More and more we are one with technology, it is inevitable, it is practically in every aspect of our daily lives, in the morning when consulting the day's activities through a smartphone, when buying airline tickets online, when making electronic transfers through online banking, sending emails, listening to streaming songs or sharing photographs on social networks, for all of the above we use software that makes it possible to send and receive information from different electronic devices at any time of the day.
These programs are called information systems and their main characteristic is to allow the user to add, modify and receive information; as well as to navigate between them in a fast, easy, comfortable, and increasingly secure way.
Beyond the debate about the dangers and benefits of technology, it is quite clear that you cannot escape from it, and in some cases, you do not want to escape; in many ways, it allows you to solve countless problems in a much more comfortable way than if they were done traditionally, the examples are endless, just imagine a common day without access to computers, smartphones, and services such as cloud storage, social networks, internet banking or email, you could probably still perform daily tasks; however, how long would it take to do them, Of course, at this point, it is almost impossible for this to happen, but it would be an interesting exercise in imagination.
What are information systems?
They can be defined as the set of tools that process data to generate information that supports or sustains decision-making within an organization or an individual. All information systems have three basic phases of operation:
- Information entry. Also called information capture, it is the process utilizing which the necessary data are entered to work, ranging from writing a username and password (login) to providing more complete information such as:
- Basic information about a person;
- Event information;
- Weather history in a city;
- Statistics about an event;
- Information as text;
- Digital files.
2. Information processing. This is the phase where the information system takes the data entered in the first phase and using mathematical calculations that can be simple or complex, generates new information that can replace the previous one or be kept as an aggregate. It is increasingly common for an information system to make use of artificial intelligence to perform this processing.
3. Information output. Commonly known as reports, it is the process of making known the information generated as a result of the mathematical calculations performed in the processing, either through printed or digital media, where people can see in detail or in general the information in plain text form or through graphs or other means that allow to better represent the information.
One of the clearest examples of this operation is Facebook since in the information entry phase and through forms, it requests from each user certain personal information categorized in general, employment and training, places of residence, family and relationships, etc. In addition to this source of information (which results from the user himself), Facebook obtains data related to our actions inside and outside the platform, such as who we add as friends, which pages we visit, which videos we watch, and who we tag.
The processing of all this collected information allows Facebook to establish profiles for each of us, it allows Facebook to know us even better than we know ourselves, the question is why Facebook would do this, the answer is simple, commercial purposes. This does not necessarily imply the sale of our information to other companies, rather, it is the use of this information to profile our buying habits, to segment us into groups with common characteristics that may be susceptible to sending targeted advertising.
The information output corresponds to the generation of a view (a set of publications, videos, images, and advertising) very particular to each user with the information that Facebook assumes is of our interest.
Categories of information systems
All information systems operate using the above phases, but if we were to categorize them we could do so based on the targeted area of implementation, for example:
- Commercial systems. Better known as point of sales, this type of system is used by economic establishments to keep track of sales and business expenses, facilitates accounting, and allows managers to find weak points that need to be addressed.
- Enterprise systems. Also called ERP or management systems, they are systems that focus on the administration of the production and distribution of goods generated by a company, and also allow to keep track of sales, invoicing, shipments, and many other concepts related to production. As a result of the information processing, the information issued allows top management to make decisions that can positively affect a company.
- Geographic information systems. These systems model large amounts of information that enable decision-making in fields such as environmental impact, urban planning, or cartography.
- Banking systems. These systems allow the use of monetary transactions quickly between multiple customers regardless of the physical location where they are located or even regardless of the bank of which they are customers.
- Communication systems. Here we can group all the systems that allow us to send and receive information from our friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even people we do not even know physically. A clear example of this type of system is social networks, instant messaging, or e-mail.
- Content Management Systems. The so-called CMS allows us to create and manage content quickly and to some extent easily, that is, it is not necessary to be a web programmer to create a complete structure for a site. As an example, a CMS called Sharepoint hosts the institutional portal and its entire structure of web pages.
- Learning Management Systems. LMS is very similar to CMS, the difference is that they allow creating of educational content and keeping track of a student, using activities ranging from publishing news or events to discussion forums and evaluations that allow automatic grading of the student.
- Streaming systems. YouTube, Spotify, or Netflix are mainly a source of entertainment, they provide a continuous information flow (stream) to the customer and allow them to watch or listen to content from the network.
Information systems and ubiquitous computing
The concept of ubiquitous computing, attributed to Mark Weiser, proposes that computers, as we know them, should be replaced by invisible computers embedded in everyday objects. It proposes the incorporation of computing into the objects around us, such as watches, refrigerators, clothing, glasses, or automobiles, which process information and connect.
Given the continuous progress that has been made to achieve this end, it is necessary to develop information systems that can be used by multiple devices with very different technical characteristics. As an example of this we can mention autonomous vehicles, which are equipped with the necessary technology to run in real-time an information system that can be used by multiple devices with very different technical characteristics:
- Collect input data through sensors and cameras, such as the number of lanes on the road you are driving on, obstacles or items on the road, including other vehicles, and the speed at which they are traveling.
- Process the information you enter using mathematical calculations.
- Send reports to the driver on the real-time driving situation of the vehicle or make decisions on your own.
Although these vehicles are already commercialized and authorized to circulate on the streets, they are still susceptible to failures due to the large number of components that are synchronized to achieve the desired objective.
Another popular example of this type of information system is virtual assistants, such as Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), and Alexa (Amazon), which allow the gathering of information through voice commands that are processed into precise instructions, as a result sending specific information to the user through a cell phone or manipulating electronic components to perform set functions, for example, turning on the lights in a house.
Structure of an information system
In general, an information system is composed of:
- A user interface, called presentation layer, view, or Front End, is the layer that interacts with the user, i.e., where are displayed forms where information is added or modified, navigation menus, views where information is displayed, and reports.
- Business or Back End layer. In this layer, the logic that corresponds to the process to be carried out is performed, that is, the mathematical calculations that process the information and generate a result.
- The database, also known as the persistence layer, is where the data necessary to perform the transactions is located and the result of the processing is stored.
People and companies in charge of developing information systems are constantly concerned about using new methods and technologies that allow them to better protect themselves against attacks or failures of communication services that prevent them from "staying online". It is clear that a system with fragile security or one that works from time to time is not profitable, that is why there are more and more elements that help the security of the systems, for example:
- The use of tokens for banking systems;
- Fingerprint readers in electronic devices or biometric data in general;
- Notifications via cell phone text message or email.
Let's say that the technical side does its job, making systems more secure and more robust, but there is another component that can be the most dangerous of all, the user himself. Have you ever thought about our technological habits? How many times do I log out correctly? How many times have I changed my Facebook password since I opened my account? Do I use the same password for all my services? These and other bad habits make it easy for others to access sensitive information and perform actions on our behalf without consent, and in the face of this, the technical side is powerless to help, although ways have also been devised to solve these problems.
Institutional information systems
At the Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, several information systems are used daily by academics, administrative staff, and students. The most basic is the institutional e-mail, but there are other systems such as the school control system in some faculties and schools; the institutional portal and the student portal; the Didac-TIC platform for the administration of virtual and collaborative spaces, or the teacher evaluation system, and many others that are used locally in departments, schools, and faculties that support the daily activities of each department of the University.
Our daily rhythm of life is increasingly supported, based, and even influenced by technology, because not only our environment has changed with the incorporation of technological tools, but in many cases also the work and academic aspects have benefited from it. Technology and therefore information systems allow us to some extent to solve common, everyday problems, from using a microwave or a television screen to listening to music on Spotify or watching a video on YouTube, or connecting to a videoconference on Zoom. None of these tools could work if someone had not landed an innovative idea through an information system.
By José de Jesús Rodríguez Sánchez, Source: UASLP
He holds a master's degree in Learning Management in Virtual Environments from the University of Guadalajara. He currently works as a professor at the Faculty of Sciences and is a coordinator of Educational Technology at the Academic Secretariat of the UASLP, where he is developing the project "Distance Education Model at the UASLP".