The computer age introduced a new element to businesses, institutions, and organizations; a set of components called the Information System. This is a formal, sociotechnical, organizational system or network designed and used to collect, store, organize, process, analyze, and distribute data and information. Synergizing the information systems fundamentals which are hardware, software, human power, and processes can serve a variety of purposes for a business, company, or organization. This includes improving efficiency, maximizing revenue, and streamlining operations. Many businesses and companies are built entirely around information systems, and as such rely heavily on them to manage their resources and compete in global markets. Information systems are also used to run inter-organizational supply chains and electronic markets, for instance, corporations use information systems in situations like processing financial accounts and reaching their potential clients with online promotions.
Components of an information system
From a sociotechnical perspective, an information system is essentially made up of five components that integrate to perform input, process, output, feedback, and control. They include:
- Computer Hardware
These are the tangible elements of an information system, which include the equipment, wiring, and other mechanisms that allow the system to function. In other words, they are simply the physical technology that facilitates information system processes. This hardware may be as small as a smartphone and other wearable devices, or as large as a supercomputer.
- They include widely dispersed personal computers and mobile devices e.g. smartphones and laptops
- Input devices such as keyboards, mice, microphones, and scanners
- Output devices like printers, monitors, speakers, sound, and video cards; powerful parallel-processing servers located in data centers
- Sensors that gather data and in effect control via devices known as actuators
- Other peripheral equipment or devices that work with computers such as magnetic or solid-state external storage disk drives, routers, microprocessors, hard drives, and electric power supply units that also allow computers to store and process data.
- Computer Software
Software is an intangible set of instructions that tells the hardware what to do. They fall into two broad categories namely operating system software and application software.
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- Operating System Software
The principal system software is the operating system. It manages the hardware, data, and program files, as well as other system resources while providing the means for the user to control the computer, generally via a Graphic User Interface (GUI). It is basically what makes the hardware usable, and also what provides a base for application software to run. Examples of operating systems include Microsoft Windows and macOS on a personal computer and Google’s Android on a mobile phone.
- Application software
Application software is designed to operate programs geared toward particular uses or to handle specific tasks for users in information systems. For instance, word processing applications are used to create and edit text documents. Graphical User Interface (GUI) software is among the most common application software. It presents the information stored in computers and allows users to interact with computers through digital graphics such as icons, buttons, and scroll bars rather than through text-based commands. Examples of application software are Microsoft Excel and Angry Birds.
The software can also either be open-source or closed source. For open-source software, the source code is publicly available for users and programmers to manipulate, whereas closed source software is proprietary.
An information system can exist without the ability to communicate – the first personal computers were stand-alone machines that did not access the Internet. However, in today’s hyper-connected world, it is extremely rare that a computer is not connected to another device or to a network.
This component connects the hardware together to form a network. Connections may be through wires (Coaxial cables, ethernet cables, or fiber optic cables used by telephone and cable providers to transmit various forms of data), or wireless systems such as Wi-fi. The Internet itself can be considered a network of networks, which connects computer networks to allow information to be transmitted through them and storage devices to access information from the cloud also through a network.
Local-area networks (LANs) connect computers to create computer networks within a designated space, like a school, home, or office. Wide-area networks (WANs) are collections of LANs that facilitate data-sharing across large areas. A virtual private network (VPN) allows a user to protect their online privacy by encrypting data on public networks.
Microwaves and radio waves can also be used to transmit information in telecommunications networks.
You can think of data as a collection of facts. For example, your street address, the city you live in, and your phone number are all pieces of data. Like software, data is also intangible. By themselves, pieces of data are not really very useful but when aggregated, indexed, and organized together into a database from which it can be retrieved by querying using one or more specific criteria, it then becomes usable and of great importance. A database is therefore a platform on which the “material” that the other components that an information system works with resides. A data warehouse contains all of the data in whichever form an organization needs it. Data can become a powerful tool for businesses. In fact, the major focus of information systems is data management. Organizations collect all kinds of data and use them to make important decisions.
- People & Process
A process is a series of steps undertaken to achieve a desired outcome or goal. Information systems are becoming more and more integrated with organizational processes to enhance productivity and better control those processes. However, simply automating activities using technology is not enough. When thinking about information systems, it is easy to get focused on the technology components and forget that human resources are a crucial and possibly the most important aspect of information systems.
The human component encompasses all the qualified people who influence and manipulate the data, software, and processes in the information system. From the front-line help-desk workers, the business and systems analysts, to programmers and all the way up to the chief information officer (CIO), these are the people who implement the process for the information in the huge databases and data warehouses to be transformed into patterns that can help interpret what has happened in the past and guide future action.
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While it is difficult in today’s business environment to get the perfect parameter of measuring a system’s performance, the most reliable criteria should be the synergistic effect of an information system, whereby the overall effect of all the five components working in tandem is greater than the sum of its parts and this should be a major consideration for companies, businesses, and/or organizations when adopting any information system.