Information systems have changed from only managing information as they initially did. Today's information systems are more focused on managing business process then strictly managing information, the later being implied by the former. This shift has some impacts which weren't always acknowledged immediately, particularly regarding change management.
Additionally, information systems are now expected to both provide cost reduction and new opportunities. The initial goal of reducing information processing costs thanks to computer automation has now been doubled by the objective of using information technology to create and leverage new opportunities (examples of this are E-Business, E-Learning, B2B, B2C, …). And this doesn't only concern newly created activities (like online bookstores which don't exist offline), it also concerns the development of existing activities (such as industrial product development).
These changes have contributed to push information systems from the technical circle to the strategic circle, as some companies are now centred on their information system, making it one of the most important components of business.
Types of systems
To gain insight on information systems it is useful to understand the different types of systems. These are either considered as information systems on their own or simply as components of larger information systems. On the left, the name is for convenience (there is no real standard category names in use):
- Operational Administrative IS : ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), CRM (Customer Relationship Management), SCM (Supply Chain Management), …
- Operational Technical IS : PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), PDM (Product Data Management), …
- Executive Strategic IS : BPE (Business Process Engineering), BI (Business Intelligence), …
In fact, as one might see, these categories correspond both to a reality in enterprise organisations (horizontal and vertical) and to the available offers (even if each actor tries to step into the other's area).
Information system technologies, due to their many strong constraints (geographical delocalisation, 24/7 availability, change management, …), are the scene of many researches and developments, with the results being many technology shifts. Here are some of the current trends:
- SOA (Service Oriented Architecture): Allows creating the IS as a cluster of independent services (which can change, but without impacting each other) which is managed/orchestrated with adaptability by the needs of the applications/processes (which can change often). This is mainly meant to provide adaptability to the changing business environment.
- EAI (Enterprise Application Integration): Allows integrating different applications (or information systems) so that they can cooperate together in broader business processes
- BPM (Business Process Management): Usually on top of an SOA system this permits easy definition (and redefinition) of business process usually via diagrams which illustrate how information is generated/consumed by the different phases of a process. The goal is to let non information technology experts be able to define the overall business processed supported by the information system.
There are mainly two different approaches to implementing an information system:
Vendor based: In this case the information system is mostly built around a vendor's offer (for example SAP). This will require customisation of the system which can range from "simple" parameterisation of the applications to the full development of some applications.
Home made: In this case the information system is specifically developed, internally or externally. In these situations it is casual that existing systems can be integrated.
None of these two approaches is better. The choice depends on many factors, such as: How well a vendor's offer matches your needs? Do you have enough available competencies to develop the IS? What is the time scale? By what area do you want to start? ROI evaluation (depending on vendor's financing plan, internal/external development costs, …)…