This is an excerpt from a book I am currently writing on ‘Information Systems.’ This is a section from the first chapter on the five components that help us to understand the complete information system.
The simplest way of understanding how an information system works is to understand the individual components and how they interact with one another.
The five components are as follows:
The first three fit under the ‘technology’ umbrella category and will usually be the most prominent answers that students offer when asked to define an information system but will forget people and processes. It is these two elements that will separate information systems from other areas like computer science. For us to fully understand information systems, we must understand how these components work together to bring added value to an organisation as well as offer a competitive advantage.
Information systems hardware is the physical component parts of an information system you can touch. These will usually include computers (both desktop and laptop), keyboards, disk drives, iPads, and USB memory sticks. We will look at these components and how they all work together later in my book.
A software application at its most basic level is a set of instructions that give the hardware tasks to complete. The software itself is not tangible – in that, it cannot be touched. When programmers create software programmes, so what is really happening is simply typing out a series of lists of instructions that govern what the hardware is to do in certain circumstances or when certain criteria have been met. There are several sub-categories of software which we could discuss at length, but the two major categories we want to concern ourselves with here is operating-system software, which makes the hardware usable, and application software, which enables the hardware to do something useful. A quick example of an operating system would be Microsoft Windows 10 on a PC or Android on a mobile phone. Examples of application software would include Microsoft PowerPoint on a PC or Facebook on a phone. We will explore software more thoroughly in a later chapter of my book.
The third part is data. We can view data as a series of collecting facts. For example, your home address, the town you live in, and your email address are all examples of data we use every day. Data is also intangible, in the same way, we gave the example of a software application. On their own, these pieces of data are not really very useful to anybody. But when assimilated, indexed, and organised together into a database, this data now becomes a powerful tool for businesses in which a competitive edge may be obtained. In fact, considering the definitions presented at the beginning of this chapter, each of them focuses on how information systems manage data. Organisations can and will collect all kinds of data and use it to make these informed decisions. These decisions can then be critically analysed as to their effectiveness and the organisation can be improved. We will look at data and databases, and their uses in organisations in a dedicated chapter in my book.
When we think about information systems, it is easy to get focused on what the hardware and software are doing, while forgetting that we must look beyond these tools to fully understand how they integrate into an organisation or business. By focusing on the people involved in the information system allows us to take the next step. From the front-line help-desk support staff, to systems analysts, through to programmers and all the way to the chief information officer (CIO), it is the people involved with information systems who are an essential element that crucially must not be overlooked. The people component will be covered in a chapter of my book.
The final component of information systems is the process. “A process is a series of steps undertaken to achieve a desired outcome or goal.” Information systems are continually evolving and seeing a deeper integration with organisational processes, while allowing more productivity and a higher degree of control to those processes. However, simply automating these activities by using technology is not enough – businesses must look to the effective utilisation of information systems to do and achieve more. It is the use of technology to manage and improve processes, both internally within a company and externally with suppliers and customers, that is the ultimate goal. Technology buzzwords such as “business process re-engineering,” “business process management,” and “enterprise resource planning” are all concerned with the continual improvement of these procedures and the integration of technology with them. Businesses that hope to gain a competitive advantage are usually highly focused on this component of information systems. We will discuss processes in greater detail, in a later chapter in my book.
In computerised information systems, the basic data can be processed to include images (e.g. employee photo); graphics (e.g. organisation logo); video; sound; text as well as alphanumeric data (e.g. customer ID).
The information system in an organisation will be required to help it achieve its business aims. This will be achieved through analysing the business (including its environment), formulate and check that it achieves its goals. The goals may be connected to profitability, long-term survival, measuring performance in a new market or venture, service provision, customer response times, customer query completion times, measuring market share, financial performance against previous years, employee and customer satisfaction. The information system may help the organisation to achieve improved efficiency in its operations and greater effectiveness in its managerial decisions. Information systems are now regarded as tools to help provide a competitive advantage to the organisation. Another way to look at this is, that without functional information systems, a business would be at a disadvantage in comparison to its competitors. In this perspective, they are an important resource for the company to have at its disposal and therefore a valuable resource.
At the minute my working title is: Information Systems: Development and Use.
I find the concept of information systems to be fascinating as it has combined a number of professional experiences that I can draw from. They make practical use of programming skills as well as the ability to ask questions and plan strategically.
I am currently lead Lecturer in Information Systems in the Foundation Degree in Computing for the Northern Regional College in Northern Ireland.
I hope this has been of interest or use to you. There are no references stated in this passage, which is intentional-a full bibliography will be present in the finished product. As this is currently a labour of professional love and not a commissioned work, there is no deadline at present but a return visit in the not-so-distant future will have an unveiling!
Thanks for visiting!