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Edited by David Rooney, Greg Hearn and Abraham Ninan
Chapter 14: Exploring the Information Space: A Strategic Perspective on Information Systems
1 Max Boisot 1. Introduction We can think about information systems (IS) in two ways. First, we can think of them normatively, that is, as organizational supports. They then tend to be defined in terms of organizational tasks and draw on a functionalist perspective characteristic of the engineer. This perspective, focused on technology, the computer, and well-defined input/output relationships, systems, customers, users and so on, has been the traditional one. It is the practitioner perspective. A second, alternative approach is to take an information system as a description of the way that information flows in and around different types of system. In this second approach the body has an information system – hormonal and/or nervous – and so does a city or an economic organization (Checkland and Howell 1998). This second perspective on information systems often operates at a higher level of abstraction than the first (Clarke 2001). Here, we adopt features of the second perspective to modify certain features of the first. We look at how the information flows in and around systems affect the nature of the information processing tasks that make up the IS function within organizations and the kinds of knowledge that can be generated from these. Whether they are viewed normatively or descriptively, as has been the case with many other information-related intellectual disciplines, thinking on information systems has tended to conflate data, information and knowledge (Boisot and Canals 2004; McRae 1971). Strictly speaking, the raw material of any information system is data, that is, discernible differences...
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