Published in TDAN.com October 2000
Management Information Systems is a field with many nuances, with many areas of interest. Well-schooled in the ways of businesses and computer systems, MIS professionals meet a demand for effective
delivery of informational power to organizations. However, the majority of institutions do not place much, if any, emphasis on the role of data management/data administration in their curricula.
Just as an architect absorbs the details and nuances of a client’s vision of a structure and translates this intelligence into reality, an MIS professional considers information and technology
options and expectations for their use within the context of the organization’s goals and objectives. The more fully MIS professionals understand how information is used in an organization,
and the more sensitive they are to the data needs of clients, the more accurate their MIS analysis and design will be. Further, the increase in the understanding of data’s role in building
and maintaining effective information systems will increase the level of usage and respect that the organization as a whole has for MIS.
Management Information Systems is a fairly new area in the academic disciplines, and as such, teaching techniques vary. Also varied are the approaches that institutions take to designing an MIS
curriculum, recruiting MIS-experienced faculty and providing pedagological and technical training for maintaining currency in the areas of MIS that are considered important to the institution.
“Management Information Systems is all that’s involved in supplying informational power to an organization,” said Daniel McFarland, Ph.D. of the College of Business Administration faculty at La
Salle University in Philadelphia, PA. “It’s the responsibility of MIS to work within an organization to select and implement information systems that support the business.” His emphasis was on
the word “information”.
Trained at Drexel University, one of the nation’s top MIS and engineering schools, McFarland broadens his definition of MIS to include the responsibility of developing applications that a business
needs to run its operation effectively. As a result, MIS students at La Salle learn that the systems they create must support the objectives of the organization, provide access to useable
information, increase profits and be technologically feasible.
“MIS is bridging the gap between computers and businesses. We consider the impact of information systems on people, the changes those systems will require in how people do their jobs, how the
users interface with others and the impact of information usage on businesses and society,” says McFarland.
Since MIS has been part of the academic scene only since the 1970s, MIS often attracts professionals leaving other fields touched by downsizing and cutbacks. It is a broad discipline that
historically has drawn on many bodies of knowledge: computer science, management policy and strategy, organizational theory and industrial psychology. These disciplines all contribute to the use of
information as central to the success of an organization, which is the rationale for the existence of MIS
Building a curriculum around data/information could be the defining focus for an institution that desires to have a unique MIS program, one that separates that university from the rest of the
crowd. With constant changes in the field, the challenge of being an MIS instructor is to maintain currency with the discipline’s literature, learning new concepts and applying them through
technology. A data/information-centric program can give MIS instructors a fulcrum around which to structure a consistent yet current curriculum.
Data (raw facts) and information (data used in appropriate context) can be the center of an MIS curriculum, giving additional credence to the practice of data management/data administration in
organizations large and small. Through the teaching of proper data management (logical data modeling, logical process modeling, metadata management, data warehousing and decision support,
etc…) the MIS discipline can offer a focus and structure to the design, analysis and delivery of robust and stable systems, and to the empowerment of their user communities.
At this point, very few MIS programs have a data management focus, more are directed to the technical side of information technology. This technical focus reduces or discounts the need to educate
and train analysts in the different sub-disciplines of MIS: data, systems, knowledge and business coordination. A lack of analysis skills in the IS professsions is considered to be a cause of the
almost 75% failure rate of applications development (report from The Gartner Group, 1998). An institution that is interested in refining their current MIS curricilum or in developing a fresh
approach should consider focusing on the analytical skills, and should design an MIS program that incorporates critical thinking, analysis and problem identification and solving, oral and written
communication and a firm understanding of the business rationale behind the use of information and technology within changing organizations.
In the final analysis, if data management is to succeed as a robust function, MIS curricula must reflect the analysis of data and information as central to the proper management of systems and
technology. As data managers, database administrators and business analysts, it is necessary for us to become knowledgable about the MIS curricula at local institutions (and your alma mater) and
request a new focus on data analysis.