Approach to design of information systems | Hacker Noon

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Following up on our previous conversation with the RSquad representatives about developing Smart Contract Voting System for Free TON community, we wanted to get their views on design of information systems.

(RSquad Blockchain Lab is an international company that has successfully implemented projects in the IT sector, including work on the Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Free TON blockchains.)

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable”

Concept development and implementation 

RSquad partner Igor Kholkin explains:

“My role here is as a visionary, a person who works on a conceptual level. At the very beginning of the project, I must develop an image of the future for the new system, plot a course, and say, ‘We are sailing to such-and-such a port’. Then I put this entire picture of our project trip and destination into a concept. A target architecture is being developed for this image of the future, and several successive approximations — transit architectures —
created to achieve it systematically.”

In this way, Rsquad follows a holistic approach, excluding any notion of
“Patchwork digitalisation”. This means first, an ontological model must be built, corresponding to a deep understanding of the field. Only then can data services, business processes, applications, and information services be developed. 

When it comes to implementation, Igor gave this example:

“My first success, which I’m still incredibly proud of, is Gazprom (Russian majority state-owned multinational energy corporation). We were developing a unified information system for Gazprom — at the conceptual level. From the vast experience of the gas industry, several pilot IT projects empirically formed. each of which is almost the size of France. The problem is explained to me as such: industry management does not understand the logic of linking into a coherent whole to justify investments in the vast new system.

I suggested a very simple approach: I used the Ishikawa tree (a diagram
of root cause analysis) 

The clients were surprised and overjoyed, they were asking why they hadn’t seen this before!”

An integrated approach to development

Rsquad Managing Partner Boris Pimonenko says:

“When we implement a project, we consider its problems from different points of view. One stakeholder may hold a view about the object under consideration and notices something completely different from others. In information systems, the picture is the same. As an operator of an information system, you look at the interface, and as a functionary of the state apparatus implementing a system for industry or state needs, you pay more attention, for example, to the dynamics of changes in industry indicators (reporting). And everyone deals with different classes of objects and operates with their categories.

And the architect’s task is to create an information system that will fully meet the requirements of all stakeholders, or at least smooth out the corners so the system meets its purpose and achieves its goals.

To achieve the result in a standardized way, they developed an approach to describe the architecture of information systems based on emergent stratification. It helps to make information systems right.”

Emergent Stratification

According to representatives of RSquad, the big problem with current IT developments is concept-level architects don’t understand the environment of technical developers. Aimed at solving applied problems, IT specialists simply do not consider the overall vision of the supersystem. They do not work on this ‘Stratum’.

The idea of emergent stratification in information systems divides spaces into five levels — stratum.

The first stratum is the signal level. Responsible for the exchange of signals in the technical infrastructure (in the “hardware”).

The second stratum is the data processing level.This is where data structures (entities, their attributes, and connections) appear – syntax. These include DB and DBMS (Database and Database Management System), and even blockchains.

The third stratum is the level of information services. It contains information services responsible for the exchange of concepts and meanings (semantics) and where the usual “informatization” takes place.

But at the level of the fourth stratum (the level of business, current economic activity), “digitalization” is already beginning, where digital technologies lead to the emergence of such business models that could not exist without “digital” and bring profit.

And the highest target 5th stratum is the level of development goals for the subject area (firm, industry, country), its vision, and strategy. It answers the question, why do we need all the other stratum? At this level, the “image of the future” forms and there is an understanding of the values and the final results of the existence of the considered subject area.

For individual developments to be organic parts of a single developing information space of a project or digital platform, it is necessary for all specialists to understand this approach to stratification — no matter their stratum. At each stratum, people speak their professional language, use their specific models, but a single system of concepts unites them in the ontological architecture of all five strata.

Of course, in design practice, they periodically encountered tasks in which (especially at the executive level) there is no need for elaboration and interconnection of design solutions at the level of each stratum. However, if we are talking about the development and implementation of information systems of the scale of an organization, industry, or especially the state, then creating design solutions at the level of each stratum is necessary — its presence allows to organize the development most efficiently and rationally.

T-shaped Teamwork

Interactive systems of specialists are built so each conceptual task presented by the visionary goes through “landing” processes: an expert of the applied field and a technical specialist building links to connect the concept and practical reality.

According to RSquad partners, the optimal result of a project can only develop in such a T-shaped context, in which there is a conceptualist who
understands the wide context — the horizontal part of the “T” and a deeply specialized technical specialist — the vertical part of the “T”.

This is how Igor Kholkin describes his vision:

“By floating alone on this surface of concepts, I will achieve nothing. But when two people work, one with a conceptual view and the second – a deep subject expert, they get a solid result. One without the other is a patchwork quilt.”

About the Free TON model

RSquad was among the first to join the development of the Free TON ecosystem.

Boris Pimonenko:

“First, the Free TON blockchain itself looks very interesting and competitive
from a technological and applied point of view. And now there is an opportunity to take part in implementing a large-scale project, solving actual problems, being at the forefront of technological innovation.

Second, a very open competitive environment is very attractive – there are
a lot of very clear and necessary tasks you can take part in on an open contest basis. You don’t have to go through seven circles of hell in the offices of some government agency — I had such an experience, and I can’t say it was very positive. And here there is a completely open environment in which you can work, train employees, solve interesting problems, and probably also earn money.”

At the start of large-scale projects, such as the voting system for the Free TON blockchain community, it is very important to determine the correct course and sequence of actions in time. It’s easy to get lost in the little things, but the principles of the ontological approach allow you to look at the project from above. After all, only from a bird’s eye view the lines under your feet turn into pictures of the Nazca desert.

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