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Logical Soft Systems Modelling for Information Source Analysis

Dr Frank H. Gregory
Dept. of Information Systems
City University of Hong Kong
Tat Chee Avenue
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Telephone: (852) 2788-8490
Fax: (852) 2788-8694
LAU Siu Pong
It has been argued that the Conceptual Models used in Soft Systems Methodology
(SSM) are logically inadequate for some of the purposes, notably information
system design, for which they are used. In a series of theoretical papers it has been
argued that this shortcoming could be rectified by producing logically enhanced
versions of the SSM models. The paper describes the use of these models for the
identification of information requirements to support planning in a marketing
department of a Hong Kong telecommunications company. The project
demonstrates that the models are not, as has been suggested, too complex to be
used in client led modelling.
Key Words: Information Requirements Analysis, Soft Systems Methodology, Modal
Logic, Logico-linguistic Models.
The information systems literature, with its emphasis on repetitive data processing,
pays scant attention to the information needed to support irregular planning
procedures. In this context the tools employed by traditional information system
design methodologies, such as data flow diagrams, are of little use. Of much greater
relevance in the context are the broad based models (SSM Conceptual Models,
Cognitive Mapping, Strategic Choice, meta-game and hyper-game models)
developed in Soft Operational Research.
The present paper describes the use of logico-linguistic models, logically
enhanced versions of SSM Conceptual Models, to determine the sources of
information needed to support the planning activities for new products marketed by
a Hong Kong telecommunications company. The term "Information Source Analysis"
is used to describe the process in order to distinguish it from Wilson's [1] Soft
Systems "Information Requirements Analysis (IRA)" and from the narrowly defined
"User Requirements Analysis" found in software engineering. Both of these are
founded on an input-process-output model while Information Source Analysis is
founded on a cause and effect model.
In the present case logico-linguistic models were used to determine what
information was needed to produce successful marketing plans. The project was
conducted in an SSM action research mode. A member of the planning staff acted
as analyst/facilitator and the preliminary models were constructed by him and other
people in the planning team in a typical SSM iterative debate. However, logico-
linguistic models differ from standard SSM models, which are purely notional, in that
they contain empirical elements as well as purely notional ones. The latter stages of
the model building required real world research into what actually causes a plan to
be successful.
The final model of the information source requirements was compared with
the sources of information that were actually available to the planning department.
Information that was currently unavailable or inadequately provided was thereby
identified and recommendations for improvement followed.
The project demonstrates the application of a broad based and management
orientated method of information analysis that can produce results of which the
narrowly focused models used in traditional methodologies would be incapable. It
also shows that logico-linguistic models can be understood and constructed in a real
problem situation by people with no prior training or technical background.
The study was conducted along similar lines to projects undertaken by the
Department of Systems at Lancaster University. It was particularly close to the
modus operandi of projects conducted on the Department's M.Phil. program where
members of a client organization conducted their own SSM projects and organized
their own model building. This in-house approach can provide considerable
economy in terms of time and money as it dispenses with the need for an outside
Lau Siu Pong, a market analyst with the telecommunications company, was
undertaking a part-time Masters degree in Information Systems at the City University
of Hong Kong. He was interested in developing an Executive Information System
(EIS) to support the activities for the Business Market Business Unit which is
charged with planning the marketing of new business products.
The company had previously enjoyed a franchise for the provision of all
telephone services in Hong Kong. Recently, in July 1995, that privileged position
ceased and for the first time the company was faced with competition. It is, however,
a successful and well managed company and economic pundits do not expect that
competition will do it any serious harm. Nevertheless, the market for communication
technology and services is extremely fast moving in Hong Kong, and good planning
for new products will be vital for the company's future success.
It was not anticipated that the project would immediately result in a fully
computerized EIS. Rather it was intended to undertake analysis to determine if an
EIS would be suitable and if so to broadly determine its configuration. In this context
SSM and logico-linguistic modelling were appropriate tools.
The theoretical foundations of logico-linguistic modelling have been laid out in
previous papers. However, there is one element of the theory that is particularly
pertinent to the present case. Fundamental to Checkland's work is the belief that,
while a physical system can exist [2], most systems are in the mind. Conceptual
models of human activity systems are not intended to represent actual physical
systems or even to represent systems that could physically exist.
Despite Checkland's continued emphasis on this, it is something that seems
to be missed by many students and even by many SSM practitioners, the conceptual
models in the Multiview methodology are an example [3]. This mistake is easy to
understand. In Wilson's method there is a move, apparently a priori, from a
conceptual model to an information systems model that is capable of representing
physical events. Given this students may reason that if the model representing real
world events has been obtained from a conceptual model without a posteriori
(empirical) input, then the conceptual model must have represented real world
This point can be brought out by the distinction between models of concepts
and models that are conceptual [4]. A model of a bridge can be physical, as in a
scale model for wind tunnel testing. This will be a good model if it behaves like the
full scale bridge would. We can also have a conceptual model of a bridge: this might
consist entirely of mathematical formulas. This will be a good model if a physical
instantiation of the model gives the predicted results. However, a model of the
concept "bridge" would be quite different. It would be a model of what a bridge is; it
would give criteria for membership in the class "bridge"; in linguistic philosophy it
would be an analysis of what the term "bridge" means. Checkland's models are
models of concepts but the models built by many SSM practitioners are models (that
are conceptual) of real world objects and events.
The theory behind logico-linguistic modelling explains the Checkland model
building process as a Wittgensteinian language game [5] in which the stakeholders
agree to a set of definitions for the discussion of the problem situation. Agreement
about the definition of key terms is essential if agreement about events in the real
world is to be reached. Definitions (rules of language), tacit or explicit, are
necessary for any description of real world events. Definitions, however, are not
sufficient for a meaningful account of real world events; such an account also
requires factual rules and factual particulars. Logico-linguistic modelling provides a
facility for adding factual (empirically discovered) rules to the Checkland style
definitional rules. The definitional rules are marked with the "L" modal operator
(standing for logically true) while the factual rules are marked with the "M" modal
operator (standing for factually true). A number of logical connectives (see
Appendix) are also added to the models to give then the power to adequately
represent causation.
4.1 Stages 1 to 3
The project proceeded in a manner very close to the conventional seven-stage
model of SSM [6]. However, this was by coincidence rather than design. There was
no attempt to rigidly adhere to the seven stage model.
Stage 1 is entry into the situation considered problematical. This did not need
to be undertaken in this project because the analyst was already part of the problem
Stage 2 is the expression of the problem situation. This was fairly perfunctory.
It comprised discussions between Lau acting as analyst and Gregory. Because Lau
was part of the problem situation there was no need for rich pictures or a debate
with colleages and superiors.
With an analyst/facilitator from outside the organization stages 1 & 2 are
crucial and time consuming in terms of both man hours and elapsed time. The
interviews, discussions and presentation in these stages consume the time of the
analyst and, probably more importantly, take up the time of members of the client
organization. Having an insider as analyst/facilitator saves this expense. The down-
side to this arrangement is that an insider fails to bring the fresh perspective on the
problem that might be expected from an outside analyst. In the present project this
was compensated by the fact that Gregory constantly challenged the analyst's
assumptions and criticized his evaluation of the problem.
Stage 3 is the formulation of the root definition of relevant systems of
purposeful activity. Stage 4 is the building of Conceptual models of the systems
named in the root definitions. These stages proceeded as they normally do in an
SSM project. The situation was slightly unusual in that the analyst was himself one
of the "Actors" defined in the CATWOE analysis. The analyst produced a number of
root definitions and conceptual models. These were discussed with the supervisor,
colleages and managers. The root definition and conceptual model shown in Figure
1 were the ones selected as most appropriate. The Conceptual Model was then
decomposed and each of the activities taken to a higher resolution level. This
expansion of the model followed traditional SSM modelling techniques.
At this point the project began to diverge from the normal SSM path as the
analyst began to use the addition arrows and logical constants to develop the
logico-linguistic model. The logico-linguistic model developed gradually through
iterations and debate between the supervisor, analyst, the analyst's colleages and
managers. The final model is given in Figure 2. There are a number of steps in the
development of an SSM conceptual model into a logico-linguistic model. These must
now be explained.
4.2 The Logico-Linguistic Model
SSM models are expressed in the language of commands. The words in the bubbles
in SSM models are imperatives; they instruct the reader to do something, viz.
"obtain this", "develop that", "study this". Commands do not have truth values (they
are neither true nor false). However, tacit truth bearing statements do underlie the
models. Take bubbles 1 and 2 and the arrow between them from Figure 1. This is
underpinned by a truth bearing statement of the form "In order to obtain the existing
profile of target customers, target customers must be identified". If bubbles 1 and 2
were not underpinned by such a truth bearing statement there would be no need to
perform the activity specified in bubble 1.
The first step towards a logico-linguistic model is to convert the commands
into truth bearing propositions. This is easily accomplished. For example "Identify
target customers" in Figure 1 becomes "Customer/market need is identified" in
Figure 2. It needs to be pointed out that few of the bubbles from the original model
(Figure 1) survived intact to the final model (Figure 2). During debate and more
detailed analysis most of the original elements were refined and revised. The
second step is to introduce the additional connectives. These are: broken arrow,
double headed arrow, AND box, OR box, ANDOR box. The solid single headed
arrow remains the same (see Appendix).
The object of these steps is to increase the logical power of the models. This
can be useful for a number of reasons. If, like Wilson, we are going to use the
models as a foundation for the design of information systems intended to be
informative about real world events, then the models will need to have the power to
represent causal sequences; models containing these additional connectives can,
traditional SSM models cannot. In the present project, traditional SSM models were
enough to build a consensus about the main business and goals of the unit. It was
when the analysis proceeded to consider how the desired physical events could be
brought into effect that the Logico-linguistic models started to be useful.
The bubble diagram format of the model is the easiest to comprehend but
there are direct equivalents in predicate logic, PROLOG or simple English [7]. For
example, the broken arrow going into element 4 represents a sufficient condition
and the box containing elements 41, 42, 43, represent conjunction. In ordinary
English this could be expressed as "IF the characteristics of target customers is
studied AND the cost of sales estimated and compared among different channels
AND agreement is reached between a competent sales manager and marketing
manager THEN an effective sales channel will be selected". The solid arrow leading
out of element 9 represents a necessary condition. It states that it is not possible for
all of the elements 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 to be true unless accurate profitability analysis is
carried out.
4.3 Introducing the Modal Operators
The introduction of the modal operators did not proceed in the manner suggested in
the theoretical exposition of logico-linguistic modelling [7]. This called for the
construction of the definitional model and then the addition of factual rules. This is
not how it proceeded in this case. It was clear that with the conceptual model Lau
had produced a model of how to develop a marketing plan rather than a definition of
a marketing plan. In a conventional SSM project this would have been a serious
error but, as logico-linguistic models can clearly distinguish between definitions and
factual rules, it was possible to formulate the definitions at a later stage. To make
this perfectly clear, traditional SSM calls for consideration of "what" is to be
achieved and then consideration of "how" to achieve it. In the terminology of logico-
linguistic modelling the call is for a definition of a desirable state of affairs and then
a model of what events will cause that state of affairs to come into existence.
In this case Lau's model was initially of what causes a marketing plan (Figure
1). Later on, consideration was given to how a marketing plan should be defined. At
this point it was realized that producing marketing plans was not very interesting and
that the desirable state of affairs was actually "a successful marketing plan". A
successful marketing plan could be defined in terms of one or more of: the
achievement of the stimulation target (subscription, usage or revenue); meeting the
market share; achieving the customer satisfaction index target. With this definition in
place, the factual elements in the model were revised in the subsequent iterations.
Other definitions were then added to the model. The solid arrow between element
4.1 and element 4 represents a logically true necessary condition. In simple English
it says "by definition, the sales channel cannot be effective if the sales target is not
4.4 Stage 5
Stage 5 consists of the comparison of models and the real world. In the present
case this was achieved by producing a table. The table listed the elements from the
logico-linguistic model, the information required to make the element true (bring it
into effect), the information currently available, the distribution channel and the
inadequacy or improvement needed.
This stage was rather similar to the information category stage in Wilson's
method. With Wilson, activities from a conceptual model are listed and the
information inputs to the activities and the information outputs from the activities are
identified. There was, however, a very important difference. In Wilson's method the
information categories are constructed below the line between the real world and
system thinking [1]; this indicates that they are constructed a priori. In the present
case the information requirements were obtained empirically by research in the real
world. Lau produced the table by looking at the records of past planning projects
and questioning the people that had been involved in them. The relationship
between the entries is a matter of factual truth rather than logical truth.
Elements that had an "L" connection to element 7 were not included in the
table as they played no role in the causal account of how the desirable state of
affairs can be achieved. Only the elements at the periphery of Figure 1, those with
no arrows going into them, needed to be included because the internal elements,
those with arrows going in, would, by implication, be true if the external elements
were true.
In most cases the information requirement could be matched with some sort
of information provision. But in many cases this provision was inadequate. Five
areas of inadequacy were identified. Three of these were concerned with the
internal organization of the company but two were of a general nature and can be
described here.
One was newspaper clippings which were cited as the source of information
needed to support market trend identification, the study of competing
products/services and competitors offers. However, the clippings were only
circulated on a daily basis; they were not catalogued and filed for future reference.
The existing situation might help to keep staff up to date but they could not be called
upon as an integral part of the planning procedure.
The second, which was changes in the market situation e.g. demographics,
economics, consumer behavior, was identified as information required for market
trend identification. The cited source was the Hong Kong Monthly Digest of
Statistics. While this provides a wealth of information it had not been determined
which figures were relevant to the market for the company's products.
4.5 Stages 6 & 7
Stage 6 is the identification of changes that are systematically desirable and
culturally feasible. In the present case this consisted of a set of recommendations.
None of the recommendations involved any cultural or political feasibility problems.
The only problems that would be involved in the implementation of the
recommendation would be the normal ones of time and money.
There were four recommendations for action. These included:
a) the setting up of a storage cataloguing and retrieval
system for the newsclippings.
b) asking the company's forecasting department to build
a model of how general economic data such as
employment, GDP, import & exports etc., might affect the
market for the company's products.
4.6 Model Maintenance
The distinctive feature of models that differentiate between logical and factual
universals is that they facilitate testing and amendment. They not only include
hypotheses about the real world but also provide criteria by which the hypotheses
can be substantiated or falsified. The main hypothesis in the case model was that
given a quality product with a competitive price and effective sales channel and
market communication plan and back-end support and good planning management
then the marketing plan would be successful. The criterion for success is that the
product marketed reaches stimulation or market share or customer satisfaction
If the next planning exercise conditions in the hypothesis are met and the
criterion for success is met then the model will be substantiated and we can have
greater confidence in it. If, on the other hand, the conditions of the hypothesis are
met but the criterion for success is not met the hypothesis will have been falsified. In
this case the model will need to be revised. Such revisions will consist of additions
to the model - conditions that were not thought of when the model was produced.
There is no reason why the model could not be maintained indefinitely and survive
through radical changes in the organization and its environment.
This process conforms to common sense ideas. We formulate rules to explain
events in the world, we find exceptions to the rules and then formulate new rules to
accommodate the exceptions. While this framework is common in the physical
sciences it is comparatively rare in many areas of management science. In
information system design methodologies, for example, the notion of falsification
simply does not exist. In the computerized information systems built by these
methodologies the implicit factual rules cannot be shown to be false by particular
facts; if the system goes wrong there is no mechanism to detect the defective rule.
Error detection mechanisms are concerned only with logical consistency not with
consistency with real world facts.
5.1 Information Source Analysis
Information requirements as it tends to be understood in the information systems
journals and in the established information system design methods is very narrowly
focused. It assumes that tasks have been clearly defined and that the users know
exactly, and can articulate exactly, what information they need to support these
tasks. This assumption may be appropriate for people concerned only with
transaction processing systems, such as order processing and stock control, but it is
not appropriate to executive activities such as planning.
SSM offers a much broader approach towards understanding what needs to
be accomplished but when it comes to the fine detail, as in Wilson's information
categories, we again find the assumption that the users know what information is
needed to accomplish the required tasks. Information source analysis does not
make this assumption. It uses soft methods to define the desirable state of affairs
but uses empirical methods to find out what information is needed to bring about this
desirable state of affairs. It is, in fact, doubly empirical. The model is built empirically
and also remains permanently open to falsification and revision by real world
5.2 The Clients Comprehension
Another outcome of the project is its contribution to the dispute between Klein and
Gregory [8, 9, 10]. Klein has suggested that logico-linguistic models are too complex
to be used for stakeholder driven modelling. His last words on the subject were
"Both Gregory's argument and my own are theoretical ones... The practical
implications of human information processing needs to be examined in the context
of action research programmes...".
This has now been done. The project described here was a classic action
research project. The findings are that the stakeholders did not have any serious
problem understanding the logico-linguistic models. In spite of the fact that they had
no training or previously familiarity with logic, they seem to have found them no
more difficult than the traditional SSM models. This demonstrates that logico-
linguistic models are not too complex to be used in stakeholder driven modelling.
Of course it would be foolhardy to infer from this that it is generally the case
that these models can be built by non-professionals. Logico-linguistic modelling is
only in the early stages of practical application. Nevertheless, preliminary results are
"AND" Box. Represents conjunction. If "AND" is true, all the elements in the box
must be true.
"ANDOR" Box. Represents inclusive disjunction. If "ANDOR" is true one or more of
the elements in the box must be true.
"OR" Box. Represents exclusive disjunction. If "OR" is true one and only one of the
elements in the box must be true.
Broken Arrow. Represents implication or a sufficient condition. A broken arrow going
from p to q means that if p is true then q must be true.
Solid Arrow. Represents implication or a necessary condition, however, the direction
of implication is the opposite to that of the broken arrow. A solid arrow going from p
to q means that if q is true then p must be true.
Double Headed Arrow. Represents mutual implication. A double headed arrow
between two elements means that if one is true then the other must be true.
"L" Modal Operator. Indicates that the relation is true as a matter of logic.
"M" Modal Operator. Indicates that the relation is true as a matter of fact.
1. Wilson, B. (1990) Systems: Concepts, Methodologies and Applications, John
Wiley. Chichester.
2. Checkland, P.B. (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, John Wiley.
3. Gregory, F.H. (1993) Logic and Meaning in Conceptual Models: Implications for
Information System Design, Systemist, 15, 1, 28-43.
4. Gregory, F.H. (1993) Cause, Effect, Efficiency and Soft Systems Models, Journal
of the Operational Research Society, 44, 333-344.
5. Gregory, F.H. (1993) SSM to Information Systems: A Wittgensteinian Approach,
Journal of Information Systems, 3, 149-168.
6. Checkland, P.B. and Scholes, J. (1990) Soft Systems Methodology in Action,
John Wiley. Chichester.
7. Gregory, F.H. (1995) Soft Systems Models for Knowledge Elicitation and
Representation, Journal of the Operational Research Society, 46, 562-578.
8. Klein, J.H. (1994) Cognitive Processes and Operational Research: A Human
Information Processing Perspective, Journal of the Operational Research
Society, 45, 855-866.
9. Gregory, F.H. (1995) Over Simplistic Cognitive Science, Journal of the
Operational Research Society, 46, 274-275.
10. Klein, J.H. (1995) Over-Simplistic Cognitive Science: A Response, Journal of the
Operational Research Society, 46, 275-276.
Figure 1 : SSM Conceptual Model
Identify marketing need
(competitive moves,
customer feedback,
company objective, etc.)
Confirm marketing
need thru survey,
feedback from
Define objective,
target market &
potential market size
Study competitive
offer in the market
Liaise with Product
Management on
exchange capability,
availability of substitute,
timeline, pricing
Study past experience
on similar programs,
Discuss with Market
Communications Team
on marketing message,
communication media
Discuss with Sales
on appropriate sales
channels, incentives
and target
Negotiate with Customer
Service on supporting
procedure and service
Develop marketing
need is identified
is developed
a competitive
price is set
an effective
sales channel
is selected
process is
worked out
an effective
plan is
a successful
plan is
feedback from
customers is
market trend is
consolidation and
analysis is
analysis is
carried out
market size is
market revenue
is estimated
consolidation and
plan is done by
characteristics of
target customers
(eg location, co
size, etc) is
order processing
and service
leadtime is fixed
standard is
refered to
profile of target
customers are
feasibility is
service features
are finalized
in the market is
internal and
external trial are
carried out
monitoring is
done by
Product Manager
competitor's offer
is studied
pricing strategy
(eg price
penetration) is
cost of
developing and
providing service
is worked out
analysis is
performed by
marketing staff
cost of sales is
estimated and
compared among
different channels
agreement is
reached between
competent sales
manager and
marketing manager
requirement (eg
computer time,
staff) is worked out
through existing
system is catered
sales tracking
and control
mechanism is
overview is done
by competent
past programs
are studied and
requirement is
worked out
media and
message are
consolidation is
undertaken by
competent market
analysis is done
by competent
target is
target on
market share is
target on
Index is
sales target is
most cases are
no complaints are
recieved from
customers on our
target on
response rate
is met
Figure 2 : Final Logico-linguistic Mode