The Changing Environment in Management Information Systems: New Roles for Computer Professionals and Users

By Gauch, Ronald R. | Public Personnel Management, Fall 1992 | Go to article overview

The Changing Environment in Management Information Systems: New Roles for Computer Professionals and Users


Gauch, Ronald R., Public Personnel Management


Advances in information technology and perceived dissatisfaction with MIS performance is leading users to take over their own systems development work. This does not mean an end to the MIS department, but a staff rather than line responsibility will be required as users become the dominant developer of information systems. For a successful transition, HRD will be expected to operate as a change agent helping both groups adjust to their new roles.

The introduction of microcomputers(1) into the workplace during the 1980's ushered in a new era which is having a profound effect on organizations. More specifically, users(2) are taking greater control for systems development in their organization (Dearden, 1987). This change requires 1) user departments to prepare for new responsibilities and 2) the Management Information Systems (MIS) department to adapt to a new role and purpose within the organization. Furthermore, the Human Resource Department (HRD) needs to help manage the conversion from an MIS dominated to a user controlled environment.

This article identifies the causes that are precipitating a change in information systems responsibilities and describes necessary modifications in roles, for user departments and the centralized MIS department, as a consequence of the change. Recommendations on how to prepare for the transformation that is coming are also provided.

Technological Factors

The early dominance of the centralized MIS department (CMIS)(3) was a result of the high cost of the technology (Dearden, 1987). Expensive computers, and the need to have a CMIS employee program the computer, centralized computing in one department where the mainframe was the centerpiece of the operation. In the 1970s the development of smaller computer systems (e.g. minicomputers) made it possible for user departments, which had specialized functions such as research or development, to acquire some of their own computer equipment. In fact mid sized and small computers are often referred to as departmental computers to signify their use by user departments rather than CMIS. Nonetheless, in terms of the total volume of computing being conducted, CMIS easily remained the major information systems organization during the 1970s.

The introduction of inexpensive PC's in the 1980's significantly changed the preceding arrangement (Forcht, Kulonda and Moates, 1987). Now able to obtain computers at a reasonable cost, employees in non-MIS departments learned to use the less complex software programs developed for the PC and began to take on the work previously reserved for CMIS. As users took on an ever increasing amount of computing work, predictions were made that it would not be long before users would be doing most of their own systems development work (Beaver, 1987). As the decade closed, reports began to appear to support that forecast (Forcht, Kulonda and Moates, 1987; Swanson and Beath, 1989).

One of the obvious changes that end user independence precipitates is a decentralization of the information system function. The role of CMIS within the organization begins to change as decentralization expands, and faced with a situation where they are less likely to control the information systems environment, a coordination role for CMIS becomes a viable alternative.

In addition to the affordable price of hardware, which places computers within the reach of many user departments, the efficiency of PC's relative to mainframes is an important consideration for a cost conscience government. A popular measure of computer performance is MIPS (million on instructions per second) and the cost per MIPS is measurably less with PC's compared to mainframes. This economic consideration also favors an acceleration in user departments justifying their own hardware.

However, it is not just new hardware (e.g. PC's and local area networks) that encourage users to take greater control over their information processing. …

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