What are Information Systems? — Defined and Outlined

As the reliance on technology continues to grow across the globe, so does the widespread presence of information systems. Information systems, often abbreviated as IS, are the collection of hardware, software, and telecommunications networks that people build and use to collect, process, create, and distribute useful data. This data is typically found in organizational settings but can exist in personal and household settings as well.

This definition, along with the many others on the Internet, keeps a narrow focus on two key integral pieces when defining information systems:

  1. The components of the information system
  2. The role these components play in an organization

The Five Components of an Information System

Of these two integral pieces mentioned previously, there are five distinct components that make up the collective information system of an organization. These five components include the following:

  1. Hardware
  2. Software
  3. Data
  4. People
  5. Process

Each of these components are integral to the functionality and efficiency of an information system. The former three are a part of the components of the information system. The latter two describe the role of said components in the information system. Now that we have defined an information system and its related components it is time to outline each of the components and explain their importance in the grand scheme of an organization’s information system.

Hardware in an Information System

The hardware aspect of an information system is the technology you can touch. These are the physical aspects of technology. Computers, tablets, mobile phones, disk drives, and more are all examples of information system hardware. Hardware is often considered the most visible aspect of an information system.

Hardware is important to the effectiveness of an information system because most of the software and data are accessed from hardware. Likewise, people use the hardware and many processes are carried out on the technologies established as a part of the information system.

Software in an Information System

Software builds directly upon the hardware of an information system. In fact, software is a set of instructions that tells hardware what to do. Unlike hardware, software is not tangible. You can’t touch it. When software is being programmed what is really happening is instructions are being made to tell hardware what to do.

There are several types of software, with the two main categories being operating-system software and application software. Operating-system software is the software that makes hardware actually usable. Application software is defined as software that “does something useful.” This category includes all applications from anti-virus software to streaming applications and any other software that is present on your organization’s information system. Examples of operating-system software include Microsoft Windows on a PC and Apple’s iOS on mobile phones. Examples of application software include Microsoft Excel, Norton Antivirus, and downloaded games like Minecraft.

Data in an Information System

The third component of an information system is data. You can think of data as a collection of facts and information. For example, your street address, the city you live in, your name, and your phone number are all pieces of data that help describe you. Like software, data is also intangible. Also, by themselves data is not particularly useful. However, aggregated, indexed and organized data is a powerful tool for your organization.

Organizations collect all sorts of data and use this data to make informed decisions. These decisions can then be analyzed based on their effectiveness. This additional analysis and data dissection help improve the organization.

People in an Information System

When thinking about information systems it is easy to focus on the technology components: hardware, software, and data. However, we must look beyond these tools to fully understand how they can integrate into an organization. A focus on the people involved in the information system is the next step. When looking at the human aspect of an information system, it’s important to look at the big picture.

From the front-line help desk workers all the way up to the Chief Information Officer (CIO), all people involved with the information system are an essential element that must not be overlooked because they make the technology useful in a practical sense.

Process in an Information System

The last component of an information system is process. A process is defined as a “series of steps undertaken to achieve a desired outcome or goal.” Information systems are becoming more and more integrated with the processes of an organization. This integration brings more productivity and better control to those processes. However, simply automating activities using technology is not enough.

Businesses looking to effectively utilize information systems need to do more. Using technology to manage and improve processes, both within a company and externally with suppliers and customers, is the ultimate goal. Buzzwords like “business process reengineering” and “business process management” all have to do with this continuous improvement of these business processes. Businesses hoping to gain an advantage over their competitors should be highly focused on this aspect of their information system.

The Role of an Information System in an Organization

Now that we’ve dissected the components of an information system it’s time to look at the role an information system plays in an organization. As explained above, the components of an information system collect, store, organization, and distribute data throughout the organization. In fact, we might say that one of the roles of information systems is to take data, turn it into information, and then transform that into actionable knowledge.

As technology has developed, information systems have evolved to become the backbone of an organization. Information systems in the modern world provide organizations with a consistent and powerful advantage in the business environment. Organizations taking advantage of their information system to make informed and data-driven decisions no doubt have an advantage over those operating with an information system on a traditional level.

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