Characteristics of Effective Information Systems

Article Summary


A good architecture for an information system tries to balance the conflicting criteria of functionality, usability, reliability, performance, portability, and maintainability. A “perfect” architecture is a myth, and creating a “future-proof” solution even more so. Ultimately, an architect’s goal is to understand the different demands upon a system, and selecting the most important criteria to create a balanced solution.
© Oleg Verbitsky

Characteristics of Effective Information Systems
A good structure is one that is useful, robust, and beautiful. This simple 2000 year-old definition attributed to the Roman architect Vitruvius, is also true of Information Systems. Users of Information Systems will judge its effectiveness by these 3 criteria, and acheiving a balance between the 3 is the mark of a good Information System.



Fig.1: The balanced Information System

A system’s usefulness depends upon its functionality (the functions provided by the system), usability (the ease with which functionality can be used) , and maintainability (how easy it is to fix the system if things go wrong). A system’s robustness depends upon performance and reliability. When the system ceases to be effective, it must be portable and replaceable. A designer of an Information System must consider these architectural criteria to design effective Information Systems.

© Indranil Bhattacharya, Coena BV.

A system designer must be able to select the applicable criteria to solve the posed problems most effectively. is it easy to find out why things went wrong? How easy is it to change the system’s configuration? Performance: How quickly does the system serve the needs of its users? Portability: How easily can the system be moved from one environment to another? VisualSpec. such as usability and maintainability. Coena BV. + complimentary conflicting Functionality Performance Maintainability Fig. and some of their primary concerns. These criteria. . the greater the amount of functionality in a system. an open standard for software quality. For instance.3: An example of 3 conflicting architectural criteria ISO 9126.Characteristics of Effective Information Systems Criteria for user Experience Usability Aesthetics Functionality Robustness Criteria for user System Architecture Functionality Performance Reliability Maintainability Usability Portability Replaceability page  Fig.2: Top-level architectural criteria Finding an architectural fit Some architectural criteria complement each other. are as follows: Functionality: What should the system do? Usability: How easy it is to understand the system? Reliability: How consistent is the system in doing what it is supposed to do? Maintainability: How easy is to maintain the system? If things go wrong. Improving the maintainability of a system by making it easy to analyze reasons for unintended behaviour or making the system highly configurable to changing business situations work against the system’s performance. the poorer its maintainability and performance. provides 6 primary architectural criteria that system designers can use to find the best © Indranil Bhattacharya. Other architectural criteria are in direct conflict with each other. A system that is easy to understand is also one that is easy to maintain.

and Fig. In most cases. as other architectural criteria can also find their voices. maintainability. the poorer the usability. . Functionality first. VisualSpec. and to determine the sequence in which each priority will be addressed. functionality should go first. A system designer’s primary task is to determine the primary criteria for a given system. portability. but only so much of it The more the functionality a system will try to cover. and aesthetics © Indranil Bhattacharya. The inability of a designer to select the appropriate initial criteria to focus will ultimately result in higher realization costs and poor adoption.5: Too much functionality results in poor usefulness. Cheaper” A system that tries to fulfill every architectural criteria will be a failure. performance. robustness. and maximizing usability.Characteristics of Effective Information Systems Functional Coverage Interoperability Compatibility Suitability Availability Fault Tolerance Recoverability Security Safety page  Functionality Reliability Usability Understandability Customizability Operability Analyzability Modifiability Stability Testability Serviceability Configurability Maintainability Portability Performance Time Behaviour Resource Behaviour Scalability Adaptability Co-existence Installability Reusability Fig. Coena BV. Faster.4: Architectural Criteria as defined by ISO 9126 Selecting the right criteria gives real meaning to “Better. Whittling down the functionality of a system down to its bare essentials will help create an architectural balance. and performance should go last. Customerfacing systems should focus on minimizing functionality to the most necessary. Highvolume transaction processing systems that do not require human intervention should focus on reliability before any other criteria.

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