A Formal Definition of Information Systems

A Formal Definition of Information Systems

Manuel Mora (Autonomous University of Aguascalientes, Mexico), Ovsei Gelman (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico), Francisco Cervantes (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico) and Guisseppi Forgionne (University of Maryland, Baltimore County, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch245
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Abstract

Since its conceptualization in the 1960s (Adam & Fitzgerald, 2000), information systems (IS) has undertaken a hard effort to be recognized as a scientific discipline. Nowadays, indicators such as the existence of undergraduate, master, and doctoral programs; research centers focused on IS topics; specialized conferences and journals; and professional and academic associations suggest that the IS discipline is a scientific field that is independent from its root disciplines (e.g., computer science, management science, accounting, and behavioral sciences). On the other hand, during this 50-year path, the discipline of information systems can be critiqued for the multiple selfidentities perceived by the different stakeholders (e.g., IS researchers, IS practitioners, and IS users). Gelman, Mora, Forgionne, and Cervantes (2005) point out the following weaknesses IS exhibits, making it a still immature field: i. the scarce utilization of deductive and formal (e.g., logical-mathematical) research models and methods (Farhoomand, 1987, p. 55); ii. the lack of a formal and standard set of fundamental well-defined concepts used in the discipline (Banville & Landry, 1989, p. 56; Alter, 2001, p. 3; Wand & Weber; 1990, p. 1282); and iii. the excessive number of availiable micro-theories (Barkhi & Sheetz, 2001, p. 11). Additionally, the partial, disparate, and not consensual conceptualizations of what is the focus of study in IS is(Alter 2003; Benbazat & Zmud, 2003), along with the lack of integration of multiple research methodologies to cope with the complexity of the phenomena of study (Mingers, 2001), also suggest that the maturity-development process for the IS discipline still is an ongoing process. Gelman et al. (2005), based on a profound study of the term information system (Mora, Cervantes, Mejia, & Weit- zenfeld, 2002), confirmed that the fundamental concepts used in most IS research are based on few and misused core concepts from what is the Theory of Systems (Ackoff, 1960, 1971), and that the few proposals for formalization (Wand & Weber, 1990; Mentzas, 1994; Alter, 2001, 2003) are still incomplete. Furthermore, although Systems Science concepts were used in the two most comprehensive IS research frameworks reported in the IS literature (Ives, Hamilton, & Davis, 1980; Nolan & Wetherbe, 1980), a recent study also identified conceptual inconsistency and incompleteness in both frameworks from a formal systemic view (Mora, Gelman, Cano, Cervantes, & Forgionne, 2006). Hence, it can be inferred that the utilization of an informal, conflicting, and ambiguous communicational system in the IS discipline (Banville & Landry, 1989) and the lack of a comprehensive IS research framework have hindered the development of a cumulative research tradition and delayed the maturation of the field (Wand & Weber, 1990; Farhoomand, 1987). As reported in Mora et al. (2002) and extended in Gelman et al. (2005), the formalization of the core concepts used in the IS discipline becomes a relevant and mandatory, as well as urgent, research purpose. This article furthers this purpose by utilizing the core principles from the Theory of Systems and a recent IS research framework (Mora et al., 2006) to extend and update the conceptualizations reported in previous studies. Formal definitions are updated and built upon the terms system (Ackoff, 1971; Gelman & Garcia, 1989), organization, business process, and information system (Mora et al., 2002; Gelman et al., 2005). Finally, this article examines the implications for IS research and practice.
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Introduction

Since its conceptualization in the 1960s (Adam & Fitzgerald, 2000), information systems (IS) has undertaken a hard effort to be recognized as a scientific discipline. Nowadays, indicators such as the existence of undergraduate, master, and doctoral programs; research centers focused on IS topics; specialized conferences and journals; and professional and academic associations suggest that the IS discipline is a scientific field that is independent from its root disciplines (e.g., computer science, management science, accounting, and behavioral sciences).

On the other hand, during this 50-year path, the discipline of information systems can be critiqued for the multiple self-identities perceived by the different stakeholders (e.g., IS researchers, IS practitioners, and IS users). Gelman, Mora, Forgionne, and Cervantes (2005) point out the following weaknesses IS exhibits, making it a still immature field:

  • the scarce utilization of deductive and formal (e.g., logical-mathematical) research models and methods (Farhoomand, 1987, p. 55);

  • the lack of a formal and standard set of fundamental well-defined concepts used in the discipline (Banville & Landry, 1989, p. 56; Alter, 2001, p. 3; Wand & Weber; 1990, p. 1282); and

  • the excessive number of availiable micro-theories (Barkhi & Sheetz, 2001, p. 11).

Additionally, the partial, disparate, and not consensual conceptualizations of what is the focus of study in IS is(Alter 2003; Benbazat & Zmud, 2003), along with the lack of integration of multiple research methodologies to cope with the complexity of the phenomena of study (Mingers, 2001), also suggest that the maturity-development process for the IS discipline still is an ongoing process.

Gelman et al. (2005), based on a profound study of the term information system (Mora, Cervantes, Mejia, & Weitzenfeld, 2002), confirmed that the fundamental concepts used in most IS research are based on few and misused core concepts from what is the Theory of Systems (Ackoff, 1960, 1971), and that the few proposals for formalization (Wand & Weber, 1990; Mentzas, 1994; Alter, 2001, 2003) are still incomplete. Furthermore, although Systems Science concepts were used in the two most comprehensive IS research frameworks reported in the IS literature (Ives, Hamilton, & Davis, 1980; Nolan & Wetherbe, 1980), a recent study also identified conceptual inconsistency and incompleteness in both frameworks from a formal systemic view (Mora, Gelman, Cano, Cervantes, & Forgionne, 2006). Hence, it can be inferred that the utilization of an informal, conflicting, and ambiguous communicational system in the IS discipline (Banville & Landry, 1989) and the lack of a comprehensive IS research framework have hindered the development of a cumulative research tradition and delayed the maturation of the field (Wand & Weber, 1990; Farhoomand, 1987).

Key Terms in this Chapter

System (Informal Definition): A whole composed of subsystems, and at the same time included in a suprasystem in such way that some particular properties of the whole and of the subsystems are lost when they are considered analytically—for example, by separation of the parts of the whole.

Attribute (Informal Definition): A substantial feature of a whole that is perceived by an observer with the potential to produce or cause a product or effect.

Event (Informal Definition): An act performed by a whole or to the whole that is perceived by an observer directly or through its consequences on other(s) whole(s).

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