Despite the vast improvements in information technology, computers (on which modern IT is based) cannot as yet take over business management. However, business information systems have transformed the effectiveness, power and efficiency of management.
In an earlier article on business management software, we looked at surface aspects of how modern management information systems help businesses. We saw how computers sped up and improved the quality of operations. We also mentioned the existence of broad categories of business software – office suites, functional software such as accounting and inventory, and industry software such as retail management software. In this article, we seek to look more analytically at the role of information management systems.
Decision Support, Problem Analysis and Overall Control
Business managers often need to make decisions that can affect the business’ fortunes one way or other. For example, a company with sales outlets or distributors spread over a wide geographic area might want to optimize the logistical operations of delivering merchandise to the outlets. The best solution might be affected by numerous factors such as demand patterns, availability of merchandise, distances involved and the option of using external carriers (who can find two way loads and might prove a lesser cost option over long distances) instead of own vehicles.
While it might be possible to use complex mathematical formulas by hand to compute the best solution, computers transform the whole process into a routine task of feeding certain information as input and obtaining suggestions for best solutions as output. The task can typically be done in a few minutes (instead of hours or even days) and it becomes possible to examine several alternatives before deciding upon one that seems most realistic.
Identifying problems and analyzing the factors that cause them also has been transformed by modern computer information systems. In a typical MIS environment, standard reports are generated in a routine manner comparing actual performance against original estimates. The software that generates the report can be instructed to highlight exceptions, i.e. significant variations between original estimates and actual performance. Managers will thus become aware of problem areas in the daily course of their work simply by looking at the reports they receive, without having to do detailed data collection and computations themselves.
Identifying the factors responsible for the problem can also be routinized to some extent by using such tools as variance analysis. Variance analysis is an element of standard costing system that splits deviations from estimates (or standards) into causative factors such as increase in price of materials used, excessive usage of materials, unexpected machine downtimes, etc. With such a detailed report, managers can delve deeper into the problem factor, such as why there was excessive usage of materials.
Control is also exercised through variance analysis. Budgets are prepared for all business operations by concerned managers working in a coordinated fashion. For example, estimated sales volumes will determine the levels of production; production levels will determine raw material purchases; and so on. With good information system management, it then becomes possible to generate timely reports comparing actual sales, production, raw material deliveries, etc against estimated levels.
The reports will help managers to keep a watch on things and take corrective action quickly. For example, the production manager will become aware of falling sales (or rising sales) of particular products and can prepare to make adjustments in production schedules, and purchasing and inventory managers will become quickly aware of any mounting inventories of unused materials. MIS thus enhances the quality of communication all around and can significantly improve the effectiveness of operations control.
Effective MIS Involves Humans and Computers Working together
The major aspect to note is that MIS provides only the information; it is the responsibility of concerned managers to act on the information. It is the synergy between efficient, accurate and speedy equipment and humans with commonsense, intelligence and judgment that really gives power to MIS.
As a chartered accountant with business management qualifications and decades of exposure to business in senior to top level positions, Gopinathan helps small to medium businesses with new business start-up, business performance improvement and marketing. He uses structured business modelling techniques to help with all these, and has launched a business support website to provide the help in a convenient manner irrespective of geographical distances and boundaries.