IT professional must become the ‘Renaissance Person’ of the 21st century workplace: a brief essay describing how each of the 16 reference disciplines provides support for and inform IS/IT practice
Once upon a time, Informational Science and Informational Technology were thought of as enclosed, rarified disciplines. These disciplines were thought to be the provenance only of the technically astute. Thus, IS and IT personnel were usually relegated to their own, specific areas of most organizational hierarchies. Specialists in IS/IT practice were sometimes known as mere ‘techie geeks,’ with necessary and specific skills, but ones with little application outside the field. Thus was partly because the educations of IS/IT personnel, fairly or unfairly, were assumed to consist of matters specific only to the discipline of technology, rather than comprising any aspect of the humanities, social and natural sciences, or even the more theoretical aspects of technology such as Artificial Intelligence.
However, the greater ubiquity of technology in business and academic organizations means that the educations of IS/IT staff and thus IS/IT practice must be more holistic. Technical development staff must be informed of the needs and paradigms present in other areas of study, in the social and natural sciences and humanities. Moreover, technology is always human-generated. Systems design can thus can benefit from the input of other disciplines as to how humans think. “We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation,” through innovation.” (Schon, cited in Smith, 2001-1973: 28) When discussing organizational theories of learning, the management guru Schon might also have been referring to the currently evolving professions in Informational Systems and Informational Technologies — as the needs of organizations evolve in their technical requirements, so must the professions that serve organizations.
For instance, in the behavioral sciences, individual and organizational psychology can give insight to technical staff as to how human beings function in a business context, and how this might affect the employee use of evolving computer systems. These studies of the human mind can help answer questions as to how individuals may learn a new application system and the relation of the individual to the rest of the other workers in the group who use the system. Sociology might help inform a designer how groups respond to technical innovations. Anthropology, by taking a wider focus of group behavior in a world context, could provide insight how technical innovations such as the Internet have changed the way human beings to business and relate to one another, within organizations and around the world.
Thus, psychology can be just as necessary for a professional IT/IS person to know as the in-depth study of algorithms, data structures, and data abstraction in creating a program, as a knowledge of binary trees and recursive data structures and dynamically allocated structures is of a system do not substitute for a knowledge of organizational hierarchies and personal structures of cognition. However, this is not to discount quantitative knowledge and study of human behavior. While humans make decisions because of individual variance, it is still possible to make mathematical calculations about behavior by assigning probabilities to various factors and assigning numerical consequences to the outcome are equally important. For instance, on a basic human level, “customer Relationships are a key aspect of retaining existing customers and winning new ones. The management of the sales process has and always will be a key success factor. Customer relationships and the need to develop them existed before computer systems.” (Thacker, 2000) But consumer or employee behavior, although it may subjective or even irrational in its basis, can be measured and studied, and deployed to increase sales figures, for example.
Decisions and information theory often attempts to give additional aid to bridge this occasional gap between deciding to rely upon qualitative descriptions of human behavior, and mathematical conclusions about human behavior. Information theory is often described as communication theory combined with mathematical theory, outlining the engineering requirements of communication systems and the limitations of such systems. In other words, human language and computer languages only have words that operate in a context. It is entirely possible when designing a program for a string of nonsense words and a meaningful sentence to be equivalent with respect to information content. In…