Information Technology or Information System
Before going further we need to clarify what we mean by the term information system. It is easy to confuse terminology as many texts use the phrases Information Technology and Information System interchangeably. The assumption made here is that technology is a much wider term referring to a multitude of different things from the most basic such the wheel or the mastery of fire to the most complex and recently developed such as the microchip or the gas-turbine engine. Devices that are now possible due to advances in technology are therefore the basis of the system that allows us to manage information. The information system we are referring to here is a tool that uses a combination of people, process and technology to meet a specific operational need. Boddy et al (2005) proposes the enabling technologies for the IS can generally be contained within the following classifications: ?
Hardware - the devices and other physical objects involved in processing information. These include input devices such as keyboards and sensors, output devices such as monitors and printers, processors that make calculations and manipulate data and storage devices such as hard drives and discs. ?
Software - the programs that interpret user inputs and tell the hardware what to do. These programs could be operating systems such as Windows or DOS and end user applications such as Word or Excel or something more bespoke to a specific organisational need such as stock control. ?
Telecommunications - the systems that enable transmission of data electronically over distance. This includes e-mail, internet and other such mediums. These systems can be thought of as the infrastructure that links otherwise discrete systems of hardware and software.
Therefore for the purposes of this text we will refer to the term information system (IS) because the crucial elements here are firstly, the information that is important to the organisation and secondly, the system provisioned to manage it in specific ways. In simple terms the information system is; an operational process comprising elements of hardware and software; that interfaces with human operators; that collects data; that it transforms and disseminates using a suitable communications system. It is worth exploring this term 'technology' a bit further before we leave it behind in favour of the word 'system'. The management of technology has been a large part of the operations manager's job for many years now from the first industrial use of the steam engine or the electric motor. Therefore the technology challenge is not a new thing however what has changed for managers recently is; firstly, the pace of technology change where obsolescence of relatively new technologies is becoming commonplace and secondly, the way in which technologies combine to create new applications. Information systems exemplify both of these trends as they operate using technologies that for some time have been at the cutting edge of engineering and they are always constructed using combinations of more than one type of technology.
This is best illustrated by the Internet, a technology, the full potential of which is still emerging that is now increasingly being utilised by information systems in many ways including customer interface, data gathering and general communication. With these points in mind it is useful to think of enabling technologies in two ways. Firstly sustaining technologies - those that enable improved performance of a process along the same dimensions of performance that have been historically measured.
Secondly, disruptive technologies that may entirely change the way a process is carried out and therefore change the way the organisational requirement is met and create a new performance level that requires different forms of measurement. The key point here is that while a disruptive technology may be immature at its conception and therefore may be less effective than the best competing sustaining technology in the short-term, in a period of time it may mature and become the dominant technology out-performing all others. It is therefore critical that the potential of disruptive technologies is understood and a plan to utilise these within your operation exists.