?Holistic Approach to consulting What is holistic approach? Organisations engage consultants to assist them in coming up with objective solutions, to their sporadic problems, of a non repetitive nature. Consultants have the advantage of being an outsider and hence disinterested in the outcome of their involvement, in arriving at the problem solution. Real life organisational problems are not woven around well cut academic disciplines but may overlap several disciplines that may have to be judiciously applied. Consultants follow certain formal methodologies which have the power of rigour and tested methods, and therefore can foresee problems before they occur, and hence have the power to preempt undesirable / unintended outcomes. Most engagemeents are driven by a set of defined objectives to be achieved, the scope of the task to be performed and the associated Terms of reference, defined by the management and also to enable administer the contract. It is generally observed that the problem definition is driven by the management's need to address the most pressing problem confronting them and their own perception of the issue, based on what is visible and what they believe could be the solution. Organisational problems are never uni-dimensional, but are on account of a set of multi dimensional factors that interplay with each other. Therefore the need for examining the stated problem from a multi dimensional perspective is paramount. One such method Holistic approach to problem solving is discussed below The systems (holistic) approach is a unique methodology, to meet the challenges of understanding and analysing a complex system. It is a practical and proven approach to analyse a decision - oriented inter disciplinary problem situation, and aiding the investigator in complex problem solving, under uncertainty. This methodology enables interaction with all stakeholders, who may be unstructured in their thinking and the way in which they communicate, and also enables understanding and integration of technical and behavioural aspects, which makes this approach holistic and unique. Participatory process: In the holistic approach, the intervention starts with an interaction with all stakeholders in a participatory mode. The participatory mode of problem (re)defintion is used to unravel the various interconnected dimensions of the problem. It is called participatory, to reflect the collaborative and consensus process, employed in drawing upon the inputs from the various stakeholders. For sake of operational simplicity, stakeholders, here, are limited to the internal stakeholders that include varous line managers and staff representatives cutting across product lines/functional areas/ divisions/geographies/subject matter specialists or project heads and other entities that reflect the whole organisation. The participatory process is a structured but non directed one, called Nominal Group Technique (NGT), where participants are asked to respond to a trigger question, such as, what they believe are the factors contributing to the stated problem. The response to this question will be driven by the perception of participants in this heterogenous group as seen from their own perspective. This helps in defining the problem from different perspectives, each of them having their own logic in contributing to the problem as well as the solution. All these responses obtained through a round robin sequence (just to make the process orderly, as well as to give an opportunity to all participants, unhindered by the more aggressive ones overshadowing the relatively low profile ones) are listed in the order in which they appear. The responses are categorised and anlysed to help in logically drawing up their inter-relationships, and how the points raised contribute to the problem. Nominal Group Techniques (NGTs) is one of the consensus methodologies, where in a group comprising diverse stakeholders, are assembled, and through a trigger question, their responses are captured, which when analysed, is expected to capture the several shades of the problem, as articulated by each member. This session is repeated for two or three rounds till all possible dimensions are identified. Techniques such as brainstorming and NGTs will be used in this forum to get the views of each participant on issues, objectives and vision for the change. External data collection: A series of site visits wherever warranted and interactions with the stakeholders, through workshops will be organised in addition to the NGT as above. Interviews are proposed to be held with various stakeholders. Interviews allow the flexibility of pursuing unanticipated lines of inquiry and to probe into issues in depth. These interviews will be a combination of both structured and unstructured. The consultant will follow this process by drafting a problem statement that will encompass .the totality of ideas that have been generated through this participatory process. Components of a systems approach and its operationalisation The systems approach starts with articulating a problem statement. A problem statement is a note on the problem to be analysed, capturing all aspects of the problem. This is done through a process of wide-scoping the problem situation, by gathering all possible dimensions of the problem from a variety of sources, such as secondary literature, documented material, historical data, open ended and close ended discussions, with a variety of stakeholders, conducting an NGT (as above) of a group who have some exposure / familiarity with the subject, to understand the multiple dimensions of the problem from their own perspective. The objective here is to capture as much variety on the problem situation as possible, to understand its various dimensions. It is not a quantitative / statistical process, but a qualitative one to capture its various dimensions, the various stakeholders, their interrelationships, the needs of the stakeholders, the constraints under which they are operating. The problem statement enables to expand the scope, so that we are able to capture its various nuances, and internalize them as part of the problem itself. This is done to have a holistic (complete) view of the problem situation. The preparation of the problem statement is a structured activity, through certain process guidelines. This is done considering that societal / organisational problems do not necessarily fall under straight jacketed structures. They need not be discrete but are a continuum. Identification of the objectives will be carried out on the above problem statement, using a Unified Program Planning (UPP) analysis on the data collected from the NGTs, Brainstorming, interviews and questionnaire surveys. The UPP analysis is a structured approach towards identification of four sets of elements; Stakeholders (Individuals, groups or agencies who have a stake in the system-in-focus), Needs (Refers to the requirements of stakeholders which are to be fulfilled by the system-in-focus), Alterables (Parameters, events or processes that can be controlled or altered to fulfill the needs of stakeholders) and Constraints (Limitations imposed by factors that are not controllable by the system-in-focus), that represent a problem situation and help in formulation of a set of objectives. For a given situation, SNAC analysis helps in ? Screening key elements that have significant relevance to the situation ? Understanding various stakeholders and their respective needs ? Bringing out major constraints ? Identifying objectives that are ‘truly' shared Each defined objective and its associated action plan will help in its realisation. From the problem statement, Multi modeling techniques (systems methodologies) such as SNAC analysis (analysis of the Stakeholders, Needs, Alterables and Constraints), ID (Influence Diagram, which will depict inter relationships among departments / sections in providing services), VSM (Viable Systems Model) are used to define the organisation structure, roles and responsibilities and staffing pattern. The rationale behind this approach is that, in a complex scenario, no single model will be able to address all the dimensions of the problem. Each model reveals only a part of the reality / solution. Therefore, it is essential to use multi-models to gain a better understanding of the problem situation. Normally, the study is visualized as comprising two modules: Module 1 - Formulating the vision and objectives Module 2 - Understanding the existing scenario, central issues confronting the organisation, practices adopted, cost drivers, market expectations and key shortcomings, user satisfaction levels, value added A. Objective setting Action plan, strategy formulation for the system will be based on the identification of the vision and set of objectives to be realised. These objectives will be a reflection of the needs / expectations from the stake holders, and issues to be addressed in design of the new system. The first step towards strategy formulation is identification of objectives to be realised. This is proposed to be achieved through the earlier stated process of consensus building, using group techniques such as brainstorming and Nominal Group Techniques (NGTs), interviews, questionnaires. From the list of objectives an objective tree or Interpretive Structural Model (ISM) is built. The ISM is a hierarchical arrangement of all objectives, identified above, through a mathematical process, following certain business rules such as transitivity etc. B. Identification of interdependence between elements of the system An Influence Diagram (ID) will be developed (see a typical one in exhibit attached) in order to get a better understanding of the scenario. In an ID, the various key elements / factors that constitute the system are identified and their inter-linkages mapped and studied. This serves to highlight any missing / weak links, the effect of change in one factor on the other and the points where any intervention is needed, to derive desirable outcomes. To draw the ID, the various units/stakeholders/departments / sections are studied and the interactions among them captured. C. Design of organisation structure and staffing Viable Systems Model (VSM) is used to design the organisation and staffing structure. This model is built on five elements of any viable system; ? Policy (to draw management policies for the continued viable functioning of the system drawing upon inputs from the intelligence, control and monitoring subsystems), ? Intelligence (to scan the external environment for any changes, such as technology, threats, security breaches which will have an effect on the operation of the system), ? Control and Monitoring ( to check if the day to day functioning is in line with what is expected of the system), ? Co-ordination (effectively controlling the operations of the system) and ? Operations (the various operations under the system). Suggestions on making the entire system viable will be based on the above analysis. Critical Success Factors (CSFs) in terms of technological, marketing skills, financial aspects required for development and smooth functioning of the new system, will be identified based on the above analysis. The improvements suggested will be reviewed in terms of feasibility and impact on the current system and a final set of modifications / improvements in the framework, will be drawn. A conceptual representation of a viable systems model is depicted in exhibit below ? Viable system model D. Staffing Identification of the sub systems in the VSM will lead to enumeration of all the functions to be performed. The functions will be classified as related and unrelated. Whenever interactions between functions are high, they will be grouped as related and treated as points of convergence in the structure, taking into account control aspects. While designing the organisation structure, a balance will be drawn between homogeneity and affinity of actions to be performed and controls to be imposed. Once the structure of the organisation is decided upon, the staffing requirements will be examined. A training plan will be drawn to impart training so as to enable them to carry out their activities efficiently. It is recognised that in any external intervention for organisational problem solving scenario, with long term strategic implications, close participation of the client and all stake holders, during the vision and objective setting for the engagement, strategy formulation phase, solution design and their feedback, is essential. This will substantially contribute to the quality of the output, acceptance of recommendations and speedier implementation. This approach will ensure ownership of the output, which will enhance level of participation, and active involvement of stakeholders, during the implementation. This will considerably reduce rework and revisit to the course of action formulated from the intervention, and address queries raised (if any), by the participants, during the implementation. Active stakeholder participation during the initial phases of the intervention, contributes to success and speed of implementation, high level of utilisation and reduced need for implementation support. Why holistic approach? The holistic approach is most suited to analyse and understand a complex multidisciplinary problem, which does not have the advantages of a unique and sound theoretical base of its own, tested body of knowledge and proven methodologies, to apply. Holistic approach is also useful to verify the stated nature of the problem posed for analysis, and solution expected based on the client's own interpretation / preconceived notion of what the problem could be. Many a time, problem definition (the most important prerequisite before an external consultant intervention) is itself skewed, partial, biased or truncated, based on the perception of the client, commissioning the intervention. The client also many times may not be sensitive to / conscious of the interdepenencies / influences one element of the problem can have on other elements. Addressing a poorly defined problem and working on a soution can be more harmful than leaving the problem as it is. Thus holistic approach is a tool for collective and fully unerstanding the problem, carrying the stakeholders and arrivng at a consensus on the nature of interventions. The relationships though known in a general sense / isolated manner, are never mapped together to examine the various influencing factors that need to be touched, to find a real solution. That is also the reason why consultants' reports become subject of debate/ criticism of being biased, not usable, seen as working on an agenda for the management, or fail to derive the expected results. The holistic approach is akin to a physician understanding the patient as fully as possible, including his habits, hobbies, nature of work, liesure activities, and food habits, though these may appear trivial or irrelevant, for the ailment, on the surface. Many a time the solution may be in the problem itself and therefore with minor tweeking of certain elements, the desired results could be achieved. Such a scenario exists even in profit oriented business organisations, complex social problems, or even in an apparently simple problem situation. Real organisations (business/social) are never closed system, but are subject to several external influences and extert their influence on the external environment. Organisations or social systems by their very nature are complex open systems, as their boundary of influence is open. Societal and organizational problems are problems of handling open systems, where the system boundary is amorphous, influencing variables are many, their nature of influence are contextual, making the problem scenario highly complex to handle. The same is the reason why, we are not able to apply any conventional methodologies, that work in controlled environments (closed systems which could be controlled), to this problem scenario. The influence of human factor adds to the complexity. Complex / open systems also have a character, of being heterogeneous in terms of their stakeholders, problem context, their relationships, how they influence each other, the nature and impact of their influence and how they respond to external stimuli. This character of the problem situation, itself makes it amenable, only to define the approach to handle, and not the specifics of arriving at a solution, as these unfold as we move forward. This generic approach is ideally suited to handle unstructured problems (all management problems are in a way not fully structured, thoguh there may be stuctured approaches to handle individual componnents of the problem), which are not benefited by a proven body of knowledge to handle. The systems approach attempts to recognize the real world realities of an open system, subject to the influence of the happenings in the environment, and therefore poorly controlled. This framework provides a structured approach to study and comprehend an unstructured problem. The approach recognizes the existence of an underlying structure (not in the paradigm of defined disciplines) even in an apparently unstructured situation. This approach to a problem situation ensures the conceptual and structural validity of solution to the problem. It enables a detailed solution arrived at by any means, to be tested against this template of the structure, and therefore its structural validity. Typical examples of applicable problem situations in the Indian context would be to analyse unemployment, poverty, urban growth, and even in a mundane software development / e governance project. The value derived from this approach is its holism, identifying and capturing all relevant factors / variables, triggers the process of identifying their interrelationships, and thereby a focused debate, and a re-examination of apparent / conventional wisdom. The methodology provides an excellent platform for comprehension of the problem, discussion and debate on relevant variables and their interrelationships, and an effective communication tool, to interact with a heterogeneous audience, typical of any open system. The most vivid example is a software development process where all possible interconnections need to be unravelled during the concetualisation and design process, otherwise it would amount to rework during the development, testing, implementation and usage phase (see annexure). Generally the Scope and ToR for the engagement would state that the client needs (wants?) the examination process to be computerised and hence the mandate to go ahead with computerising it. This inference on the chosen solution itself, sometimes need to be re-examined through a holistic approach. The systems approach takes a holistic rather than a mechanistic view of the problem at hand, with emphasis on the synthesis of various elements and factors of the system, and its sub-systems. This approach identifies interactions and inter-relationships between various elements of a system. The approach enables clear and comprehensive understanding and definition of the requirements, taking into account ? the unique features of the line of business, ? The various issues/entities/constituents and their level of independence / inter dependence. Such a holistic approach will ensure completeness and scalability in volume, as well as variety, to meet future evolving requirements, addresses the level of preparedness of the existing system (Infrastructure; social and physical, technology, acceptability, awareness, affordability, and adaptability), to seamlessly transform to the new systemIn this ever increasing complexity of problem situations being encountered, it is expected that the holistic approach will gain considerable attention in the future. The holistic approach is yet to be recognised as a discipline to be included in formal management education . Anexure - a Typical illustration - case study of computerisation of examination system in a SEEB An apparently straight case of a software development project for process automation in an organization (government) is illustrated below, to bring to surface, the unique value derived, through application of this approach, to unravel latent relationships and influencing factors, which could become critical at the time of its implementation, and usage during its life time. The project being illustrated is Computerisation of an examination Processing system, which is under the umbrella of the state government in a typical state. The problem statement goes something like this. The state X conducts its 10th standard and other diploma / trade related courses' examination, through the Secondary Education Examination Board (SEEB). The no. of courses for which the SEEB is responsible would be 25, spread over the whole 12 months in a year. 60 % of these examinations take place during the months of April June, and about 90% of the candidates also appear during this period. The process of conducting the examination involves receiving the list and other details of candidates appearing for the examination, from the various participating schools, in a prescribed format, by a particular date for each exam, which has to be verified, corrected, entered in the system in a predefined format and securely stored for later retrieval. Currently the data from schools entered manually in predefined forms, reach the SEEB through the postal system. The data are entered by data entry operators engaged through an agent. They are not permanently employed by the SEEB. The proposed computerized examination system is expected to electronically collecting the data on students, getting all marks scored by each student on each subject entered in the data base, deciding cut off/grace marks, depending on the pass percentage and other factors, which could change for each course and exam. The Para above would be the brief given by the client to the SW developer. The several relevant but unstated factors / questions to be asked would be: 1. Why do you want to change the system? What benefit are you expecting? Is there a monetary value attached to it? How do you justify this investment on the project? From which academic session do you expect this to be fully operational? 2. Would you need to be keeping the hard copies of marks data and answer scripts, and if so for how long? Is this driven by legal requirement? How much space it is likely to occupy? Do you have that space? How do you inventorise these for easy access, tracking and retrieval? 3. Would you be keeping the same data entry operators or new? Have you considered their concerns - loss of incentives due to initial lower productivity, learning curve, and sabotage by disgruntled elements. How do you propose to handle this? Have you attached a monetary value to this and included in project cost? Have you explored all options to realize your objective? If not, are you facing any difficulties / constraints in deciding on that? 4. Are you planning to connect to other institutions who may use the marks awarded, for any purpose such as higher studies, employment of the students…. If so, have you studied the technical feasibility of the same, the willingness of these institutions to get connected, to pull the data from your system, standardization of SW/HW specifications for interoperation, legal acceptance of electronic transactions for transfer of marks for admission / employment? 5. How are the results of the examinations going to be announced and after how many days of getting the marks, from the examiners? Is the result going to be announced at all or can the students pull their results, from the system 6. Are you considering examining a radical change in the examination process, pattern, system itself? What options are under consideration? Plan to shift from descriptive to logical, multiple choice etc?. The results could be announced instantaneously, if the examination patter is an objective or multiple choice. If there is a paradigm shift in the exam pattern itself, you may be able to complete do away with the infrastructure for conducting the board examination, itself. 7. Do you have the freedom to change the exam. pattern? Any special approval process to be gone through, expected time elapsed to get this, how does it sync with your proposed project schedule, and whose responsibility is it to go through the process for bringing about change in the exam. system itself, do they have he authority, Are you giving out this job on a complete turnkey basis comprising getting all approvals for change, deciding on course of change, deciding on detailed items of task, quality assurance of the work done by the SW developer, testing of work done. Is the vendor expected to carry out an IT systems study, advice you on HW, SW, Networking, Cost Benefit Analysis 8. What would be the remuneration structure for service provider? Payment for service rendered (Sw development), Training, Maintenance, Upgradation, revenue / benefit sharing, how do you compute benefits, 9. Who enters data on marks obtained for each student for each subject? 10. How do you ensure security of and preempt fraud in data entry, and thereby result announcement? 11. How do you keep a trail of the entire process and provide access to answer scripts, if a student contests marks assigned, and the court asks for the answer script and the valuation made? 12. What is the level of competency of those who are going to be engaged on the job of data entry? 13. Will they take less or more time under this new system? Are there any incentives for data entry operators? What is the basis? How it may be affected after computerization? 14. What is the adequacy and quality of the supporting infrastructure to change over to he digital system for conduct of examinations, processing results, result announcements, data archiving and retrieval, physical and logical security, disaster recovery, reemployment of those who are redundant,….. The above are only a narrative description of a truncated version of possible externalities for consideration, to the core task of Computerisation of the SEEB. This could be more effectively captured through the Influence diagram mentioned earlier for a complete visibility of the problem to all stakeholders. Capturing all the possible questions and incorporating them in the project definition, planning, pricing, scheduling etc. would be possible through an NGT and out-scoping process, through literature study of similar projects elsewhere, discussion with experts, limited research in examination system computerization, discussion with the stakeholders (the SEEB, students, evaluators, other institutions, the state government, schools systems, staff of the SEEB). Most projects fail (fall short of achieving their originally stated goals / benefits) due to a partial understanding, recognition and planning for all interrelated factors. Holistic approach would help realistic planning, achieving realistic goals, and maintaining physical and financial control and facilitate realistic expectations. REFERENCES 1. HEART OF THE ENTERPRISE - Stafford Beer 2. BRAIN OF THE FIRM - Stafford Beer 3. SOCIETIAL SYSTEMS - John Warfield 4. LIVING SYSTEMS THEORY - James Grier Miller The Author - Dr. K.V.Subramanian - email@example.com Dr. K.V. Subramanian (Prime consulting group, a Bangalore based management consultancy and training organisation- www.primeconsultinggroup.net)is a graduate in Electrical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Karnataka, Surathkal and a Ph.D. (Fellow) in Management from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. He has over twenty four years of experience in Management Consultancy including four years in IT services marketing, ODC & relationship management, management education, consultancy for the development and infrastructure sector, and four years in engineering Industry. He has had advanced training in Organisational Behaviour and has done his doctoral dissertation in Management on "Organisational effectiveness in the implementation of Decentralised Renewable Energy Programme (a top priority programme of the Government of India). He has had extensive training and experience in application of Systems Methodologies for societal sector analysis. His experience in Management Consultancy primarily focused on the Government sector covering infrastructure, developing programmes, socially relevant productive sectors, local bodies, etc. He has handled complex consultancy assignments with diverse stakeholders. As a group leader, his responsibilities included providing high end consultancy and all client relationships support for IT services and all activities under management consulting, in the Government sector, including defense. He effectively interacts closely with top level officials in the Government (including the head of state administration, departmental heads, heads of state level service organizations, regulatory bodies, on aspects of bringing about E governance in the state administration. He was also the programme manager for major consulting assignments being undertaken for the defense sector organizations and is well versed with the functioning, issues and their resolution. He has led a major organizational transformation assignment through Process redesign and technology induction for the space research organization in India as well as a Government Online Centre project for the Government of Mauritius. He has handled training programs on systems thinking, managing fixed price consulting and IT assignments in government sector, and conflict management, consulting practice, energy management, project management. He is a Certified Quality Analyst from the Quality Assurance Institute. He is an independent consultant on World Bank funded projects to the Centre for Symbiosis of Technology Environment and Management, www.stemgroup.org, a consulting organization in the Infrastructure and Development sector. Earlier, he had led STEM handling both its consulting and infrastructure management education vetticals. He pursues his own consultancy, corporate and short term management training practice through his organisation, Prime Consulting Group, www.primeconsultinggroup.net.