The field of Information Systems has undergone quite a few metamorphoses since it surfaced nearly 60 years ago concurrent with the more widespread use of computers in business. At that time, scholars and practitioners alike were intrigued by the sometimes surprising issues emerging out of this new field.
Information Systems behaved both like infrastructures and disruptive technologies, having both the capacity to stabilise structures, as well as to outpace competitors.
The Dot-com “boom and bust” was a prime example of these unexplained behaviours that spawned the subfield of e-commerce, which itself has undergone changes in focus and content, renamed at one point to e-business, and now being rebranded yet again to digital business.
The convergence of information technology with communication media gave rise to the term Information and communication technologies which became the underlying building blocks of the Internet and the Information/Knowledge Society.
In our modern societies, it is hard to find an area of our contemporary lives that is not touched in some way by ICTs. Mobile apps help to enhance our personal experiences of everyday life anytime and anywhere from online shopping to health monitoring to orienting ourselves in GPS space to connecting via VOIP to friends in all parts of the world.
In fact, the twin occurrence of the rise of the Internet and globalisation created opportunities for not just social interaction but also for new forms of organising such as virtual organisations and offshore outsourcing.
IS can still be considered a growing disciplinary field whose boundaries are quite porous since every decade brings with it new technologies and issues that people need to face when trying to design, deploy or manage them in daily lives.
This field will cover traditional areas such as information systems development, modelling and implementation, adoption, diffusion and adaptation of information systems and innovations, management of information systems, systems integration and enterprise architectures, e-business (digital business), information systems strategy and technology and organisational change.
Increasingly, however, in keeping with the continuing interrelationship between IS/ICTs and ongoing social, political, legal and organisational changes, the field is branching into interdisciplinary areas and offering novel and exciting new subjects of study.
The “digital” aspect of this emphasises that innovation studies need to understand how the digitisation of a product, process or business model fundamentally changes the economics and strategy of how they work in practice.
Students would understand, for example, why the availability of peer to peer IT platforms like those that underpin “Uber” are able to produce new productivity routes that create novel employment models such as the “Gig” economy.
Similarly, digital transformation, another new area of interest, places the emphasis on how new technologies, like Artificial Intelligence, can change business processes and business models and thus affect the basis on which competitive advantage is attained by these companies and ultimately how timely adoption of innovations can be the basis on which some companies succeed in highly turbulent and competitive markets.
There is always a “dark side” to ICTs and their use in societies and organisations, however, and this is reflected in the growing importance of subject areas that look at the accountability of those who design, develop and deploy them.
There is growing concern that the speed of the development of ICTs and their integration into everyday life has outstripped regulatory and policy development to such an extent that business leaders may find themselves facing legal and ethical “black holes” in the future arising out of negative impacts to consumers and citizens from their routine use of digital platforms.
Issues currently facing social media networks regarding “fake news” and micro-targeting marketing are a case in point.
On a lighter note, IS students who are interested in doing more interdisciplinary topics can find an outlet in new areas such as ICTs and Development (IS and Development Studies), enterprise architecture (IS and Computer Science), digital infrastructures (IS and Computer Science) and business analytics and intelligence (IS, Business and Data Science) just to name a few.
The landscape for the IS graduate is also changing from the more traditional roles of systems development to those requiring a “bilingual” expert who understands the technological structure and inner workings of Information Systems but also their organisational and social impacts.
The term “boundary spanner” is also used to describe such people since they can take knowledge from one area and seamlessly use it or deploy it in another area. Examples of such professions include traditional ones such as business analyst, IT consultant, systems integrator, IT manager or others with words such as “digital”, “architect”, “innovation” or “analyst” in the title.
Additionally, for those who have an entrepreneurial inclination, there are a multitude of opportunities in online businesses of various types which take advantage of mobile digital infrastructure.
For the IS student, the “world is your oyster” because technology is here to stay. Its ever increasing importance and integration into our daily lives means that there are always new roles emerging that require a bilingual “interpreter” who understands both worlds.
The writer is senior lecturer in information systems, Information School, University of Sheffield, UK