within the scope of the trans-disciplinary approach of cybernetics.What this means in practice is that the low capacity and complexity of management has tobe amplified to meet the control and communications requirements of the system beingmanaged. Equally, the high complexity of the information being received by managers aboutthe system operations needs to be attenuated for them to be able to absorb thatinformation and respond in an effective way.The benefit of modelling the management system in this way is that in easily identifiescommunications and control problems that impact on management effectiveness. A typicalexample would be communications and control bottlenecks that prevent organisationalgoals being met in a timely and cost-effective way.The VSM model is recursive, in that each sub-system has the same general managementstructure with the communications and control capacity to successfully perform itsmanagement role. This is represented diagrammatically in the student informationmanagement systems shown in the examples below with the Viable System on the righthand side and the management Environment with which it interacts on the left.Viable Systems Models:The Student Application, Enrolment and Registration ProcessesThe structure of the VSM models that follow are derived from the series of interviewsconducted with the stakeholders involved with the management activities concerned. Thepurpose of each model is to stimulate and inform a discussion about the managementprocesses involved with a view to identifying opportunities for improvement.The focus in the models is on communications and control capacity. The questions to beasked are: Are the requisite communications and control channels in place? Do the channels have the capacity to deliver their intended outcomes? Does the system balance the differential complexities effectively?The comments made following each management process representation shown belowaddress these issues.
Comments: Process: The application process is managed by the potential student and carried out with assistance (when needed) from institutional advisers and UCAS guidelines; Management: The process represents a self-contained management activity controlled by the prospective student; Requirements: An intuitive interface and process for non-technical users with clear feedback on successful completion and process outcomes/results; Current System: The current system is provided by UCAS with information and application management by the institution. The student applies and receives a decision through the UCAS website; Areas for Improvement: The present system is reported to work effectively and efficiently from the student point of view. Bottlenecks occur when examination results are published, particularly national A level results.
Comments: Process: The application process is managed by the potential student and carried out either online or by submitting an application form by post; Management: The process involves the manual transcription of all application data onto the institutional system by registry staff; Requirements: The system accommodates both online and postal applications and caters primarily for part-time and overseas students; Current System: Both online and postal applications are received in registry by either the UK admissions or overseas admissions sections and are manually uploaded to the institutional applications database; Areas for Improvement: An online applications system that does not require manual transcription of information would be a significant improvement.
Comments: Process: The enrolment process is managed by the potential student and carried out with assistance (when needed) from institutional advisers; Management: The process represents a self-contained management activity controlled by the prospective student; Requirements: An intuitive interface and process for non-technical users with clear feedback on successful completion and process outcomes/results; Current System: The current online system for self-enrolment by students is reported to work effectively and efficiently; Areas for Improvement: No specific system improvements identified. It is recommended that the system be used for all student enrolment modes including part-time and international students.
Comments: Process: Student registration occurs when the enrolment process is completed and approved;
Management: Upon verification, a series of follow-on processes are triggered which lead to the student support services being set up; Requirements: A complete and consistent semi-automated system that ensures the sharing of all core student data, the inclusion and verification of additional service data, and confirmation of successful completion to both management and students; Current System: All the student registration systems stem from the completion of the enrolment process by the student/staff and the verification of that enrolment. The enrolment is either completed online by the student (mainly full-time students) or is carried out by staff (mainly part-time and overseas students); Areas for Improvement: A fully online student based enrolment process that, once verified by the institution, leads to the sharing of core student data with all information sub-systems. This would range from the physical issuing of student identity cards to the creation of their Moodle learning accounts.Conclusions:The various components of the student information management system becomepopulated following student enrolment and registration. It is at this stage that core data isdistributed to each of the support systems and students are registered on the variousinformation management sub-systems and identity cards are issued.The VSM models of these processes are presented here as representations of currentmanagement practice and are designed to assist an analysis of the extent to which they fulfiltheir purpose. It is hoped that they will contribute to discussions about improved systemsand practice as the institution progresses with its merger process.The key point being made by these models is that each management sub-system needs tobe independently viable in its own right to optimally contribute to the management systemas a whole. A clear implication from an optimisation point of view is that each sub-systemneeds to be designed in a consistent way and that all sub-systems are viewed as bothindependently viable and as components of the overall management information system.This is not the way things necessarily happen in practice. Often, local management sub-systems, though effective for local management needs, do not integrate well with thecorporate system. This is typically because the local systems were not designed as acomponent of the larger system and, in the absence of corporate direction, were created bythe local management team (sometimes just a single individual) to meet their informationprocessing responsibilities.The application, enrolment and registration systems considered in this report alreadyintegrate reasonably well. Other systems, such as student attainment reporting andattendance monitoring are less consistent across the institution. VSM representation ofthese systems can be expected to assist conversations about improvement.Tony TooleDecember 2012