What are information systems?

By 22/09/2017 October 12th, 2017 Information Systems

This is an excerpt from a book I am currently writing on ‘Information Systems.’ This is a section of the first chapter on defining what an information system is.

This, quite simply is the most important question to answer, right at the very beginning. That way, moving forward, we can all understand that when we talk about information systems, we are talking about the same thing. 

Definitions of what an information system is vary around the central themes of a person, utilising a tool, to complete a task.  

“Information systems are combinations of hardware, software, and telecommunications networks that people build and use to collect, create, and distribute useful data, typically in organizational settings.”1 


“Information systems are interrelated components working together to collect, process, store, and disseminate information to support decision making, coordination, control, analysis, and visualization in an organization.”2 


“Information systems are combinations of hardware, software and telecommunications networks that people build and use to collect, create and distribute useful data, typically in organisational settings.”3 


“Information systems are the combination of people, information technology, and business processes to accomplish a business objective.”4 


In these definitions, the information system works to collect, create and distribute data within an organisation. In all considerations, information systems are focused on the process of organising data.  

An information system then, is a group of procedures that work together to complete a certain task. This will in turn, provide processes and useful information to its members and clients.  The aim here is to help the organisation run more effectively and efficiently. The information can vary; it can be focused on customers, suppliers, products, equipment, procedures, operations etc. The context of an information system will determine the type of information it provides. Information systems are used to generate information for the users on a required topic as it is needed. 

In a bank, an information system might track employee salary payments, the operation of customer accounts or the efficient processing of mortgage or loan applications. Not all employees in this system will need access to all aspects of the system and so, some information systems are designed to meet the needs of employees at different levels. Higher level managers or department heads will have greater access to information in line with the responsibility of their position. 

On a ground level, the employee may have responsibility to make decisions in keeping with their role that affect the day to day running of the company – for example: transactions with customers at the point of sale, or warehouse records of stock, deliveries and overall inventory. Duty managers may use separate information systems to show the overall effectiveness of employees against company targets 

Every organisation will have an information system in some shape or form. Again, the type of organisation will determine the type of information system that is used. The organisation may be a commercial business, library, church, hospital, school, university, or a charity.  The information system that we will be talking about in this book is this type of formalised information system, were information is systematically utilised for advantage in commercial success or used for communication of information 

Unsurprisingly, but necessary for clarity, we will be exclusively exploring computer-based information systems. This will hopefully not be a surprise to you, but we mention it in the interests of full disclosure from the very beginning. 

Michael Johnston

About Michael Johnston

I'm a Lecturer in Computing and the Foundation Degree Director in Computing for the Northern Regional College in Northern Ireland. My research interests in the areas of technology enhanced learning, how we interact with technology, blended learning and professional development. Michael currently specialises in the computing areas of web development technologies, cyber security, software development and IoT. Michael has worked in a range of different roles in IT-from teaching roles to running his own web design company, Michael is equally at home working with theory, as he is conducting research, or building a bespoke IT solution. Michael is currently studying a PhD in Cyberpsychology.

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