Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dots Connection: Information System (IS) vs. Information Technology (IT)

Information dot connection is the foundation of innovation.

An information system is an abstract view of an activity system focusing on the gathering, processing, distribution, and use of information. It provides the information needed for the decisions that are part of the activity system. The Information Technology system supports the information system. It encapsulates hardware, software, data and communication technologies. It provides data to be used by people as information.

Classic information technology strategy divides technology up into three areas: technology as product or artifact, technology as process or method and technology as knowledge. The key characteristics of the technology are that it is in some synthesized sense and that it is used for a goal-directed purpose. Interestingly,  the key defining characteristics of an enterprise are its purposes. 

Another way to connect these digital dots is to distinguish between data, information, content, context, connections, and usage. 'Data' is raw content, without context - 'a collection of zeroes and ones', in the classic computing sense, though there can be many other variants of this. Data starts to be 'information' when we add some context, such as through metadata. Metadata is often described as 'information about information', so there's obviously some recursion here. Information starts to be 'meaningful' when we add connections to other information items - in some cases including non-connections to things that aren't or don't seem to be connected. The end-point of all of this is when we put meaningful information to use

Information-systems incorporate both ends and means; information-technology is almost solely about means. The information system is about how to garner, gather, maintain and apply those items of data, information, meaning and use; Information-technology is a specific subset of that emphasizes the various tools, techniques and other means via which we achieve the aims of that 'information-system.' Systems are logically independent of technology - and in the context of information defined by information flows and stores, which are again logically independent of technology although commonly implemented with technology.

Philosophically, data is physical, and the information is ‘mental.’ if you accept that information is present in the physical world, there is a sense in which information from or about the world is incorporated into our very DNA over time by the processes of evolution. If you go along with this way of thinking, it means information systems are literally as old as life itself - because life is founded on an information system. There has to be some process by which information and possibly 'potential meaning' is 'inscribed' into what the philosophers call 'speech-acts' which we might call symbols or signals. Conversely, a process by which information is extracted from speech acts and into minds - which we generally loosely call 'interpretation'

Ideally, CIOs should take more responsibility for the entire information life cycle of the organization. In most organizations, the CIO is responsible for some of the systems and technologies that support business activities, and may be responsible for some of the quality attributes of the information (the efficiency and integrity of its transmission and storage), but is not responsible for the information itself, except of course information about his/her own domain. It would be useful if CIOs pay more attention to the entire information life cycle, from information gathering and interpretation through to decision-making and learning, especially with the growing interest in the business use of social media and variety of digital technology.


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