What is an Information System?

We use them all the time, but what exactly is an “Information System”? Let’s break down the words…

A System is “a collection of components organized to meet an objective.” What kind of components? What ever components are needed to meet the objective! Traditionally, that means “people, processes, and technologies.” And, what is the objective of an Information System?

The objective of an Information System is “to transfer, process, store, and manage” information. But, what is information?

Information is data that is relevant and has meaning in a context. So, the numbers 7155551212 are not information; they are data. But, if I ask you to call Linda at 715-555-1212, those numbers become information in the context of making a telephone call.

Now, our definition of an Information System is more complete. Let’s put it all together: An Information System is a collection of people, processes, and technologies organized to transfer, process, store and manage data that is relevant and has meaning in a context.

It’s quite interesting because data are only representations of aspects of the real-world and of our ideas. There really is no physical thing that is the letter “A”. “A” is just a symbol to represent something in the real-world (perhaps the sound we make when we say the letter “A”), or an idea (what ever that “A” sound represented long ago).

An Information System (such as a computer) is just a collection of components organized to transfer, process, and store relevant and meaningful representations of the real-world and our ideas. Simple enough. But, take that collection of components and make them operate very, very fast, and now you have something that can really transform our world and our ideas.

This article was originally published as on July 24, 2008, as a Google Knol. See http://knol.google.com/k/clint-laskowski/what-is-an-information-system/3v4qe269ituzc/2.

Clint Laskowski

Hello! My name is Clint Laskowski, and I'm an Information Security Professional who helps clients identify, assess, treat, and monitor risks to information and information systems. I'm also very interested in web development and the Milwaukee-area startup scene.

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