The core input that computers process is ‘data’:
da·ta (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
1. Factual information, especially information organized for analysis or used to reason or make decisions.
2. Computer Science. Numerical or other information represented in a form suitable for processing by computer.
3. Values derived from scientific experiments.
4. Plural of datum (sense 1).
I think we all know by now it all comes down to providing the computer large numbers of zeros and ones to crunch. In the field of Information Systems, the bits are used to represent numbers (as counts, identifiers, dollar amounts, etc.) and letters (words and text). Other data formats are seen in some Information Systems, most commonly graphics, especially maps in GIS systems… but most information systems today primarily process numbers and text, and that is where my interest (and actual work) is focussed.
Equally important as processing data in today’s information systems is storing data: to be processed later, or to store the results of processing, or to be stored for its own inherent value and accessed as needed in support of business activities. Hence, we have the requirement of almost all Information Systems to provide a database for storage of data beyond its use in processing; or, to be able to access other databases separate from the Information System.
There has been a long and still on-going debate in the Information Systems field about the relative value of data processing ‘versus’ data storage, especially in the sub-field of Information Resource Management (IRM). This discipline addresses the drawbacks of each Information System in an organization managing all its own data, if that leads to data redundancy and systems producing conflicting information using their own data; the common vernacular for this situation is ‘stove-pipe systems’, which is as good an analogy as any for this common situation. The corollary for this on the processing side is that an organization does not want more than one system performing the same function, either.
Unfortunately, I have seen the equivalent of religious wars between groups of information systems practitioners that see either data processing as more important than data storage, or data storage as more important than data processing. The reality is that both are needed, and the principles behind IRM can be used to produce the best information systems that an organization needs.
Next time: requiring Information Systems to support Communication