Information Systems and Systems Analysis and Design

If you are reading this book, it is likely because you are an information systems (IS) student in one of the thousands of business schools around the world. Information systems is a profession that specializes in solving problems for organizations through the application of technology (See Vignette 1.1 as an example).

Systems Analysis and Design is a course typically included in an Information Systems degree program that teaches systematic approaches for solving organizational problems through researching a problem and then designing an appropriate solution. This course is fundamentally different from other IS courses such as networking, database development, or software development, all of which teach the skills for implementing a solution that has been previously researched and designed. The key distinction between Systems Analysis and Design and other courses is that other IS courses teach you how to do something specific (e.g., a database class teaches you how to create a table according to a given schema), but this Systems Analysis and Design course teaches you how to discover and plan what needs to be done (e.g., discover which tables and fields need to be created as part of an overall solution, regardless of who does the actual work).

Systems Analysis and Design is also a course that is recommended as part of the Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Information Systems (a 97-page read if you are interested!). Professionals and academics from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Association for Information Systems (AIS) created these guidelines to identify the key capabilities that employers expect of IS graduates. Among these capabilities, the problem-solving skills taught in a Systems Analysis and Design course are the most emphasized. That makes Systems Analysis and Design one of the most important courses of your degree.

Vignette 1.1: The Technology-Challenged Firm

One organization I consulted for had over 400 employees and made more than $80 million annually. However, it continued to operate using the same procedures used when the company was made up of just a couple of people in its early days. The company managed its entire business using spreadsheets—many spreadsheets. All of its financial information was in those spreadsheets, which were updated daily with data about refunds, additional revenue, and so on. An entire room of people worked exclusively on the spreadsheets, and they would take up to a month to determine basic financial information, such as the amount of recent income.

Once the company became large, the problem it wanted to solve was how to reduce the amount of time it took to know basic financial information. As an IS professional, I recognized that a centralized database with the same data in it as their spreadsheets could produce the answers they needed in seconds. Also, a database would eliminate the need for nearly all of its spreadsheet team.

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