The "Systems" Industry


- "Tim, just what, the heck, are you talking about?"

Whenever I mention I am in the "Systems" business, people generally look at me befuddled, smile, and shake their heads. I can tell they haven't got a clue what I am talking about. Many assume it has something to do with computers, and those in the technology sector assume I am referring to software. Frankly, no. What most people do not comprehend is that we are surrounded by systems. Life, as we know it, would be unfathomable without them.

Recently, I had a routine medical checkup, and as I was driving back to my office I started thinking about all of the systems around us and how oblivious most people are to them. I started by thinking about transportation systems, particularly to regulate traffic. We use a plethora of signals, signs and street markings directing people to turn, stop, slow down, etc. There are also law enforcement personnel who issue tickets for infractions of the rules and to assist motorists in the event of accidents. All of this has to operate routinely and predictably in order to provide a fair and balanced means to expedite traffic.

Transportation systems also include the airlines, trains, buses, and ships, all of which have regular schedules and routes to follow, not to mention ticketing of passengers, the storage of cargo, and preparations for the trip, such as fuel, food and water. Many also offer Wi-Fi service, television, lavatories, and many other creature comforts.

Public utilities maintain extensive systems for such things as water, gas, electric, telephone and cable. These systems are typically run underground or by wire overhead. All operate regularly and routinely. If broken, repairmen are summoned to take corrective action, thereby representing different, yet vital, parts of the system.

There are also medical systems, not just in hospitals or doctors offices, but emergency medical care as well, all of which operate routinely and predictably. Fire departments and police likewise have systems in order to safeguard our communities. Education systems are no different as they operate at both the school level and support school boards. And you cannot escape insurance systems, be they for medical, automobile, health, or life. Companies also follow systems to manufacture products, offer service, manage inventory, and bill the customer. Perhaps the biggest systems can be found in government which are used to regulate about everything, at least so it seems. The fact is, we cannot live without systems.

So, what are the basic elements of a system; that's easy:

1. They serve a purpose; be it to move motorists in a concerted manner, provide utility services to consumers, produce a product, handle accounting and other economical considerations, producing reports to the government, etc.

2. They consist of two or more components which work cooperatively but separately.

3. They operate routinely and predictably.

Other examples include satellite systems, irrigation systems, communication systems, assembly lines, and information systems (which is my forte). Here, the purpose is to support the information needs of a business so they can perform specific actions and make decisions in a timely and cost effective manner. Over the years, I have seen information systems used to run banks, insurance companies, manufacturing facilities, government agencies, and much more. These systems represent a collection of sub-systems or "business processes," each charged with performing a specific task, be it to collect data, or act on the information produced. Such processes can be implemented manually or through computer automation (software programming). Despite the emphasis on computers over the last fifty years, there are still a surprisingly high number of manual tasks performed in just about every institution which explains why there are so many people working in a major corporation. Come to think of it, the business world ran for many years using manually implemented information systems.

As we have said, "The first on-line, real-time, interactive, data base system was double-entry bookkeeping which was developed by the merchants of Venice in 1200 A.D." - Bryce's Laws. How a system is implemented is of little importance if it solves the problem effectively.

The day a company goes into business is the day when its information systems are born. They may start out small, but they will inevitably grow and evolve. All systems do.

So, next time I mention I am in the systems business, I hope you will know what I mean.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Author: Tim Bryce

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2015 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Frank57 posted on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 1:11 AM
Hi Tim,

I am with you on this one.

Don't forget about the most important and arguably most complex system around, namely the human body, especially from a 'systems thinking' perspective.

Not much hi-tech there but it performs incredibly and typically so reliably (other than what we sometimes say - grin) that it goes unnoticed. It achieves an incredible amount despite receiving very little focused attention until a 'part' starts malfunctioning. The check up with your doctor was pretty much in the 'preventive maintenance' space but how many people do that as regularly as one ought?

Thanks for this,
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