Historical and Social Aspects of ICT

Historical and Social Aspects of ICT


The advances in the modern day computer are the result of development in technologies and the need to quantify or compute. In fact, the first computers were persons or much better described; a job title - a Person who calculates or compute a set of values, hence a ‘Computer'. Electronic/mechanical “computers” were given this name because they performed work that had been assigned to persons. Therefore, in a very short span of time, mechanical and later electronic computers replaced human computers. Mainly, a job as a computer was to perform vast repetitive calculations required to compute such as navigational tables, trajectory charts, and planetary positions etc. One of the disadvantages of a job like this was that it was a very boring job. Hence, leading to carelessness, slowness, and eventually errors. Therefore, inventors have been searching for hundreds of years for a way to find a mechanism or a machine, which can perform this boring task. And it was these factors (human error, speed, lazy motivation and military motivation) that had lead to the invention of the computer. Compared to other inventions, the computer is still relatively a young invention. In fact, the world's first electronic valve computer was built in 1946. This computer was called ENIAC - Electronic Numeric Integrator and Computer. The builders of ENIAC were John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, which were commissioned for this project by the US military. ENIAC used vacuum tubes (about 1800 valves) and not mechanical devices to do its computations. Hence, the first electronic computer. It occupied a 10 by 15 meter room. It performed around 5000 additions per second and the project costed $3 million. This machine and its capabilities amazed people.

The First Information System

Since the ‘computer' is a universal tool, from its inception, it has been widely used to help different organizations in their business processes and information processing. The field of information systems has evolved together with the development of the computer over the past sixty years. It is important to understand how the research issues have evolved in the past and what are the driving force underlying the evolution.

In the UK, the Lyons Food Company was the first company to venture in the British Computer industry, when in 1947 the British Company decided to streamline their operations and records using the computer. The problem was that their where no computers available yet. Therefore, it was decided by Lyons to build its own computer. Meanwhile, a very successful computer department has been setup and a new computer system has been developed which was called LEO (Lyons Electronic Office)


Although one of the first usage of the computer was to help businesses, the concept of Information System, has begun to be formalized around the year 1960, and although it may be considered a well established concept, from my research it seems that still remains difficult to define it in an exact way. It is well understood that the term Information System is a broad one and exists a number of different definitions. However, prior going through the evolution of Information Systems, it would be wise to mention some of these definitions.

While the term Information Technology is defined as the hardware and software that an organization needs, an Information System can be technically defined as (Laudon & Laudon): “A set of interrelated components that collect or retrieve, process, store, and distribute information to support decision making and control in an organization”[i] Other academic people have defined Information Systems in many ways. Below are referenced three other popular definitions:

In addition, it is important to distinguish between data and information. Where data is a raw fact which can be in the form of a number or statement. Data can easily be read by a System so it can be processed or stored. When data has been processed, it became information, so that it can be meaningful to the persons using the system. As mentioned, information is generated through the processing of raw data. This can be achivied using different processing data procedures.

Moreover, during this study, Information Systems will be analyzed from three different perspectives:

The contribution they make.
Their structure and behavior.
The functions they perform.

Investment in Information Systems

Information Technology is the backbone of today's economy, and the availability of and access to information is a necessity and critical in business. Today, these systems are becoming an integral part of whole organizations, such that certain firms cannot exist without their information systems. Information technology/systems have transformed organizations, becoming the largest component of capital investment in the U.S. and many industrialized societies. Businesses are investing in systems in order to create value and increase profitability. Investment in information technology accounts for approximately 50 percent of all capital invested in the United States.[ii]

Capital Investment in IT

Information technology capital investment, defined as hardware, software, and communications equipment, grew from 34% to 50% between 1980 and 2004.[iii]

The structure of Human decision making

As from 1965, Herbert Alexander Simon (June 15, 1916- February 9, 2001) contributed to formalize the structure of human decision making. (Although decision making process can be viewed in various ways and several frameworks have been developed to describe the human decision making process.) Simon suggests that any decision making process canbe structured into three major phases: intelligence, design, and choice. This formalized structure, has helped in the design and development of any Decision Support System. The on the left illustrates the steps within the phases of the decision making process[iv]. It is well clear from this that the decision making process is continuous/cycle, even though the process involves discrete phases and steps. After the final choice is implemented, the decision maker should observe the new reality and, where appropriate, follow through with intelligence, design, choice, and implementation.

The Human-Computer Synergy

From various statistics, it is clearly evident that the pattern of employment in developed countries has evolved over the last two centuries. There has been a decline in employment in agriculture industry. This has brought to an increase in the workforce in the manufacturing industry, which has reached its peak in the middle of the last century. Since then, employment in the manufacturing sector is steadily decreasing which then is being taken up by the service and information sector. Many occupations are now almost related to the handling, processing, provision or transmission of information. Anyone employed in the financial, communications, transport, logistics, supply and almost any other service related is directly or indirectly involved in information transmission, generation or processing. This pattern is repeating itself in countries like China and India. Hence, this indicates that rather from the Information System is replacing the human skill it is more complementing it. Information System, to be truly effective in any organization it is important that its fulcrum would be the people themselves. As Laudon has properly defined, an Information System is made up of an “A set of interrelated components” which obviously should include people. In other words this may or should include the interactions amongst the designers, users, technologies and the organisational context.

The below diagrammatic “formula” represents an excellent result.

The following is a comparative list of qualities of humans and computer systems that contribute to the synergy. When combining these qualities the best results are achieved.


* Think

* Have common sense

* Can make decisions

* Can instruct computer what to do

* Can learn new methods and techniques

* Can accumulate expertise


* Calculate and perform programmed logical operations extremely rapidly

* Store and retrieve data and information extremely rapidly

* Perform complex logical and arithmetical functions accurately

* Execute long, boring operations

* Perform routine tasks less expensively than humans

*Are adaptable - can be programmed and reprogrammed

Hence, a proper Information System is made up and depends on five major resources: People, hardware, software, data and networks to perform input, processing, output, control and storage.

The below list is an example of what specific resources can be found in proper Information System

People Resources:

* Specialists - system analysts, software developers, system operators etc.

* End Users - anyone else how make use of the information system, from the top managerial person to an operator at the manufacturing department.

Hardware Resources:

* Machines - Personal computers, Video monitors, printers, optical devices, Storage Are Networks, bar code readers, Servers/Mainframes etc.

* Media - Floppy Disks, Digital Magnetic Tapes, Optical discs, Flash drives etc.

Software Resources:

* Programs - Operating systems for Databases, Application and Web servers, Internet browser, End user GUI.

* Procedures - Data entry procedures, error correction, monitoring, paycheck distribution.

Data Resources:

* Product descriptions, customer records, employee files, inventory databases, log files, login credentials.

Network Resources:

* Network access controllers, Routers and Switches, Cabling, Firewalls, connection to Internet.

The Origins of the Information Systems

While information technology continued to advance, information systems were getting more sophisticated and varied to accommodate various levels and needs. Moreover, during the last fifty years, designers of information systems have continuously incorporated more aspects of the human ability. This has lead to the overall success of today's information systems. The first computers began as a mathematical/scientific tool used by some scientists, but it was only after a short period of time that computer advances were being Historia de la computadora - CDC 6600pushed by economic forces. Initially, it was basic business applications that were implemented. As already mentioned, the initial factors of accuracy and speed, pushed the concept to automate business processes in organizations through information systems. Computers had became easier to use (hence a tool which is more reachable by non-expert people) as soon as punch cards and printers as a means of input/output were replaced by monochrome monitors and eventually keyboards. In addition, during the course of time, faster processors were being produced and more software languages were being designed such as FORTRAN - 1957 (FORmula TRANslator) and COBOL - 1960 (A team drawn from several computer manufacturers and the Pentagon developed COBOL, Common Business Oriented Language. Designed for business use, early COBOL efforts aimed for easy readability of computer programs and as much machine independence as possible.)[v] This has led to the successful concept of databases. Databases made it easier for the development of more efficient Information Systems. Since the computer and its systems were becoming more easier to use, more people from all levels of the organisation were being involved in the design, deployment, adaptations, maintenance, and usage of Information Systems. During the seventies, giant advances in information systems have been made.

Large enterprises, companies and government agencies/departments have invested quite a lot in systems which have led to became highly automated. Together with the invention of the integrated circuit (IC), information systems spread from super computers (such as CDC's 6600 supercomputer, designed by Seymour Cray, performed up to 3 million instructions per second) to smaller or desktop computers (such as Hewlett-Packard, HP-2115 - 1966 - Picture on the left. A general purpose computer business, designed for computation, offering a computational power formerly found only in much larger computers. It supported a wide variety of languages, among them BASIC, ALGOL, and FORTRAN.)[vi]

Various information systems have evolved to support the decision making process. There are various systems, which are intended to support a particular level in an organization. In addition, it does exists an integrated combination of these systems. However, each of the individual systems, supports particular levels and steps of the decision making process throughout the organization, but none of the individual systems supports the entire process in a complete manner.

Evolution of Information Systems

Initially, Information Systems where designed and developed to meet or accommodate only particular needs in an organisation. Hence, many systems were being individually deployed in all the functional areas of an organisation, such that individual systems were totally independent of each other and/or systems that do not communicate or share information with other systems in the same organisation. This resulted in incompatibility issues which usually led to malfunctions, speed and accuracy. Moreover, another wrong approach was the fact that, different individual businesses and organisations designed and developed their own systems themselves. This individualistic approach has led to duplicate the needed effort (most of the times; re-inventing the wheel) and the processing of management information needed manual effort.

Even challenges have changed over time for information systems. In the beginning, challenges were more of a technical nature, such as hardware issues. High hardware costs and very low CPU speeds, have led designers to use their resources more ‘efficiently', which sometimes has led to problems over the years. A typical issue was the famous ‘Millennium Bug', where it was due to the removal of two ‘unnecessary digits from the date. Since then it has moved to managerial challenges (such as managerial control, change in culture etc) and lately it has encountered a bigger challenge i.e. Influencing institutional core activities.[vii]

In the beginning, Information Systems have been implemented as an Electronic Data Processing System or Transaction Processing System, which was primarily focused onto Data, then as an Office Automation System, which was mainly focused on Communications and office matters. Furthermore, it has moved to the Management Information System area, which was based on Information, then moved to Decision Support Systems, which was intended to help in specific business problems. Further down the lane, it continue moving to Executive Information Systems, which this one was focused to support Top Management in their decision making. Then, lately, it continued evolving to Knowledge based or Expert Systems to help organisations in any type of research and development of services, products, concepts etc. Finally, it continued to evolve to Systems based on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is focused on self learning and thinking systems.

Different Kinds Information Systems

Although different systems have evolved over a span of fifty years, it does not mean that systems which were designed in the 1960's to serve a particular organizational interest, there is no more relevance in today's requirements. However, it can be said that the initial need was to develop systems which were intended to serve the operational level in an organisation. As already mentioned, as time have passed, the needs have evolved. Information Systems perform important different roles in any organisation. The above types of systems can be conceptually classified under four main types, which serve different organisational levels. These systems are: Operational-level systems, Knowledge-level systems, Management-level systems, and Strategic-level systems. The below illustrates how different kinds of systems are deployed throughout an organization. The illustrates, how the organization is divided: strategic, management, knowledge, and operational levels and then is further divided into functional areas such as sales and marketing, manufacturing, finance, accounting, and human resources. Systems are designed to serve these different organizational interests.

The below table illustrates some examples how specific systems serve their particular functional area at each organisational level within a typical organisation. A typical organisation has its Executive Information System - EIS at the strategic level. At the management level there is the Management Information System - MIS, and Decision Support System - DSS, while at the knowledge level there is two other systems, which are the Knowledge or Expert System - KS or ES, and the Office Automation System - OAS. Transaction Processing System, can be found at the operation level. Moreover, the systems at all levels in an organisation are specialized to assist every functional area.

The Impact of Information Systems

The impact of Information Systems onto organizations and also individuals is quite reciprocal. In fact, to have a proper system, there should be a smooth interaction between the System and the organization's components, i.e.: structure, business processes, politics, culture, surrounding environment and management decisions[viii]. All these factors, influence the outcome of proper Information System. For example, following the implementation of Web based systems (thanks to the Internet), financial institutions, such as banks, are now transferring their back office operations to distant locations (even other far away countries), where employees are paid much less and overall operational costs are much cheaper to run. This can be possible, when web based systems offer the possibilities to transfer large amounts of data or information throughout the globe in a secure and efficient manner. The Internet based systems are capable to lower the costs of any organization. And as stated by ‘Laudon and Laudon' whole organizations are re-designing and re-engineering their business processes so that they can make use of web based systems for the sake of fewer employees, simpler business processes and much flatter organizations than in the past.

Moreover, over the years, Information Systems together with the Internet are transforming our social lives in an exponential way. Our everyday life, without knowing is more or less dependent on Information Systems. It can be when we purchase something with the credit card, when retrieving cash from an ATM, when fill up the car with fuel through automated pumps, when using our mobile phones, when accessing government services such as health care, police records, social security etc. when travelling, when paying the bills.

All these services, nowadays are base on Information systems. Furthermore, another implication is that these systems are gathering a lot of information about us. When all this information is gathered together, it is surprisingly incredible how much can be known about us. All this knowledge can reveal our credit information, our purchasing habits, our affiliations, our physical movements, our political and religious believes, our interests and sometimes even our problems. Almost all of our private issues can be tracked down through the systems which we daily use. Yet, although all these systems facilitate our lives, are also making our lifes more hectic, reducing human to human interaction and less private.

Types of Systems

Sales And Marketing




Human Resources


Executive Information System - EIS

5 year sales trend forecasting

5 year operating plan

5 year budget forecasting

Profit Planning

Personal Planning


Management Information System - MIS

Sales Management Control


Annual Budgeting

Capital Investment analysis

Relocation analysis


Decision Support System - DSS

Sales Region analysis

Production Scheduling

Cost analysis

Pricing and Profitability analysis

Hiring Cost analysis


Knowledge or Expert System - KS or ES

Engineering workstations

Computer Aided Design

Budget trends

Payables and Receivables trends

Development of training programmes


Office Automation System - OAS

Graphics generation for Marketing campaigns

Word Processing and Document Imaging

Spread Sheet and reporting generation

Inputting of cash flow records

Electronic Calendars and other collaboration features


Transaction Processing System

Order Tracking and Order Processing

Machine Control, Plant Scheduling and Material Movement Control

Securities trading and cash management

Payroll, Accounts payable and Accounts receivable

Compensation and Remuneration. Training and Development. Employee record Keeping.


From Data-driven System to Knowledge-driven Systems

As clearly stated, Information Systems have began to be developed in the sixties to process orders, billings, inventory controls, payrolls, invoicing (mostly operational tasks) etc. were all these systems are known as Transaction Processing Systems - TPS. TPS falls under the category of Data driven Systems. Soon after and following continuous research, more complex systems where being designed and developed. Such systems, were not intended for the operational level but for further up the organisation were these system would help managers, executives etc. to take a quick and informative decision. The latter falls under the category of Knowledge driven Systems. These two types of systems forms part of a group of five categories, which were created by Daniel J. Power[ix] All the Information Systems can be fitted into one of these categories[x] which are:

Both type of systems i.e Knowledge Driven and Data Driven have evolved and improved in an exponential way by using new technolgies such as Data Warehousing. Today, in a typical organisation, systems in both categories work hand in hand. While data is being collected form a data driven system (TPS), it will undergo into a complex processing than it will be collected as neccassary by one of the knowledge driven systems (MIS, EIS) for the purpose to recommend actions to users based on predefined patterns with the help of AI.

The on the left shows how the systems serving different levels in the organization are related to one another. ESIs are primarily a recipient of data from lower-level systems. The other types of systems may exchange data with each other as well.

Trends indicate that data driven systems will use faster, real time to access larger and better integrated databases, while knowledge driven systems will likely be more sophisticated and more comprehensive. The advice from such systems will be by far more precise.[xi]


Information Systems and its research is considered to be always in evolution. As already described, it is since from its inception that is evolving and it will remain evolving throughout the years to come. However, to fulfil the evolution process, all these technologies tend to emerge, converge and diverge. Information Systems, as compared to 60 years ago is fulfilling much an important role in the organization structure.

To further fulfil this evolution mentioned in the above paragraph, Information Systems research and development, should continue to integrate and make use of any new technology which may be developed in the future. New future innovations and improved current technologies (such as very large and very fast integrated databases, Artificial Intelligence, human to computer to human interaction, software engineering, telecommunications, tablet PC's, wireless networks, faster network infrastructure, faster hardware etc.) will be of a great benefit and will continue to fuel the development of improved and innovative new systems. Furthermore, a typical breakthrough in Information Systems was the Internet. The Internet, has had a great impact on the variety, capabilities, ease of use, sophistication and accessibility of these systems.

During the last fifty years, many activities associated with research and development of Information Systems had been done by researchers in universities and organizations. Moreover, together with large investments from both the private and public sector, today's Information Systems expanded beyond the initial business and management ‘need'. Hence, during my research, it resulted that, since Information Systems is becoming a very broad descriptive title, in most of the literature related to this subject refers to these diverse systems as Decision Support Systems. After all, all of these systems have been designed to serve and support decision making - from the Strategic level down to the Operations level in any organisation. Furthermore, Information Systems or Decision Support research theories, have been formulated due to the fact that they were base of concern to people who were building and using specific Decision Support Systems. Hence, much of the broad DSS knowledge base provides generalizations and directions for building more effective DSS[xii]

In addition, during my research, I felt that it was important to refer and include the below table[xiii] which clearly illustrates in a very detailed way a timeline of major historical milestones relevant to the Decision Support Systems compiled by Daniel J. Power. A Professor of Information Systems and Management at the College of Business Administration at the University of Northern Iowa. In this table, it is included all the major works which have contributed to the evolution of the Information Systems. Major works and milestones include: Theories on the Human decision making process, development of new software languages, design of new hardware throughout the timeline, authoring of books and articles by various authors, provisioning of various models and frameworks so that systems can be based upon, creation of new systems for particular organizations (such as the implementation of a new Management Information and Decision Support (MIDS) at Lockheed-Georgia). Other milestones mentioned in this timeline include: International Conferences and creation and setup of Institutions and Associations (such as Association for Information Systems (AIS) Special Interest Group on Decision Support, Knowledge and Data Management Systems (SIG DSS))

[i] Laudon and Laudon, Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm: Pearson Education 2006

[ii] Laudon and Laudon, Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm: Pearson Education 2006

[iii] Based on data in U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Income and Product Accounts, 2006.

[iv] Anil Kumar 2000, Global Executive Information Systems: Key Issues and Trends: Garland Publishing

[v] http://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/?category=sl

[vi] http://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/?category=cmptr

[vii] Jayant K. Oke, Management Information Systems: Nirali Prakashan- 2009

[viii] Laudon and Laudon, Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm: Pearson Education 2006

[ix] Power, D. J. (2002). Decision support systems: concepts and resources for managers. Westport, Conn., Quorum Books.

[x] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decision_support_system#cite_note-Power_2002-5

[xi] Frada Burstein and Clyde W. Holsapple, Handbook on Decision Support Systems 1: Basic Themes: Springer-Verlag New York, 2008

[xii] Baskerville, R., and Myers, M., “Information Systems as a Reference Discipline”, MIS Quarterly

[xiii] Power, D.J. A Brief History of Decision Support Systems. DSSResources.COM, World Wide Web, http://DSSResources.COM/history/dsshistory.html, version 4.0, March 10, 2007

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