Communications of the Association for Information Systems


The challenge of defining the domain and core concepts of the IS field is a perennial topic at major IS conferences. This paper describes the architecture of Sysperanto, a model-based ontology of the IS field. Sysperanto is being developed as part of an ongoing effort to create methods that typical business professionals can use to analyze systems and system-related projects for themselves at whatever level of depth is appropriate. The name Sysperanto is meant as a metaphor combining generality (covering the IS field), vocabulary (identification of terms), and structure (internally consistent organization) to create an ontology more powerful and useful than a list of keywords or propositions. Sysperanto's architecture provides an organizing framework for codifying the disparate and inconsistent propositions, methods, and findings that constitute the current state of IS knowledge and, in combination, form a major obstacle to knowledge accumulation and use in the IS field. Instead of yet another discussion of whether the IS field lacks a conceptual core and what might be the consequences of such a shortcoming, this paper proposes an architecture and preliminary details of a plausible set of core concepts for the IS field. It starts by summarizing Sysperanto's goals and explaining why work system concepts, rather than information system concepts, are the core of Sysperanto. It presents Sysperanto as a terminological ontology and explains the underlying meta-model. The meta-model is designed to support tools for analyzing systems from a business viewpoint and to help in codifying and organizing knowledge in the IS field. It uses a conceptual map based on extensiveness and guidance in application to compare Sysperanto with other efforts to organize ideas in the IS field. It may be several years before a complete version of Sysperanto is tested through its use in a formal method for analyzing systems or through comparison with other attempts to codify knowledge in the IS field. Nonetheless, its architecture is well enough defined to be compared to the architecture (or lack of architecture) in previous and future approaches for understanding and organizing the basic concepts about information systems.