Better MIS, Better Decisions. Right? Wrong!

This traffic light symbolizes the Management Control System, including the MIS.

I had a very honorable request from a client: To help to design and implement the best MIS ever! Now I am not a Business Intelligence professional, but I do know something about improving decision making processes.

Better Decisions

In order to improve decision making we need a good control system, and a good process to improve the control system. That guarantees us 3 things:

  1. We make good decisions.
  2. We check the outcome of our decisions.
  3. We improve our decision system, so keep making better decisions over time.

To make a decision we need information. That is true. But we must not forget that we have managers to make decisions for us on incomplete information, and in complex situations. If we did have a very good model for these situations , and we did have reasonable information, we could automate the decision making, and do not need managers at all.

MIS requirements should not be designed as:

  1. Store all info.
  2. Ask any question.
  3. Get real-time on-line answers.

This leads to overspent projects, and little benefits for the decision making process.

An MIS is Part of the Management Control System

An MIS is a sub-system of the control system. It supports decision making, but it cannot make decisions, how good it ever is, or becomes. Being a sub-system, the MIS requirements depend on the control system. So you cannot design or implement an MIS, if you do not have requirements for your control system. Therefore, you should have your control system requirements implemented and tested 1st.

So the important steps to take, are:

  1. Understand the decisions to be supported.
  2. Analyze each decision to determine what information is required for effective decisions.

And by the way, managers should not be permitted to create and/or use an information system, when they are in capable of evaluating its performance. That violates their primary task: Making decisions with little knowledge, and under difficult and complex situations. It cannot be the case that the system manages the manager, which unfortunately happens much more than I care to think of.

Common Pitfalls of MIS Projects

Unfortunately, it usually works the other way around. One starts a project to improve information, so better decisions result 'automatically.' Prof. Dr. Russel L. Ackoff identifies in his book A Concept of Corporate Planning 5 assumptions that are usually not met when an MIS is implemented. It is still for sale on Amazon.com for a few Euro's. These reasons are:

  1. Managers critically need more relevant information.
    Untrue, because they have a greater need for reduction of irrelevant information.
  2. Managers need the information that they want.
    Only true if they have a good model of their decisions, but then the decisions can be automated or delegated.
  3. If a manager is given the information he needs, his decision making will improve.
    Only true for very simple decisions.
  4. More communication among managers leads to better performance.
    Only true in organizations whose unit objectives are non-conflicting, and compatible with those of the organization as a whole.
  5. A manager does not have to know how his information system works, only how to use it.
    Untrue, because if this is the case he will be controlled by the system, and not being in control of it.

Thus an MIS is a subsystem, part of the management control system. The other way around will not offer you many sustained advantages. A well designed management control system and a suitable MIS can help you now and make you being prepared for the future!

Hans Lodder - Decision Process Expert!

We challenge the status quo. We see more solutions than others. We create more effective forms of collaboration. This leads to better results. Always.

Want to know more, let me know how I can reach you. Send me a message, or call me at +31 6 23937263.

You know someone, who also discusses the efficiency of the status quo. Why don't you send her or him this blog? It will be appreciated!

Hans Lodder
Decision Process Expert

Spectacular success is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.


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