Authority and its Implementation in Enterprise
Information Systems
Alexei Sharpanskykh
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Department of Artificial Intelligence, De Boelelaan 1081a
1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Abstract. The concept of power is inherent in human organizations of any
type. As power relations have important consequences for organizational vi-
ability and productivity, they should be explicitly represented in enterprise in-
formation systems (EISs). Although organization theory provides a rich and
very diverse theoretical basis on organizational power, still most of the defini-
tions for power-related concepts are too abstract, often vague and ambiguous to
be directly implemented in EISs. To create a bridge between informal organiza-
tion theories and automated EISs, this paper proposes a formal logic-based
specification language for representing power- (in particular authority) rela-
tions. The use of the language is illustrated by considering authority structures
of organizations of different types. Moreover, the paper demonstrates how the
formalized authority relations can be integrated into an EIS.
1 Introduction
The concept of power is inherent in human organizations of any type. Power relations
that exist in an organization have a significant impact on its viability and productivity.
Although the notion of power is often discussed in the literature in social studies [1,
2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13], it is only rarely defined precisely. In particular, power-related
terms (e.g., control, authority, influence) are often used interchangeably in this litera-
ture. Furthermore, the treatment of power in different streams of sociology differs
significantly. One of the first definitions for power in the modern sociology was
given by Max Weber [20]: Power is the probability that a person can carry out his or
her own will despite resistance. Weber and his followers (Dahl, Polsby) considered
power as an inherently coercive force that implied involuntary submission and ig-
nored the relational aspect of power. Other sociologists (Bierstedt, Blau) considered
power as a force or the ability to apply sanctions [2]. Such view was also criticized as
restrictive, as it did not pay attention to indirect sources and implications of power
(e.g., informal influence in decision making) and subordinate’s acceptance of power.
Parsons [12] considered power as “a specific mechanism to bring about changes in
the action of organizational actors in the process of social interaction”.
Most contemporary organization theories explore both formal (normative, pre-
scribed) and informal (subjective, human-oriented) aspects of power [4, 13, 17]. For-
mal power relations are documented in many modern organizations and, therefore,
can be explicitly represented in models on which enterprise information systems
Sharpanskykh A. (2007).
Authority and its Implementation in Enterprise Information Systems.
In Proceedings of the 1st International Joint Workshop on Technologies for Collaborative Business Processes and Management of Enterprise
Information Systems, pages 33-42
DOI: 10.5220/0002424200330042
(EISs) are based. The representation of formal power in EISs has a number of advan-
tages. First, it allows a clear definition of rights and responsibilities for organizational
roles (actors) and a power structure. Second, based on the role specifications, corre-
sponding permissions for information, resources and actions can be specified for each
role. Third, explicitly defined rules on power enable the identification of violations of
organizational policies and regulations. Fourth, data about power-related actions (e.g.,
empowerment, authorization) can be stored in an EIS for the subsequent analysis.
For modeling of power relations the rich theoretical basis from social science can
be used. Notably many modern EISs implement no or very simplified representations
of power relations and mechanisms [3, 16]. One of the reasons is that concepts and
definitions provided in social theories are often not operational and, therefore, cannot
be directly used in automated information systems (EISs). To make use of these theo-
retical findings in EISs, power-related concepts should be formally grounded.
The first step to make the concept of power operational is to provide a clear and
unambiguous meaning for it (or for its specific aspects). In this paper this is done by
identifying the most essential characteristics and mechanisms of power described in
different approaches and by integrating them into two broad categories: formal power
(or authority) and informal power (or influence), which are described in Section 2.
Further this paper focuses on the formal representation of authority, for which a for-
mal language is described in Section 3. Moreover, Section 3 illustrates how the intro-
duced formal language can be used to model authority systems of different types of
organizations. Section 4 discusses the integration of formal authority relations into an
automated EIS. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion in Section 5.
2 Power, Authority and Influence
As in many contemporary social theories [4, 13], we assume that power can be prac-
ticed in an organization either through (formal) authority or through (informal) influ-
ence relations. Authority represents formal, legitimate organizational power by means
of which a regulated normative relationship between a superior and a subordinate is
established. Usually authority is attached to positions in organizations. For example,
authority of some managerial positions provides power to hire or to fire; to promote
or to demote; to grant incentive rewards or to impose sanctions. In many approaches
it is assumed that authority implies involuntary obedience from subordinates. Indeed,
as authority has a normative basis that comprises formal, explicitly documented rules,
it is expected that subordinates, hired by the organization, should be aware of and
respect these rules, which implies the voluntary acceptance of authority.
All manifestations of power that cannot be explained from the position of author-
ity fall into the category of influence. In contrast to authority, influence does not have
a formal basis. It is often persuasive and implies voluntary submission. Some of the
bases of influence are technical knowledge, skills, competences and other characteris-
tics of particular individuals. Influence is often exercised through mechanisms of
leadership; however, possession of certain knowledge or access to some resources, as
well as different types of manipulation may also create influence. Influence may be
realized in efforts to affect organizational decisions indirectly.
Although authority and influence often stem from different sources, they are often
interrelated in organizations. For example, the probability of the successful satisfac-
tion of organizational goals increases, when a strong leader (meaning a leader that has
a great value of influence) occupies a superior position of authority. Furthermore,
sometimes patterns of influence that frequently occur in an organization may become
institutionalized (i.e., may become authority relations).
Modeling methods for authority and influence are essentially different. While au-
thority relations are often prescriptive and explicitly defined, influence relations are
not strictly specified and may vary to a great extent. Therefore, whereas authority
relations can be generally represented in EISs, the specification of influence relations
is dependant on particular (cognitive) models of agents that represent organizational
actors. Relations between authority and influence can be studied by performing simu-
lation with different types of agents situated in different organizational environments.
The focus of this paper is on modeling of formal authority relations. Influence rela-
tions and relations between authority and influence will be considered elsewhere.
3 Authority: A Formal Approach
First, in Section 3.1 a formal language for specifying authority-related concepts and
relations is introduced. Then, Section 3.2 discusses how the introduced language can
be used for representing authority structures of organizations of different types.
3.1 A Formal Language
Simon [19] describes three contributions of authority for an organization: (1) the
enforcement of responsibility, (2) the specialization of decision-making, and (3) the
coordination of activity. Based on this and other theoretical findings that describe
power, duties and responsibilities of organizational positions [11], a number of rela-
tions for the specification of formal authority can be identified. These relations are
defined on positions (or roles), without considering particular agents (individuals).
The relations are formalized using the order sorted-predicate language [10].
We represent all activities of an organization (including decision making and per-
sonnel-related activities) by tasks. Each organizational role is associated with one or
more tasks. Roles may have different rights and responsibilities with respect to differ-
ent aspects of the task execution. Furthermore, often several roles may potentially
execute or manage certain tasks. This is represented by the relation
is_authorized_for: r:ROLE x aspect: ASPECT x a:TASK, where aspect has one of the values
{execution, monitoring, consulting, tech_des (making technological decisions), manage_des
(making managerial decisions), user_defined_aspect}.
All types of decisions with respect to a particular task can be divided into two
broad groups: technological and managerial decisions (inspired by [1]). Technologi-
cal decisions concern technical questions related to the task content and are usually
made by technical professionals. Managerial decisions concern general organizational
issues related to the task (e.g., the allocation of employees, task scheduling, the estab-
lishment of performance standards, provision of resources, presenting incentives and
sanctions). Managers of different levels (i.e., from the lowest level line managers to
strategic apex (top) managers) may be authorized for making different types of mana-
gerial decisions varying from in scope, significance and detail. A particular decision
type is specified as an
aspect in the is_authorized_for relation. The same holds for tech-
nological decisions. Whereas consulting has a form of recommendation and implies
voluntary acceptance of advices, decisions imposed on a role(s) that execute(s) the
task are considered as imperatives with corresponding implications.
Authorization for execution implies that a role is allowed to execute the task ac-
cording to existing standards and guidelines. Whenever a problem, a question or a
deviation from the standard procedures occurs, the role must report about it to the
role(s) authorized for making technological/managerial (depending on the problem
type) decisions and must execute the decision(s) that will follow.
Monitoring implies passive observation of (certain aspects of) task execution,
without intervention.
Notice that other aspects of task execution described in the managerial literature
(e.g., control, supervision) can be represented as a combination of already introduced
aspects. In particular, control can be seen as the conjunction of monitoring and mak-
ing technological and/or managerial decisions aspects; supervision can be defined as
the combination of consulting and control. Furthermore, the designer is given the
possibility to define his/her own aspects and to provide an interpretation to them.
Although several roles in an organization may be authorized for a certain aspect
related to some task, only one (or some) of them will be eventually (or are) responsi-
ble for this aspect. For example, the responsibility of a certain role with respect to the
task execution means that the role is actually the one who will be performing the task
and who holds accountability of the task execution. Furthermore, responsibility for
the task execution implies allowance to use resources required for the task perform-
ance. The responsibility relation is specified as:
is_responsible_for: r:ROLE x aspect:ASPECT x a:TASK: task a is under responsibility of role r
with respect to aspect (defined as for authorized_for)
Some roles are authorized to make managerial decisions for authoriz-
ing/disallowing other roles for certain aspects with respect to task execution. The
authorization/ disallowance actions are specified by the following relations:
authorizes_for: r1:ROLE x r2:ROLE x aspect: ASPECT x a:TASK: role r1 gives the author-
ity for
aspect of task a to role r2.
disallows: r1:ROLE x r2:ROLE x aspect: ASPECT x a:TASK: role r1 denies the authority
aspect of task a for role r2.
However, to make a role actually responsible for a certain aspect of the task, an-
other role besides the authority to make managerial decisions should also be the supe-
rior of the role with respect to the task. Superior-subordinate relations with respect to
organizational tasks are specified by:
is_subordinate_of_for: r1: ROLE x r2: ROLE x a:TASK. Then, responsibility is assigned/retracted
using the following relations:
assigns_responsibility_to_for: r1: ROLE x r2:ROLE x aspect: ASPECT x a:TASK: role r1 assigns
the responsibility for aspect of task a to role r2.
retracts_responsibility_from_for: r1: ROLE x r2:ROLE x aspect: ASPECT x a:TASK: role r1
tracts responsibility from role r2 for aspect of task a.
Using these relations superiors may delegate/retract (their) responsibilities for cer-
tain aspects of tasks execution to/from their subordinates, and may restrict themselves
only to control and making decisions in exceptional situations.
In [7] control over resources is identified as an important source of power. There-
fore, it is useful to identify explicitly which roles control resources by means of the
has_control_over: r1: ROLE x res:RESOURCE. In the proposed modeling frame-
work the notion of resource includes both tangible (e.g., materials, tools, products)
and abstract (information, data) entities.
In many modern organizations rewards and sanctions form a part of authority rela-
tion, thus, are explicitly defined:
grants_reward_to_for: r1: ROLE x r: REWARD x r2: ROLE x reason: STRING: role r1 grants re-
ward r to role r2 for reason
imposes_saction_on_for: r1: ROLE x s: SANCTION x r2: ROLE x reason: STRING: role r1 im-
poses sanction s to role r2 for reason
Specific conditions (e.g., temporal, situational) under which authority relations
may be created/maintained/dissolved are defined by executable rules expressed by
logical formulae. The format and specification of these rules will be discussed in
Section 4.
3.2 Modeling Authority Relations in Different Types of Organizations
Authority is enforced through the organizational structure and norms (or rules) that
govern the organizational behavior. In general, no single authority system can be
equally effective for all types of organizations in all times. An organizational author-
ity system is contingent upon many organizational factors, among which organiza-
tional goals; the level of cohesiveness between different parts of an organization, the
levels of complexity and of specialization of jobs, the level of formalization of organ-
izational behavior, management style (a reward system, decision making and coordi-
nation mechanisms), the size of an organization and its units. Furthermore, the envi-
ronment type (its uncertainty and dynamism; the amount of competitors), as well as
the frequency and the type of interactions between an organization and the environ-
ment exert a significant influence upon an organizational authority structure.
In the following it will be discussed how authority is realized in some types of
(mostly industrial) organizations and how it can be modeled using relations intro-
duced in the previous Section 3.1. Due to the space limitations only informal presen-
tation of relations is provided.
Authority in small firms of the early industrial era was completely exercised by
their owners through mechanisms of direct personal control. Firm owners were man-
agers and technical professionals at the same time, and, therefore, had authority and
responsibility for all aspects related to tasks, except for their execution, responsibility
for which was assigned to hired workers. The owners controlled all resources. Cur-
rently similar types of organizations can be found in family business and small firms.
With the growth of industry, which caused joining of small firms into larger en-
terprises, owners were forced to hire subcontractors, who took over some of their
managerial functions. This can be modeled as assigning responsibility to subcontrac-
tors by the owner for some managerial and technological decisions, as well as moni-
toring and consulting of workers with respect to some tasks execution. The owner
reserved often the right to control for himself, which included granting rewards and
imposing sanctions to/on subcontractors and workers, realized through superior-
subordinate relations. Organizational resources were usually controlled by the owner.
Large industrial enterprises of XX century are characterized by further increase in
number of managerial positions structured hierarchically by superior-subordinate
relations. Such organizations are often defined as mechanistic [17] and have the fol-
lowing typical characteristics: strong functional specialization, a high level of task
formalization, a hierarchical structure reinforced by a flow of information to the top
of the hierarchy and by a flow of decisions/orders from the top. Responsibilities were
clearly defined for every position in a hierarchy. In most organizations of this type
responsibility for execution was separated from responsibilities to make decisions.
Managerial positions differed in power to make decisions depending on the level in
the hierarchy. Often, technological decisions were made by managers of lower levels
(or even by dedicated positions to which also execution responsibilities were as-
signed), whereas managerial decisions were made by managers at the apex. In many
of such organizations managers at the apex shared responsibility for making (some)
decisions with lower-level managers. Therefore, decisions that were usually proposed
by lower level managers had to be approved by the apex managers. Initially such
enterprises operated in relatively stable (however, sometimes complex) environmental
conditions that reinforced their structure. However, later in the second half of XX
century to survive and to achieve goals in the changed environmental conditions (e.g.,
a decreased amount of external resources; increased competition; diversification of
markets) enterprises and firms were forced to change their organizational structure
and behavior. In response to the increased diversity of markets, within some enter-
prises specialized, market-oriented departments were formed. Such departments had
much of autonomy within organizations. It was achieved by assigning to them the
responsibility for most aspects related to tasks, which created products/services de-
manded by the market. Although department heads still were subordinates of (apex)
manager(s) of the organization, in most cases the latter one(s) were restricted only to
general performance control over departments. Often departments controlled organ-
izational resources necessary for the production and had the structure of hierarchical
mechanistic type.
Although a hierarchical structure proved to be useful for coordination of activities
of organizations situated in stable environments, it could cause significant inefficien-
cies and delays in organizations situated in dynamic, unpredictable environmental
conditions. Furthermore, the formalization and excessive control over some (e.g.,
creative and innovative) organizational activities often can have negative effects on
productivity. Nowadays, large enterprises often create project teams or task forces
that are given complex, usually innovative and creative tasks without detailed de-
scriptions/prescriptions. As in the case with departments, teams are often assigned the
responsibility to make technological and (some) managerial decisions and are given
necessary resources to perform their tasks. Usually teams have highly cohesive plain
structures with participants selected from different organizational departments based
on knowledge, skills and experience required for the tasks assigned to these teams.
Although many teams implement informal communication and participative decision
making principles [9], also formal authority relations can be found in teams. In par-
ticular, in some project teams superior-subordinate relations exist between the team
manager and team members. In this case, whereas responsibility for making techno-
logical decisions is given to team members, the responsibility for most managerial
decisions is assigned to the team manager. Then, the members of such teams, being
also members of some functional departments or groups, have at least two superiors.
In other teams the team manager plays the integrator role and does not have formal
authority over team members. In this case the responsibility for decisions made by a
team lies on all members of the team. Sometimes to strengthen the position of a team
manager, s/he is given control over some resources (e.g., budgets) that can be used,
for example, to provide material incentives to the team members.
The principles on which teams are built come close to the characteristics of the
organic organizational form [17]. Some of such organizations do not have any formal
authority structure, other allow much flexibility in defining authority relations be-
tween roles. In the former case formal authority is replaced by socially created infor-
mal rules. In the latter case, authority may be temporally provided to the role that has
the most relevant knowledge and experience for current organizational tasks. In many
organic organizations formal control and monitoring are replaced by informal mutual
control and audit. For the investigation of dynamics of organic organization, informal
aspects such as influence, leaderships, mental models of employees are highly rele-
vant, which will be discussed elsewhere. Often interactions between organic organi-
zations (e.g., of network type) are regulated by contracts. Usually contracts specify
legal relationships between parties that explicitly define their rights and responsibili-
ties with respect to some tasks (e.g., production, supply services). Several organiza-
tions may be involved in the tasks execution (e.g., supply chains for product deliv-
ery); therefore, it is needed to identify particular aspects of responsibility in contracts
for such tasks. The introduced language may be used for specifying such responsibili-
ties and their legal consequences through reward/sanctions mechanisms.
4 Integration of Authority Relations into an EIS
In our previous work a general framework for formal organizational modeling and
analysis is introduced [15]. It comprises several perspectives (or views) on organiza-
tions. In particular, the performance-oriented view [15] describes organizational goal
structures, performance indicators structures, and relations between them. The proc-
ess-oriented view [14] describes task and resource structures, and dynamic flows of
control. In the agent-oriented view different types of agents with their capabilities are
identified and principles for allocating agents to roles are formulated. Concepts and
relations within every view are formally described using dedicated formal predicate-
based languages. The views are related to each other by means of sets of common
concepts. The developed framework constitutes a formal basis for an automated EIS.
To incorporate the authority relations introduced in this paper into this framework,
both syntactic and semantic integration should be performed. The syntactic integra-
tion is straightforward as the authority relations are expressed using the same formal
basis (sorted predicate logic) as the framework. Furthermore, the authority relations
are specified on the concepts defined in the framework (e.g., tasks, resources, per-
formance indicators). For the semantic integration rules (or axioms) that attach mean-
ing, define integrity and other types of organization constraints on the authority rela-
tions should be specified. A language for these rules is required to be (1) based on the
sorted predicate logic; (2) expressive enough to represent all aspects of the authority
relations; (3) executable, to make constraints (axioms) operational. Furthermore, as
authority relations are closely related to dynamic flows of control that describe a
temporal ordering of processes (tasks), a temporal allocation of resources etc., a lan-
guage should be temporally expressive. A language that satisfies all these require-
ments is the Temporal Trace Language (TTL) [8]. In [18] it is shown that any TTL
formula can be automatically translated into executable format that can be imple-
mented in most commonly used programming languages.
TTL allows specifying a temporal development of an organization by a trace. A
trace is defined as a temporally ordered sequence of states. Each state corresponds to
a particular time point and is characterized by a set of state properties that hold in this
state. State properties are formalized in a standard predicate logic way [10] using state
ontologies. A state ontology defines a set of sorts or types (e.g.,
sorted constants, functions and predicates.
States are related to state properties via the formally defined satisfaction relation
|=: state(γ, t) |= p, which denotes that state property p holds in trace γ at time t. Dynamic
properties are specified in TTL by relations between state properties. For example,
the first axiom on the authority relations expresses that roles that are responsible for a
certain aspect related to some task should be necessarily authorized for this:
r ROLE a:TASK aspect:ASPECT ∀γ:TRACE t:TIME state(γ, t) |= [ responsible_for(r, as-
pect, a) authorized_for(r, aspect, a) ]
Another axiom expresses the transitivity of the is_subordinate_of_for relation: r1: ROLE x r2:
ROLE x a:TASK. Due to the space limitation other axioms are not considered.
In general, rules that describe processes of authorization, assigning/retracting of
responsibilities may have many specific conditions. However, to assign responsibility
for some aspect of a task a role should necessarily have at least the responsibility to
make managerial decisions and be the superior (with respect to this task) of a role, to
which the responsibility is assigned. All other conditions may be optionally specified
by the designer. Responsibility may be assigned on a temporal basis. To specify that a
responsibility relation holds in all states that correspond to time points in the time
limit, a responsibility persistency rule should be defined:
asp: ASPECT r1,r2:ROLE a:TASK ∀γ, t1, t2:TIME state(γ, t1) |= is_responsible_for(r1,
asp, a) & state(γ, t2) |= assigns_responsibility_to_for(r1, r2, asp, a) & (t1-t2) < limit state(γ,
t1+1) |= is_responsible_for(r1, asp, a)
Using concepts and relations from other organizational views, more complex con-
straints related to formal authority can be described. For example, “the total amount
of working hours for role
r1 should be less than a certain limit”. This property can be
automatically verified every time when roles are assigned additional responsibilities
for some tasks. This is particularly useful in matrix organizations [17], in which roles
often combine functions related to different organizational formations (departments,
teams), and, as a result, their actual workload may not be directly visible.
Another example is related to rewards/sanctions imposed on a role depending on
the task execution results. As shown in [15], performance indicators (PIs) may be
associated with organizational tasks that represent performance measures of some
aspects of the tasks execution. Depending on the PIs values, a company may have
regulations to provide/impose some rewards/sanctions for roles (agents) responsible
for the corresponding tasks. Although such rules are rarely completely automated,
still an EIS may signal to managers about situations, in which some rewards/sanctions
can be applied. For example, the system may detect and propose a reward granting
action to the manager, when a role has been keeping the values of some PI(s) related
to its task above a certain threshold for some time period
[period_start, period_end]. In
∀γ, t1 t1 perod_start & t1 perod_end & state(γ, t1) |= [ is_responsible_for(r2, execution, a1)
measures(PI1, a1) is_subordinate_of_for(r2, r1, a1) PI1.value > limit ] state(γ, pe-
riod_end+1) |= grants_reward_to_for(r1, bonus_5_procent, r2, excellent_performance_of_a1)
Based on these rules each EIS user (a role) receives only relevant to him/her informa-
tion and is allowed to perform actions that are in line with his/her (current) responsi-
bilities defined in the system. Furthermore, (possible) outcomes of each action of the
user are evaluated on a set of (interdependent) authority-related and other organiza-
tional constraints, and based on this evaluation the action is either allowed or prohib-
ited. Moreover, some authority-related constraints may be defined and checked by
managers to investigate certain aspects of organizational performance (e.g., efficiency
and redundancy of authority structure). An automated method that enables such
analysis is described in [14].
5 Discussion
This paper makes the first step towards defining the formal operational semantics for
power-related concepts (such as authority, influence, control), which are usually
vaguely described in organization theory. In particular, this paper addresses formal
authority, different aspects of which are made operational by defining a dedicated
predicate logic-based language. It is illustrated how the introduced relations can be
used for representing authority structures of organizations of different types.
Modern enterprises can be described along different dimensions/views: e.g., human-
oriented, process-oriented and technology-oriented. However, most of the existing
EISs focus particularly on the process-oriented view. An extension of the models on
which EISs are built with concepts and relations defined within the human-oriented
view allows conceptualizing more static and dynamic aspects of organizational real-
ity, thus, resulting in more feasible enterprise models. Among the relations between
human actors authority deserves a special attention, as it is formally regulated and
may exert a (significant) influence on the execution of enterprise processes. This
paper illustrates how the concepts and relations of authority can be formally related to
other organizational views, thus resulting into an expressive and versatile enterprise
In the future it will be investigated how the proposed authority modeling frame-
work can be applied for the development of automated support for a separation task
(i.e., maintaining a safe distance between aircrafts in flight) in the area of air traffic
control. Originally this task was managed by land controllers, who provided separa-
tion instructions for pilots. With the increase of air traffic, the workload of controllers
rose also. To facilitate the controllers’s work, it was proposed to (partially) delegate
the separation task to pilots. This proposal found supporters and opponents both
among controllers and pilots. The resistance to a large extent was (is) caused by am-
biguity and vagueness of issues related to power mechanisms. Such questions as
“whom to blame when an incident/accident occurs?”, “which part of the task may be
delegated?”, “under which environmental conditions the task can be delegated?” still
remain open. By applying the framework proposed in this paper one can precisely
define responsibilities of both controllers and pilots and conditions under which the
responsibility can be assigned/retracted. Notice that these conditions may include
relations from different views on organizations (e.g., “current workload is less than
x”, “has ability a”), which allows a great expressive power in defining constraints.
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