In contrast to information technology (IT) which focuses on hardware and networking, information systems (IS) is a discipline of business operations and solutions development that uses technology to accomplish business objectives.
Information Systems is all about developing software and tools to help you accomplish business goals. As Wikipedia puts it, “IS is a [professional] discipline bridging the business field and the well-defined computer science field…”
At least, that’s the stock explanation I usually give people when they ask. If you need help with your computer, printers, phones, and the like, then you call IT. But if you need help with process, operations, business development or business management and you need a technology solution (such as software to make it happen), then you call IS.
The Business Field
Business is all about purchasing a product or service (or components of these) from a supplier, managing that inventory, redesigning it for resale, and then selling to a customer, typically at a profit. Any part of a business operation can have this rule applied. Accounting, for instance, is a discipline that purchases a product (money) from a supplier (the company’s sales), manages the inventory (bookkeeping), redesigning it for resale (budgeting) and then selling to a customer (payroll and accounts payable).
However you look at it, every aspect of a business follows this pattern. Every department has suppliers, a source of inventory that must be managed, a process by which they must repackage or present that inventory, and customers to whom they sell those goods. For IS, the customer is the business itself: its operations, its management teams, its processes, and its procedures. IS professionals inherently must understand the disciplines of business operations and management.
The Computer Science Field
Computer science is the field that traditionally dealt with computers and networking. As the technology of computing grew to be more user friendly, and a variety of consumer-friendly devices became readily available, the disciplines traditionally associated with technically-minded people began to expand into a combination of technical and business. Software development is a key component in providing computer science solutions to business challenges.
Information systems is a discipline that’s in the business of serving business clients. The customer for IS, is the business team within your company that needs to accomplish a goal, and the product IS makes is a combination of software and hardware tools that meet business requirements.
Information Systems in Operation
As an information systems professional, I focus on three core disciplines to ensure that you are given the right tools to succeed:
Business Process: focusing on developing business procedures, plans, and strategies to accomplish specific business goals. This includes material such as project plans, product development strategies, and product or service structuring and pricing.
Software Development: focusing on building custom software, web applications, databases, customer relationship management systems and so forth, to meet your business needs.
Ongoing Support: the first two would have been obvious, as they relate to the concepts presented above. I also believe it is important to continue to develop and grow your business within the services I provide.
Assessing your business and developing solutions is great, but providing an ongoing support and growth mechanism to help you remain competitive is equally important.