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Introduction to Information Technology

Objectives: -Define Information Technology -Understand the information cycle -Identify the characteristics of information -Identify why organisations are increasingly considering information as a strategic resource

Definition of Information Technology Information Technology usually referred to, as IT is the use of computer technologies in communication. It can be considered the merging point of communication technology and computer technology. To understand information technology we therefore need to look at communication and computer technology and then possibly we can find proper ground to understand IT. Communication Communication is the transfer of information from one person to another. We have introduced another word, Information. What is Information? Information is data that has been processed in a manner that is meaningful to the person who receives it. Then what is data? Data are raw facts that do not make sense on their own. It relates to facts, events, transactions, properties etc. The processing operations carried out on data to make sense out of it include: Analysing Sorting Classifying Calculating

For example, a company may carry out a survey to find out what the market thinks of its product. Such a study may be carried out using questionnaires. The questionnaires are distributed to the general public who complete them and return them to the company. The questionnaire responses are input into a system. A number of processing operations are then carried out on the data. A report summarising the findings is sent to the managing director. Some of the processing operations that were carried out n the data include: sorting, classifying etc. The response of a single customer would not give the managing director a great deal of information. However once all the questionnaires are processed and analysed the final report gives more information to the managing director on the perception of the companys products. In this example single questionnaires could be considered as data, whereas the final report was information. Information is worthless if the source data is erroneous. If the researchers filled in the questionnaires themselves then the research findings would be wrong and the managing director would make wrong decisions. The quality of information is dependent on the quality of the source data. Information is used in making decisions. For good decisions to be made correct and useful information must be provided. Qualities of Good Information For information to be useful is must possess the following qualities: 1. It should be relevant. 2. It should be complete. 3. It must be sufficiently accurate for its intended purpose. 4. It should be clear. 5. It should be communicated to the right person. 6. The recipient of the information must be confident of the information. 7. It should not be too voluminous. 8. It should be timely. 9. It should be communicated through the correct channel. 10. It should be conveyed at a cost that is less than the value of the information.

Lets look at each of these individual aspects of information. Relevancy Information must be relevant to the purpose for which it is intended. Many times when receive information that is off the point we loose a lot of time trying to locate the useful items, which eventually irritates us. Completeness Incomplete information is as bad as no information at all. No one is able to make a decision based on incomplete information. Accuracy Inaccurate information may have serious consequences; information should therefore be accurate enough for the particular purpose it is intended for. For an architect measurements must be exact to avoid wastage of material. Clarity If the recipient of information cannot understand the information received it will not be of use. Lack of clarity leads to break down in communication. Confidence Information must be obtained from reliable and trustworthy sources. No one would be comfortable making a decision based on information obtained from an unreliable source. Communication Information must be communicated to the correct recipients. Information communicated to wrong recipients may lead to loss of confidentiality. How would you feel if your bank shared your bank balance to the general public? Volume Too much information leads to confusion and wrong decision making. An enormous amount of information even if all relevant cannot be handled. Too much information is usually referred to as information overload Timing Information that is not available until after a decision is made is not useful. Information must be received early enough for a decision to be made. Who would place a bet on a football team to win a game after the game has already been played? Channel of communication Information must be communicated thorough the correct channels. This will ensure that the right people get the information, on time and in the most cost effective way. For example job announcements should be communicated through a medium that most people are likely to come across.

Cost effective The cost of communicating information must not exceed the value of the information. Otherwise the benefits to be realised are not viable. When information adheres to the above mentioned qualities it is useful in making correct decisions that may have significant benefits. Most successful businesses are what they are because they know something about their customers that their competitors do not. It is for this reason they are able to beat their competitors. This knowledge gained about their customers enables the businesses win the customers taste in selecting their product instead of that of the competitor. In todays business environment information is becoming a strategic resource similar to other physical assets. So much so that many organisations set up complete Information Systems Departments that are tasked with managing the information resource of the organisation. An information system consists of both technical component that is the machinery and equipment that store the information, it is also composed of a social part, which includes the users who feed the system with information, process it and eventually use the information in decision making.

The Information Cycle An information system consists of a series of activities, these are: Identification of data requirements (Data Planning) Data collection Data processing Information Communication Use of information

A graphical representation of an information system is shown below in the Information system model.

Data Planning

Data Collection

Data Analysis

Distribution of Information

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Feedback

Figure 1. The Information Systems Framework Model

The functions carried out in the different stages are summarised below. Data Planning This stage involves determining data requirements; this stage is used to define what data is required. It answers questions such as: What data is required? How much of it is required How often is it required? Where can it be found?

Data Collection In this stage data is collected from the various sources identified in the previous stage. Data Analysis Here data collected in the previous stage is analysed and used to produce some meaningful information. The information is prepared and presented in such a way to suit the recipient. Distribution of Information In this stage the information is passed on to the intended recipient(s) using a suitable means of communication. Guidelines that are useful to consider when distributing information are: To whom is the information going? What is a suitable quantity? What is a suitable medium? What is a suitable format? 5

Feedback This is the response passed back to the source of the information by the recipient of the information. It is an important stage in the cycle because it aids in: Correction of errors Improving performance for the future

Computers as Information Tools Computer technology has been used to automate the various stages of information communication. This has resulted in numerous advantages some of which are: 1. Speed Computers have speeded up the processes of data collection, data processing and data communication. 2. Accuracy Being a machine a computer, once set to carry out a certain task is less prone to errors than a human. Complex data processing for example calculations can be carried accurately for long periods. 3. Information storage capacity Developments in computer technology have enabled storage of large amounts of data, therefore much more information can be stored and for much longer periods. This also makes it possible to process large amounts of data. 4. Information Presentation Information presented from computer is more consistent than if it were to be presented by a human. Increased processing capabilities have also made it possible to present the information in different forms fairly easily. 5. Flexibility Having information available in a computer, it is very easy to manipulate the information for different purposes. It is much more flexible.

6. Cost effective Using a computer one can process large amounts of data in shorter periods using fewer resources. Data communication can also be made less expensive using computers, as we shall see later in Chapter 4, Data Communications and Computer Networks. However the use of computers in the information system model has also had some negative impact. These include: a) High Cost of Installation Computer technology is relatively expensive, though the price is reducing as technology improves. Anyhow an initial expense has to be borne when purchasing a computer system. b) Dislocation of workforce Use of computers has caused many people to loose their jobs. Many people who were earlier employed to process data have lost their job because the computer system is able to carry out the processing done by many people in a much shorter period of time. c) Computer Fraud The ease of changing data without leaving a trace has made the risk of fraud using computers, quite high. d) Infancy of the technology Computers are still relatively new to many. Many people still prefer to carry out their activities in the old manual systems. This lack of enthusiasm in using computers is attributed to the relatively young age of computer technology. A computer is therefore enables efficient and effective communication, in an organisational setting provides a supporting role to the business in its activities.