In this sense, Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University can be viewed as a system, and the Faculty of Computer and Information Science may be seen as a subsystem of the large system with its own function. Also, we could look to United Nation (UN)as systems and Saudi Arabia as sub systems of large system. All human actions take place within a wider context or situation. The essential aspect of understanding situation from a system perspective is to consider the system as a whole.
One of the most popular descriptions of this system or the holistic view is known as the (SSM), which is generally known as the Checkland approach. A systems approach tends to be an approach to a problem that takes the broad view, which takes all aspects into account, and which concentrates on interactions between different parts of the problem. An approach is the way of tackling a problem, and obviously, a particular approach may be relevant to more than one subject (Checkland, 1981).
A system approach use systems thinking to help in understanding the world and its behaviour. System thinking involves the use of systems concepts (ideas) and system methodologies and leads to construction of models of the system. Soft system modelling is a subjective process because no two people will look at any particular aspect of the world (except hard system) in exactly the same way. A system model is a set of organised assumptions about a particular aspect of the world and the way it works which have been identified as a system.
Identifying system is not a purely objective process since the purposes and interests of the researcher will be involved. The system approach is not an attempt to understand every thing about a system, rather its tries to include all factors relevant to the topic or problem under consideration. This helps to highlight requirements of the system. System approach by itself is not a methodology, but involves the use of systems methodologies.
Jenkins (1969) states that systems methodology comprises stages of system analysis, systems design, implementation and operation, formulation of the problem or objective is starting point. System approach is not a method, it is a way of looking at a problem. As result of this, finding a methodology, which uses the systems approach to apply to this study was essential Checkland’s soft methodology which use system approach was chosen. SSM has stimulated much interest and also has attracted considerable academic debate regarding its use in wider management problems and information systems issues.
Indeed, SSM is not a technique (a method that requires certain procedures to be followed in order in obtain a predictable outcome), but is a set of guidelines for applying system ideas. Although these guidelines help an analyst to approach investigations methodically, they still allow considerable scope for individual interpretation. Since the original group of people who developed this approach was part of the Department of Systems Engineering, much of the activity was developed using characteristics of industry.
Only in recent years, has experience outside industry contributed significantly to SSM development (Checkland, 1999). However, during the past two decades since its inception, SSM has had a considerable success as a general purpose problem – solving methodology, tackling the messy or unstructured problems which managers of all kinds and at all levels have to cope within their work. The emphasis of SSM is not on finding a solution to a specified problem, it is on understanding the situation in which a perceived problem is thought to lie.
Distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ problems In selecting a methodology for problem-solving, a distinction between hard and soft problems is very important. A hard or structured problem is one which is exclusively concerned with a ‘how’ type of question. This kind of problem is the domain of the design engineer who seeks effective and economic answers on ‘how’ to provide. For example, ‘How can we transfer an objective from point A to B at a minimum cost’? Another example of a hard system is an engineering application or a computer system development.
Hard problems are problems characterised by the fact that they can be well defined. It is assumed that there is a definite solution, and a number of specific goals that must be accomplished can be defined. Hard approaches to systems analysis and design have been very successful at developing computer systems that, viewed from a technical perspective, are efficient and effective information providers. However, there have been cases when new information systems have not had user acceptance or seem to be misplaced as solutions to spurious problems (Curtis, 1998).
This indicates that an alternative approach is required to capture the human element of a system design. In contrast, the soft or unstructured problem is one that embodies a mixture of both ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions. Checkland (1981) believes that the main difference between the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ approaches is that where the former can start by asking what system has to be engineered to solve this problem, or what system will meet this need and can then take the problem or the need as ‘given’, the latter has to allow completely unexpected answers to emerge at later stages.
He thinks the ‘soft’ methodology is seen to be the general case of which ‘hard’ methodologies are special cases. These by definition, soft problems are difficult to define. For example, they may have a large social and political component. A good example to illustrate a soft problem is how the transfer of highly sophisticated technology from Western Countries to Saudi Arabia can be achieved. In this case, there are different stakeholders with different perspectives, and interest for example, political, economic, social, cultural issues.