Information Systems Essay

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An information  system  (IS) consists  of the  people, processes, and data involved in the handling of information in an organization, and as a field, information systems is the study, design, and implementation of such. Nonspecialists  often use “information system” to refer specifically to the software used in such systems, likely because that  constitutes  the bulk of the new information  they need  to  learn  if a new IS is implemented  in their  workplace. But the  IS would include, for instance, not simply the new software in use on the store’s cash register, but the delegation of authority—who is authorized to issue a refund if a customer asks for one, who counts out the money in the register at the end of a shift or the end of the working day—and the handling of information  not accounted for by the software, such as where the receipt  from the refund is filed, and where the money from the register is transferred.

In many  companies  large enough  to  support  the role,  the  management of  information   systems  falls under  the  purview of the  Chief Information  Officer (CIO), the executive in charge of IT-related operations. The CIO typically answers to the chief financial officer, since much  of the information  systems in use at the company will be devoted to accounting tasks. At tech companies, he or she may answer directly to the CEO. Some companies  refer to their CIO as the IT Director, but the CIO title has become preferred because of its parallelism with CEO, CFO, et cetera. Typical CIO qualifications vary greatly according  to the company and the nature  of their  reliance on IT; the CIO may come from a tech field, may be an MBA who picked up IT knowledge on the job, or increasingly may have earned  a degree in information  systems. With  computer expertise no longer as rare a thing as it was in the early 1990s at the dawn of home internet  access, nor as niche a field, a great many more CIOs are rising to their positions from the business management part of their industry rather  than the IT support  side. Duties may or may not include information  security; in some organizations,  there will be a separate chief information security officer (CISO) who reports to the CIO.

When   referring   to  the  software,  many  people use “information system” to refer to an information processing system, a program  that turns  one kind of information  into another.  Tax software is a common example most  people are familiar with: it takes the user’s input (income and certain outgo), processes it according to the algorithms  derived from applicable tax law, and outputs  the amount  of tax owed. These days, computers  are flexible enough that when integrated with electronic payment systems and an internet connection,  such a system can be used to determine and pay taxes in one fell swoop, and may be used to suggest possible deductions  the user may not have considered, thus doing a good deal more than acting as the sophisticated  calculator  that  computers  were for so long relegated to.

The three-schema approach  was once common  in the construction of information systems, though more sophisticated  approaches  have taken  up much  of its share as software has become more sophisticated  and computer  power has increased. A schema—which shares  a root  with  “schematic,” “scheme,” and  “scenario”—is a model  consisting  of a diagram,  usually with both words and images. An obvious example of a schema is the mock blueprints  used by schemers in old cartoons, depicting an oblivious mouse in front of a trap, a mouse caught in the trap, and a mouse on a cat’s dinner  plate,  with  directional  arrows  and  captions. The three schemas of this particular approach are the external schema that defines how users view the data involved in the system; the internal schema that defines the physical system itself, or storage of the data; and the conceptual schema, which integrates the two.

System Types

Information  systems may include transaction  processing systems (TPS), which automate  the processing of transaction-generated information.  Sales and purchases  can be handled automatically—such as in online shopping, with systems generating warehouse orders and adjusting inventory, as well as handling the validation of credit card information—with  information then recorded, summarized, and stored in appropriate places. The amount  of paperwork  that can be generated  by a TPS has been made infamous by the film Office Space’s repeated mention of TPS reports.

Information systems meant to handle especially high-level tasks, such as serving a large corporation, are  sometimes  called  Enterprise  Information   Systems, extending the modifier from Enterprise software. Enterprise  software is that  which is intended to be used “at the enterprise  level” rather  than  with a departmental focus. This software is often proprietary, developed specifically for the business (by the IT division or a contracted software developer), or is custom-constructed from a highly customizable software suite. Sun, Adobe, Oracle, and Microsoft all offer Enterprise  software and the tools to develop it, but interestingly there is a lot of attention and effort spent on Enterprise software in the Open Source Software community,  which not  only offers software for free (sometimes charging a fee for tech support or implementation)  but puts the code in the public domain so that anyone who wants to can modify it themselves.

The usefulness of the Enterprise  software designation is facing diminution, as some vendors push overly complex  software  suites  on  businesses  too  small to benefit from them, while others package relatively ordinary business management software as Enterprise software because of the prestige appeal of the label.

At the information  system level, the purpose of an Enterprise  Information  System is to avoid the  conflicts,  redundancies,   and  inconsistencies   that   can result from using separate segregated information systems in various departments. The entire  company’s information  system is conceived as a whole, with a unified means of handling data and spotting problems. Such systems will usually include a content management system (CMS). A CMS is a software package that  handles  digital media,  including  text.  Internet and intranet  technologies  are used to manage  content like documents  and procedures,  structured and unstructured records, and other information, providing interfaces for it to be accessed in-house, by other businesses  (vendors,  customers,  industry  agencies), by the general public, and by the government.  Often the end-user  is unaware of the content  management system;  it’s  “middleware,”  providing  infrastructure and a framework that integrates the foundation (content) with the edifice (the interface).

Other   subsets  of  information   systems  relevant to business are management information systems (MIS), accounting  information  systems  (AIS), and strategic  information   systems  (SIS). Management information    systems   examine    business    operations  and  internal  control—the  way the  business’s resources  are allocated  and  recorded.  MIS is concerned with making sure that the operations and processes of the business are consistent with achieving the company’s objectives and compliant with its standards. Accounting information systems focus on the financial transactions  and behavior of the company. Either can include decision support  systems, information  systems that guide decision making by organizing data in various categories. DSSes can be communication-driven, facilitating the decision-making  processes  involving multiple  people; data-driven,  as in  the  purchasing  example; document driven,  when  the  relevant  data  is  “unstructured” (in  the  form  of customer  letters,  for  instance,  as opposed to manipulable numbers  in a spreadsheet); knowledge-driven, when procedures or problem-solving are involved; or model-driven, when the current situation can be compared to others.

Executive information systems are subtype of decision support  systems, and  are specifically designed for  executive-level  decision   making  affecting  the whole of the  company,  and  focused  on  the  overall goals of the company more than the day to day transactional operations.  The needs of these systems vary by the company’s industry, but will include significant data about  and evaluations  of the other  parties  the company works with—buyers, vendors, contractors, regulatory agencies, and so on—and relevant industry-wide information.

Strategic information  systems are similar to executive information  systems, but focus specifically on assisting decision making related  to the company’s competing  in the industry. Ideally, an SIS gives the company  a competitive  edge by enabling  them  to react  quickly to  changes  in  the  industry  environment—to  maintain  this  edge, the  system needs  to be updated regularly in order to keep up with those changes.


  1. Mark W. Huber, Craig Piercy, and Patrick G. McKeown,  Information   Systems:  Creating  Business Value (Wiley, 2006);
  2. Leonard Jessup and Joseph Valacich, Information Systems Today: Managing in the Digital World (Prentice Hall, 2007);
  3. Keri E. Pearlson and Carol S. Saunders, Managing  and  Using  Information  Systems  (Wiley, 2009);

 Ralph Stair and George Reynolds, Fundamentals  of Information Systems (Course Technology, 2008).

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