MIS (management information systems) is the department controlling hardware and software systems used for business-critical decision-making within an enterprise.
The MIS department was originally the whole of information technology. From the 1960s to the early 1980s, practitioners and business schools referred to MIS, rather than IT. In the early days, enterprise computing's main role was to help the CEO and CFO with information systems management for a few key run-the-business tasks, such as order entry, accounting and budgeting. No enterprise applications existed; programmers painstakingly wrote code to carry out these functions, usually on a mainframe.
These systems were business-critical, meaning a business would fail if it had to go back to manual accounting. If MIS failed, the business was in danger. The CFO oversaw MIS, ensuring the developers and administrators delivered what accounting needed.
In the 1980s, with the advent of personal computers that ran spreadsheets, the scope of computing's responsibilities began to change. Personal spreadsheets took business-critical processes out of the domain of upper management; MIS needed to service a wider range of users -- deploying external, as well as internal, software programs. The name of the department changed to reflect this new set of internal customers, becoming information systems (IS). The MIS department became one, still-vital part of the overall IS department.
MIS vs. IT management
In the 1990s, the rise of the enterprise application brought about a new set of IS tasks. Companies succeeded by providing better services to the consumer than competitors, via a proper mix of enterprise applications and homegrown ones. The applications handled a wider range of functions than the original MIS department: order entry, accounting and budgeting, but also enterprise resource planning, supply chain management and sales force automation. Many of these tasks were not solely the property of the IS department -- outside vendors, outsourcers and line-of-business computing departments all claimed a share of enterprise computing.
IS became more of a strategic director of the software and underlying hardware technologies in the enterprise's architecture, and less of a controlling central entity. Again, the name changed to reflect the new role: information technology, or IT, rather than IS. Again, the original MIS department became a smaller part of the overall whole.
Today, management information systems is used broadly in various contexts. These include, but are not limited to:
- Decision support systems
- Resource and people management applications
- Project management
- Database retrieval applications.
Although the boundaries between MIS and IT management have become fuzzy over the years, typically, MIS still covers systems that are critical to the company's ability to survive, including accounting and order entry. Upper management should understand the importance of MIS in the context of enterprise revenue.
In many businesses, MIS handles legacy software and hardware, coded by programmers long since retired, who left no documentation for the systems. This is equally a role of IT management and business coordination. The enterprise upgrades or modernizes these systems only very carefully, and with high appreciation of the risks involved. Therefore, the importance of MIS, and the people who support it and know its quirks, remains high -- even if it is a little-discussed part of enterprise IT.
Management information systems careers
The management information systems job description is likely to include financial concepts and duties alongside those of IT administration. Roles and responsibilities include network and computer systems management, business systems analysis, data integration, and compliance and audit preparations, as well as soft skills such as being a communicator who can liaison with the business units that rely on MIS.
A management information systems career could entail evaluating business applications and selecting those that will help the enterprise achieve sales, marketing or related goals. In turn, the MIS department then deploys and manages these applications throughout their lifecycle.
MIS jobs may require a degree in computer science or management information systems, specifically. The candidate should be able to manage IT and software vendors, and troubleshoot and optimize the computer systems and applications. In addition, they should be able to track metrics related to how effectively the application supports business objectives. The MIS career entails extensive planning and analysis for large-scale and business-critical projects, and it may require experience or education on finance and economics.