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Web-based Information systems


Section1 - Web-based Information Systems - Types and Characteristics

"A [Web-based information system] not only disseminates information, but also proactively interacts with users and processes their business tasks to accomplish their business goals."3 According to Isakowitz et al., "there is a clear difference between a set of Web pages and a WIS. The latter supports work, and is usually tightly integrated with other non-WISs such as databases and transaction processing systems."4 Going further, Isakowitz et al. identify several types of WISs: "Intranets, to support internal work, Web-presence sites that are marketing tools designed to reach consumers outside the firm, electronic commerce systems that support consumer interactions, such as online shopping, and a blend of internal and external systems to support business-to-business communication, commonly called Extranets."5These WISs are supported by Web-based applications that can be grouped into two categories: "informational applications (dissemination/presentation) and software applications."6 Ginige and Murugesan expand the number of subdivisions to include seven categories of Web-based applications: informational, interactive, transactional, workflow, collaborative work environments, online communities/ marketplaces, and web portals.7

Even though there are similarities between traditional- and Web-based information systems, significant differences exist as well. Web-based information systems pose a variety of challenges to the developer who needs to deal with unknowns in terms of network set-ups and users, various types of data, and other issues such as content management, presentation and usability. Although Web-based information systems are platform independent in terms of information delivery, which is one of the reasons why they are so popular, web developers have to deal with very disparate networks and need to take them into consideration during the system development process. The users of a traditional information system are often employees working within a single organization or department. In contrast, analyzing the users' requirements for a WIS is far more challenging for the developers. Users "are more diverse, and are sometimes even unknown before the system development."8 Because of the global reach of WISs, users are not limited to an organization or a physical space but can be located anywhere around the world, creating a host of cultural, social, and legal issues for the developer.9 The challenge resides in identifying users' requirements for the information system without having easy access to the users. Web-based information systems also deal with structured data such as data records, and non-structured data such as video or audio files. The choice between structured and non-structured data must be decided upon after a thorough analysis of the types of networks that will be encountered, which, in turn, is related to the types of users most likely to utilize the system. Another characteristic of Web-based information systems is the relationship between content, users, and presentation. Contrary to traditional information systems development, presentation and graphic design are significantly more important in the success of a WIS; Content alone is not sufficient. The way in which the information is presented plays an important role in the success of a Web-based information system. Therefore, "the development of a Web application is a multifaceted activity, involving not only technical questions, but also organizational, managerial, and even social and artistic issues."10

Faced with such complex systems, a systematic approach to web-based information systems is necessary in order "to divide a complex development into manageable phases, allocate necessary resources to each phase, and to measure the progress of the application."11 In the next section, I will discuss the development life cycle of a Web-based information system, and introduce some methodologies used in the development process.

introduction | section 2