Title: Information, Systems and Information Systems – making sense of the field
Authors: Peter Checkland and Sue Howell
John Wiley & Sons (1988)
[Reviewed by Vikram Waman Karve]
Information Technology [IT] is the buzzword of today. IT is ubiquitous; almost everyone is connected with IT in some way or the other. A few years ago, till the nineteen eighties, there were courses in Electrical, Electronics, Communications and Telecommunications Engineering and later in Computer Science and Engineering, but now there are dedicated courses in Information Technology, and almost all Engineers, and even others, irrespective of their specializations, are rushing to take up jobs in IT and IT Enabled Services. The Management guys have also joined the fray and added a “management” dimension to IT by offering MBA courses in “IT Management”.
What exactly is IT? Maybe the phrase “IT” was coined to mark the convergence of two technologies that had been traditionally separate: “Computing” and “Communications” and the confluence of several streams of development including electronics, microelectronics, computer science, telecommunications, software engineering and systems analysis.
There are a large number of books and extensive literature on the content of IT. This book is a significant treatise on the context of IT. The principal author Peter Checkland is a pioneering researcher in the field of Systems Engineering and Management and has developed breakthrough concepts like Soft Systems Methodology [SSM] and written the seminal classic “Systems Thinking, Systems Practice”. The co-author Sue Holwell has a rich and varied professional experience in systems design and implementation, information strategy and communication networks.
This book has eight chapters arranged in four parts. In the first part on “The Field of Information Systems and its Problems” the authors deliberate on the basic concepts pertaining to Information Systems [IS] and Information Technology [IT], distinguish between the “Hard” (objective positivistic scientific) and “Soft” (subjective interpretative) schools of thought in the context of Management Information Systems [MIS], and introduce the reader to the fundamentals of Soft System Methodologies [SSM].
The “meat” of the book is in Part Two whose two chapters elucidate on the application of the developed Information System Management concepts to organizations and describe the “information continuum” – the linkages between data, information and knowledge. Parts Three and Four substantiate these hypotheses with experiential examples from as early as World War II and drives home the point that the evolution and development of the science of Information Systems [IS] owes nothing to computers which did not exist in 1940, makes it clear that IS is not the same as IT, reminds us that computers are a mere means of IS, and cautions us against falling into the trap of “technological determinism” resulting from the prevalent propensity to overly focus on computer-based IT and allow technology to take charge of our actions.
The book is aptly adorned with simple illustrations which facilitate ease of understanding. As the dust jacket says, the book is a work of conceptual cleansing and presents a well-argued account of IS and IT which is both holistic and coherent. I recommend this remarkable book to IT, Engineering and Management students and professionals – reading it will certainly enhance their conceptual understanding of Information Systems and Technology.
[Book Review by Vikram Waman Karve]