Information Systems Integration – Messina

The Importance of Capability Thinking


Multitude of sensors on ceiling at unstaffed Amazon Go store

When considering systems thinking, one must consider how a small component of a process plays into the larger, holistic picture of a whole system. Many firms tout the importance of systems thinking, going so far as labelling themselves as experts in “information systems.” However, I believe that a systems approach should be complemented by a capability approach, one that emphasizes what a feature is providing, rather than the systems that run the backend process.

When considering the rising trend of unstaffed convenience like Amazon Go or Zippin, there is a lot taking place from a systems approach. There are biometric or app-based systems to identify a customer, geofencing sensors to track the customers movement, a supply-chain system to reorder more goods, an inventory management system to notify staff when a product has run out, a camera system to monitor what goods the customer chooses, and payment processing when the customer leaves the store. However, the customer probably won’t think of the revolutionary marrying of complex systems needed to make the store work. The customer will think from a capability approach: unstaffed convenience stores allow me to purchase goods from a store without having to check out.

While systems thinking is essential when adding a new capability or feature, capability thinking ensures that IS professionals are aligned with both the big picture of what the rest of the company is working to provide and with the customer’s view of the firm as an enabler. What other disruptive technologies are thought of from capability thinking and also have complex systems behind them?

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