ICT Enabled Metasystems for Value Chains, Businesses, Charities, Public Services:    An Introduction



Organisations are not sentient beings. People in organisations are.  Organisations are inert. It is people who do things (or refrain). What any person does depends on his/ her fluctuating (and often whimsical or erroneous) expectations of pleasure or pain. Pleasure or pain may range from the most basic physical sensations; to very high levels, very complex motivations in pecuniary, social, intellectual or moral domains; or to pathological, psychotic motivations. Organisations themselves are and always remain insentient. There is no such thing as an organisational value system or culture by itself. At any given time, an organisation only exhibits or reflects the aggregate of the culture and values of its sentient constituents and of those in the environment concerned with the organisation, especially the most powerful. 

Every organisation creates value of some sort, for someone within and/ or without; otherwise it would not exist.

A metasystem would go beyond boundaries; never be constrained by any boundary. Metasystems is about how people, sentient beings, could produce greater value, by combining and recombining, without limiting or destroying value for themselves and others in any given context. A metasystem would always be evolving, never static. A metasystem is about praxis, about action; not theorising.

To make organisations behave in any specific way, people who have the power to make relevant things happen must act; in concert with others within and outside the organisation. That should generate movement and momentum toward a desired objective. Even when there is positive movement, there is often attenuation, leakage and waste, which a metasystem must deal with.

Each person, at the micro-level, must be presented with dynamic, relevant opportunities, rewards and (as few as possible) penalties, adjusted and re-adjusted to suit him/ her in as close to real time as possible. This, to induce collective behaviour in constructive, positive ways.  None, not even the highest, must have scope to cause deviation or loss of efficiency. Everyone must be provided opportunities to contribute, but none to detract.

These basic, self-evident principles have been well-known to engineers almost from the day the industrial revolution began.

Gantt charts, PERT and CMP were some important advances in the last century to plan for objectives and to track progress. There is much in network theory (used initially by electrical engineers) that has been extended to general management. All very good, so far as it goes, but we must remember that attempts to transform human beings to cogs in assembly lines de-humanised them and led to waves of public reaction and disgust. (See “Modern Times” a classic Charlie Chaplin movie.)  A significant proportion of shop-floor level workers across the world even today are dissatisfied, bored and unhappy even in some very well-run organisations.  Since Blackett’s Circus, Operations Research has developed a variety of tools and techniques with the primary focus (usually) on pre-determined processes, resource allocation and activity management within clearly specified boundaries. And now we have ICT (information and communication technologies) and AI (artificial intelligence) which open up unprecedented possibilities; metasystems for instance.

A metasystem would treat people as sentient beings, not as robots or cogs, and provide each individual person multiple opportunities to reach his/ her highest potential within a finite period, with clearly perceptible increments.  A metasystem would avoid collectivisation and lumping together of people. Individual sentient persons would be at the focus, always.

A metasystem will evolve slowly at first, starting with small things. It would begin with individuals and micro-processes in some small area of the enterprise, but would rapidly expand its scope, transcending departmental, organisational and other boundaries, continuously expanding outward in all directions.  A metasystem would progress almost imperceptibly in the beginning but would rapidly gather momentum with each step.

In its secondary stage, a metasystem would extend to macro-levels by integrating and reintegrating, arranging and rearranging individuals and micro-level activities in (close to) real time to facilitate movement toward overarching strategic goals; enhancing positives and suppressing negatives.  A metasystem would be guided by a defined set of core values, from which deviation would progressively become all but impossible, whatever the personal proclivities of individuals involved, even at the highest levels of the organisation. Core value attenuation and hijacking by interest groups would be blocked. Power centres would dissipate. Hierarchies would be flattened if not eliminated.

A metasystem would improve efficiencies (micro to macro), counter relationship asymmetries, harmonise competing objectives, balance power across stakeholders and other actors; and will soon do all this dynamically, re-balancing in real time like the autopilot in aircraft. It would subsume a web of systems, sub-systems, activities and monitoring mechanisms within as well as outside traditional organisational boundaries, never being confined or constrained in any manner.

A good metasystem would be free from manipulation, would be completely honest, entirely factual, and would never paper over flaws or mistakes; would at the same time protect individuals and privacy. It would in fact create new spaces for people to experiment and take measured risks.  A metasystem should never stagnate. It should always be evolving and growing. It should be beyond the control of any single individual or interest group or clique.  It would generate for every single person, whatever the level, new opportunities to contribute, grow and diversify, while progressively restricting scope for anyone to hinder progress toward higher level objectives.

The core of the metasystem would be based on ICT (information and communication technologies); an electronic web connecting all relevant sentient beings in the value chain. As the metasystem develops, organisational units and process would get atomised and reordered into micro-units that would continuously recombine into multidimensional matrices. The metasystem would create and foster a growing, learning and evolving organisation that would progressively resemble a benign biological organism. To remain benign, it must prevent formation of nodes accumulating excessive power and/ or exhibiting negative tendencies; and dissipate or excise any that have formed already. Each metasystem will have its own adapting immunity systems.

Each metasystem would be unique. No two would be the same.  The metasystems approach is a way to engineer delivery of explicit strategic objectives (as well as subsidiary objectives); and to maximise value to individually identifiable stakeholders. It is a different way of managing value chains, public services, businesses, charities, CSR; from the smallest to largest. 

The metasystems approach is incremental; starting with small things, with very low-cost modules, before moving on to higher and better solutions that yield spectacular gains for everyone.

The next part of this concept-note deals with creation of an embryonic metasystem, how to start small, at the micro-level.