Module 2 – Home
Decision Making and Information Politics
Modular Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this module, the student will be able to satisfy the following outcomes:
- Case ◦Discuss the diversity of users and the opportunities and problems created by rapid technological change.
◦Understand how the organization’s information system facilitates—or fails to facilitate—organizational decision making.
◦Recognize key political dimensions of information systems.
◦Describe processes for making appropriate choices about information technology.
- SLP ◦Describe the different roles of IT professionals and the typical organization of an IT department.
◦Describe professional resources available that provide efficient IT support to users.
- Discussion ◦Discuss the role of non-IT managers as mediators between users and IT professionals in the promotion of IT innovation.
◦Discuss the diversity of users and the opportunities and problems created by rapid technological change.
◦Define the role played by information in different kinds of decisions.
In this Module, we look at the technical aspect of information management. In Module 1, we provided a the following definition of the relationship between data, information, and knowledge:
“Data are raw and unorganized facts about the world that are collected and stored. Information is produced when data is processed and transformed so that it is organized in a meaningful fashion. Knowledge is the “set of rules” that can be used to interpret information and to take appropriate action based on that information.”
Another useful way of thinking about information systems is by analogy to another common system, automobiles and highways. In this analogy, raw data is roughly equivalent to crude oil. After raw data is stored, sorted and processed into a usable form, it becomes roughly equivalent to gasoline. “Refined data” provides the fuel that businesses run on. A computer is roughly equivalent to an automobile. Like an automobile, it is built it has hardware components – the central processing unit, RAM and secondary storage, keyboards, mice, monitors and other devices, and Ethernet cards. However, unlike an automobile (which requires a driver to turn on the engine and guide the car), a variety of software applications can be run on a computer and can process data into a wide variety of information. An information system is some combination of computer hardware and software that processes data into information. There are many different kinds of information systems – marketing information systems, financial information systems, human resource information systems, manufacturing and supply-chain management information systems, information systems to support e-business, and enterprise-wide information systems that integrate many different types of information systems. Information systems can be as simple as a spreadsheet used to keep track of a budget or as complex as a system to track battlefield information in a war zone.
This all sounds very scientific and rational. But information technology decisions are never made in a vacuum. Actually, they are deeply embedded in what we may call the “politics of information”. The idea that information is political may sound odd to those trained in engineering or technical fields, but it is one of the first lessons learned, either directly or the hard way, by anyone who becomes involved in IT management. By “politics”, we mean here the processes by which scarce resources are allocated and distributed. When we understand that information often serves in organizations as a kind of currency whose value rises and declines like any other commodity, information technology then can be seen as a kind of “money tree”, generating resources for those who feed and water it.
The political dimension to IT decision making is one of the more slippery parts of the process, in part because we’re uncomfortable in our society about explicit discussions of taboo subjects like “money” and “power” (although not at all shy about displaying them, of course). Political factors of many sorts pervade the IT process from beginning to end, and ignoring them is more or less like trying to understand voting in the US Congress without reference to campaign funding.
In this module, we’ll take a close look at the role that information plays in the management of organizations — how it serves a number of different kinds of purposes, some of which may be contradictory. We’ll look at how information systems — either technology-based or not — are established to facilitate the achievement of organizational purposes, and need to be both tailored to the general requirements of management and adapted to the political realities of the organization. And we’ll see how this often frustrates information technology staff beyond belief!
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