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I've been writing about Information Systems for over three
decades, mostly to I.S. professionals, and I've spent in inordinate amount of
time trying to clarify our terminology and concepts, as well as dispel basic
misconceptions about systems. For example, there are those who believe an
Information System is a computer. Sorry but, No, that is a piece of equipment,
a tool used within a system. Then there are those who think it is a computer
program or collection of programs like what you find on an iPhone. As an
aside, the word "app" (for "application") is indicative of the sloppy thinking
in the industry; an "application" of what? No, let's call a spade, a spade;
they're not "apps," they're "programs," but I digress.
Perhaps the biggest misconception regarding Information
Systems is that you cannot have one without a computer. Sorry, but this is
simply not so. The day a company goes into business, large or small, is the
day when its Information Systems are born. For example, companies need to
routinely manage their finances, pay employees, manufacture products, process
customer orders, manage assets and inventory, schedule deliveries, etc. This
has been going on well before the advent of the computer. The only difference
is systems were implemented by manual processes as opposed to computer
Perhaps the best way to think of an Information System is
as an orderly arrangement or grouping of processes dedicated to producing
information to support the actions and decisions of a business. Hundreds of
years ago, systems were implemented using logs, journals, ledgers,
spreadsheets, and filing cabinets. Over time, equipment was introduced in the
form of such things as cash registers, typewriters, adding machines, and
tabulating equipment, all of which eventually gave way to the computer.
Incidentally, there are many manual processes still in our companies serving
critical business functions, much more than you might think, most of which are
not properly documented.
When I teach a basic class in this subject, I ask the
students to design a totally manual system just to overcome the handicap of
only thinking in terms of computers. For those imbued in programming, this
exercise represents an epiphany and teaches them to think outside the box.
Suddenly they realize writing a program is only a small part of a much larger
The reason people have trouble understanding the difference
between systems and programs is actually quite simple; a program is much more
tangible than a system. You can touch and feel a program, particularly its
screens, reports and source code; but a system is much less tangible as you
are talking about several business processes that operate routinely, and are
implemented by people and technology that will come and go over time.
This brings up an interesting point, the basic business
processes of a system (aka "sub-systems") are logical in nature and only
change when information requirements change. They are implemented by manual
procedures and computer programs that are physical in nature and change
dynamically as technology changes, but the business process remains
essentially the same. Consider this, for any company who has been implementing
payroll for a number of years; Has the process of paying your employees really
changed or was it the method of its implementation? If, years ago, you paid
your employees on a weekly or monthly basis, you are probably still doing so.
The only thing that has changed is physically how you have been doing it.
Whereas you may have started out preparing payroll manually years ago, this
was probably replaced by a commercial package to do the same thing, which has
probably been updated or replaced several times; but your employees are still
paid weekly or monthly aren't they?
Next time someone promises you a womb to the tomb
Information System on a computer, remind them that the first on-line,
real-time, interactive, data base system was double-entry bookkeeping which
was developed by the merchants of Venice in 1200 A.D. .... and there wasn't a
computer within miles of it.
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their
About the Author
Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of
M. Bryce & Associates
(MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the
management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-12-21 18:38:11 in Computer Articles