Describe the characteristics of good quality information"

Information is quite simply data that is processed for a particular purpose. That data may be a transaction, such as a sale of an item in a retail outlet, an entry on a time sheet of an employee or indeed the record of any event or fact. The essence of data is that it is an elementary description and that it lacks organisation and therefore cannot convey any meaning.

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Data may be handled in a series of, sometimes complex, processes in which it is classified, selected, rearranged, summarised, aggregated or used to perform calculations. Data can be stored as a resource that can be drawn upon to produce information for people and in support of the activities in which they engage. Data items can be numeric, alphanumeric, figures, sounds or images.

Information consists of meaningful facts that are significant and relevant to the recipient and their role within the context of their private or business activity. Information allows actions to be taken and decisions made which may bring about change to a greater or lesser extent as a consequence of that information being made available. Recipients interpret information and draw both implication and conclusions from it. In so doing a process of mediation takes place and the ingress of "noise" or "interference" will influence the outcomes of the actions taken as a result of the receipt of any given information.

Knowledge consists of data and information that have been organised and processed so as to convey meaning and thereby offer the benefits of human experience and learning for application to a specific issue, activity or problem.

Good quality information needs to be accurate, objective, believable and derived from a reputable source. It must be accessible and relevant for the recipient as well as being timely and concise. It also needs to be readily capable of interpretation and consistent in its representation as well as being easy to understand, complete and providing added value.

"Information systems are critical to the running of any organisation in modern society

With the help of examples,

i) define an information system

ii) describe the different categories of computer-based information systems

iii) explain how computer-based information systems can support managers at each level of an organisation

iv) explain some possible reasons why an information system may continually fail to provide the correct level of information"

Turban, McLean and Wetherbe define an Information System as one

"that collects, processes, stores, analyses and disseminates information for a specific purpose"1

The weakness of this definition is however the absence of the word "use". That the information system has utility is a key element in both its structure and its value.

An information system in the context of a business may be a database holding details of existing and potential customers together with contact history details and account status. The detail contained can be as important as their credit rating or as trivial as the type of Christmas card the individual will be sent! Businesses that in the past kept customer information on a manual system such as "Rotodex" will now use a bespoke customer management package or a standard database such as Access.

Computer-based information systems offer support to businesses at three levels. The first is at the transactional or operational level, the next is at a managerial level and the third is at the executive or strategic level.

The first level supports clerical and customer facing staff and includes Point of Sale information and the issue of receipts or other critical operational processes in marketing, production, purchasing, accounts, human resources and finance. These activities are short term in nature but are nevertheless vital to the running of the business and if failure occurs the impact upon the organisation is usually instantaneous.

The decision support system enables managers to make tactical decisions relating to the business. It supports the short term planning function in both a structured and unstructured manner and is based on the premise that timely and accurate information will facilitate higher levels of control, efficiency and output. The mediated outputs of the transactional system are an integral part of this second level information system. An example of such a system may enable a supervisor to monitor monthly use of electricity and perhaps then introduce energy efficiency measures to combat increased consumption. This information system also supports knowledge workers such as engineers, market analysts and lawyers in addition to those engaged in the management of people or processes.

The Executive information System supports strategic or long-term planning. The horizons usually related to this level of the decision making process are six months to a year. The information supporting the decisions made at Board level incorporates both secondary and primary level outputs albeit in a synthesised form The accurate information relating to sales patterns in a seasonal business, for example, will enable the directors of that company to predict cash flow requirements more accurately than otherwise would be the case and thereby reduce interest charges accordingly.

Curtis depicts the hierarchical Management Information System as a pyramid and underlines the need for a free flow of information up and down the levels of the structure in order to provide the organisation with low cost information that is accurate, flexible in its use and that enables interaction and selectivity.2

An information system may continually fail to provide the correct level of information if the input of data is inaccurate, inappropriate or untimely or if the means and the form in which the data is interpreted is both difficult to determine and to access.

Systems can be vulnerable to both internal and external factors whereby data and information are corrupted either deliberately or unintentionally thus leading to a malfunctioning of the system either in total or in part.

"You have been asked by a friend to advise on the purchase of a new personal computer for use at home

i) Draw up an appropriate specification

ii) Describe the purpose of each of the main components of the system

iii) Explain the additional considerations for an IT manager who is planning to install a new suite of computers in an office"

Before drawing up the specification I would seek to determine how the computer would be used. Would it for example be used to play games or would it be used to store photographs or video clips? Would it be required outside the home or office and what level of after sales service is required?

The answers to these questions determined a requirement for word processing and some small business applications, use of email and Internet and picture editing. Games did not feature as a priority nor did mobility and a budget ceiling of �1000 inc VAT was established.

The specification suggested is:

1.5ghz Processor controls the speed at which the computer operates

512 MB SDRAM the amount of random access memory for programmes to run

60GB Hard Drive the storage capacity in which programmes and files can be saved

19" Colour Monitor the size of the monitor measured across the diagonals

16X DVD-ROM RW the device that enables CD's and DVD's to be played and copied

56X Modem connects the computer to the telephone network and Internet

4 USB Ports allow such as printers & cameras to be connected to the computer

Soundblaster Card enables good quality sound from CD's and the Internet

1.44 MB Floppy Drive a portable device for saving documents

Twin Speakers give stereo sound when using CD's or DVD

2year on site warranty the engineer visits your venue as opposed to return to base

Windows XP the latest operating system

Microsoft Works 2001 a suite of programmes for the home and small business user

Internet Access a built in programme that gives access to the Internet

In addition, I would suggest a colour inkjet printer capable of producing 9 pages per minute (ppm) mono and 7.5 ppm colour with a resolution of 2400 dots per inch (dpi). Consideration should also be given to purchasing a scanner at a later date.

The IT manager would need to consider the following matters:

i) The networking topology for shared use of information and printers

ii) The costs of cabling or the use of a wireless network

iii) The need for a central server in either a Local Area Network (LAN) or a Wide Area Network (WAN)

iv) The costs of improving communication and information sharing

v) The revised relationships that sharing engenders

vi) The capacity for future growth

vii) The speed and performance in a multi user environment

viii) Security of users and data

ix) Back up arrangements and access levels

1 Turban, McLean Wetherbe, 1999, Information Technology for Management, John Wiley & Sons Inc, ISBN 0-472-17898-5, p17

2 Curtis, 1989, Business Information Systems: Analysis, Design & Practice, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-17523-1, p29