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15.3: Types of Information Systems

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  • Learning Objective

    1. Discuss ways in which an IS can be designed to meet the needs of individuals at various organizational levels.

    As we saw earlier, different managers, operational units, and functional areas have different information needs. That’s why organizations often tailor information systems to meet particular needs. Caesars’s IT group, for example, developed the Player Contact System (Dunn, 2003; Dunn, 2003). to help its casino salespeople connect to top customers on a more personal basis. Working from a prioritized list of customer names displayed on a computer screen, the salesperson clicks on a name to view relevant information about the customer, such as background and preferred casino activities. There’s even a printed script that can be used to guide the conversation. Such a system isn’t very helpful, however, to middle or top-level managers, who need systems to help them carry out their oversight and planning responsibilities. To design marketing programs, for instance, marketing managers rely on summary information gleaned from a dedicated customer-relationship management system. Let’s look at some of the widely available information systems designed to support people at the operational and upper-management levels.

    Operations Support Systems

    Operations support systems are generally used by managers at lower levels of the organization—those who run day-to-day business operations and make fairly routine decisions. They may be transaction processing systems, process control systems, or design and production systems.

    Transaction Processing Systems

    Most of an organization’s daily activities are recorded and processed by its transaction processing system, which receives input data and converts them into output—information—intended for various users. Input data are called transactions—events that affect a business. A financial transaction is an economic event: it affects the firm’s assets, is reflected in its accounting statements, and is measured in monetary terms. Sales of goods to customers, purchases of inventory from suppliers, and salaries paid to employees are all financial transactions. Everything else is a nonfinancial transaction. The marketing department, for example, might add some demographic data to its customer database. The information would be processed by the firm’s transaction processing system, but it wouldn’t be a financial transaction.

    Figure 15.5 “Transaction Processing System” illustrates a transaction processing system in which the transaction is a customer’s electronic payment of a bill. As you can see, transaction processing system output can consist not only of documents sent to outside parties (in this case, notification of payment received), but also of information circulated internally (in the form of reports), as well as of information entered into the database for updating.

    Figure 15.5 Transaction Processing System


    Process Control Systems

    Process control refers to the application of technology to monitor and control physical processes. It’s useful, for example, in testing the temperature of food as it’s being prepared or gauging the moisture content of paper as it’s being manufactured. Typically, it depends on sensors to collect data periodically. The data are then analyzed by a computer programmed either to make adjustments or to signal an operator.

    Caesars uses process-control technology to keep customers happy. At any given point, some slot machines are down, whether because a machine broke or ran out of money or somebody hit the jackpot. All these contingencies require immediate attention by a service attendant. In the past, service personnel strolled around looking for machines in need of fixing. Now, however, a downed slot machine sends out an “I need attention” signal, which is instantly picked up by a monitoring and paging system called MessengerPlus and sent to a service attendant.

    Design and Production Systems

    As we saw in Chapter 11 “Operations Management in Manufacturing and Service Industries”, modern companies rely heavily on technology to design and make products. Computer-aided design (CAD) software, for instance, enables designers to test computer models digitally before moving new products into the prototype stage. Many companies link CAD systems to the manufacturing process through computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems that not only determine the steps needed to produce components but also instruct machines to do the necessary work. A CAD/CAM system can be expanded by means of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), which integrates various operations (from design through manufacturing) with functional activities ranging from order taking to final shipment. The CIM system may also control industrial robots—computer-run machines that can perform repetitive or dangerous tasks. A CIM system is a common element in a flexible manufacturing system, which makes it possible to change equipment setups by reprogramming computer-controlled machines that can be adapted to produce a variety of goods. Such flexibility is particularly valuable to makers of customized products.