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What are information systems and should I be using them?

Information systems are what keeps a business going. They are where you store and organise all the data held by the business..

Most people think that data and information are the same thing. However, they are not. Information is data that has been organised in a logical way in order to answer questions and solve problems. For example data held on a client could be their name, address, phone number, email address, number of purchases and type of purchase. However if you wanted to find out all the customers who had purchased a certain type of product you would only need to look at the client name and type of purchase. This is the information.

There are several types of information system including; transaction processing systems, decision support systems, knowledge management systems, learning management systems, database management systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and office information systems.

Most information systems these days will be in electronic form, however they can still be used in a paper form.

Systems in place in some businesses

Paper information systems are usually in the form of card indexes and filing systems whereas electronic information systems are usually in the form of customer support systems and data processing systems. Most businesses will have both paper and electronic systems in place. The paper system can be a series of folders which contain documents relating to the subject of the folder that they are in, this is good for keeping a copy of incoming invoices. The electronic systems can be a project system where jobs are added, such as printing and development, this can then be linked with another system such as invoicing so a job can automatically be invoiced on completion.

How to bring in a new system

A lot of planning needs to go into bringing a new system into a business. You need to consider the type of information you will be handling, what the information will consist of, such as customer records or employee records. With information like this you need to make sure that it is securely held, so this would need to be taken into account when you are looking to develop a system. You also need to think about whether it would be numerical or text data, for example you could be storing a list of prices or you could be storing names of employees. You also need to think about how the information will be laid out in the system.

Next you should look at how feasible the system will be, with this you should look at how successful the system is likely to be along with any strengths or weaknesses of the system. For example, you could be trying to bring in a system into place that takes over from an existing one, such as making a paper system digital. However you may find that there are feasibility problems with your idea, for example you may need to have a high speed internet connection in an area that is renowned for having low connection speeds, or you may need more computers than you have room for. You should consider everything that could go wrong with the system you are trying to bring in before you start to implement it. That way you can hopefully avoid the awkward situations when things do go wrong.

Any computer system that you are putting in place will have to abide by the Computer Misuse Act 1990 which has three criminal offences. Which according to Wikipedia are:

  1. unauthorised access to computer material, punishable by 12 months' imprisonment (or 6 months in Scotland) and/or a fine "not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale" (since 2015, unlimited)
  2. unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate commission of further offences, punishable by 12 months/maximum fine (or 6 months in Scotland) on summary conviction and/or 5 years/fine on indictment;
  3. unauthorised modification of computer material, punishable by 12 months/maximum fine (or 6 months in Scotland) on summary conviction and/or 10 years/fine on indictment.

So if you're looking to develop a bespoke system, or have one made you would need to make sure that it is secure and only the people who need to access it can access it; this can be done through a hierarchy of passwords. By using a hierarchy of passwords the management team can have access to more information than line leaders and line leaders can have access to more information than ordinary team members. You would also need to make sure that the system has a functioning SSL certificate in place, which means any data being sent over the Internet is encrypted. So if it was intercepted by anyone outside of the business they would not be able to view any of the information being sent.

In order to adhere to point two, the information system should not be used in any way that could be deemed as illegal, for example you couldn't build an information system that could be used to hack other computers.

Point three is similar to point one but also states about being able to modify information, so for example if someone was to log in to a system as a manager and change account details then this would be seen as unauthorised modification.

Well that seems like a lot to know, but I still need a system. Where next?

If you're looking for a bespoke system to handle all of your clients along with linking it to an accounting system and having it manage payroll, making it all singing all dancing, then you'll need to talk to an experienced developer. A system like this will not be cheap and you could be looking at spending several thousand pounds.

During the initial meeting with the developer they should be able to talk you through the process of creating the system along with any possible problems you may face when using it. Also if any of your ideas are not feasible they should be able to warn you not to go down that route. The developer should then leave the meeting and go to develop a proposal which will outline the costs involved and the features you should expect.

During the completion of the system you should hold regular meetings with the developer in order to gauge how well the system is progressing and any setbacks that may have occurred.

When the system is near completion, the developer may be able to give you a working version of the system so that you can test the capabilities for yourself and so that you can see if the system meets your requirements and the proposal that was laid out at the beginning. Once you have gone through the system for yourself you can go back to the developer if you find any problems during use, or if the system isn't what was agreed at the proposal stage.

Once the system has been signed off by yourself then you should start to use it and evaluate it. This is due to the fact that the theory behind the system could be very different from the reality of the finished product. Also the system will have to be maintained, this is because over time technology advances which could leave your system vulnerable to attacks from hackers looking to steal the data stored within it. However if you maintain and update the system then you should be safe from attacks.

This blog post has been dumbed down a bit because not everyone is technically minded. You may find that your developer can help you in some places and for others you may have to research thoroughly. This post should be used only a guide and not as a resource for how things should be done. But remember - your developer is the expert, and can hopefully advise you on issues you're unsure of.

The Company Wizard is not affiliated with Wikipedia and cannot be held liable for any misinformation that arises from using the website.
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