On Information

Concepts in Information Management – blog by Ronald Fuller

The Legacy of the Systems Men

Dr. Thomas Haigh tells a fascinating story in The Business History Review that explains why information management is seen as a technical discipline rather than a management one: The systems men were members of the Systems and Procedures Association during the 1950s and 60s. The purpose of this association was not to promote research or continuing education, but rather to seek increased status and management authority for its members within their employing organizations. They offered an implicit bargain to corporate executives:


"You put us in charge and we’ll deliver to you more power over your firms than you’ve ever dreamed of" (p 43)


Executives for the most part were not convinced. They understood that technical expertise does not translate into management ability. By the 1970’s the Systems and Procedures Association was defunct, and the various roles of the systems men merged into corporate IT departments. But they left a stubborn cultural legacy that persists still today, the idea that managing information is a job for architects and engineers rather than business experts:


"For better or worse, to speak of something as an information system continues to imply that it should be engineered by an information specialist and built using information technology" (p 59)


"It seems unlikely that the idea of information can ever truly be separated from these roots: it is just too historically and culturally charged" (p 59)


The full article is available here, and a free version here.

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