For those interested in information technology, the wealth of specializations within the field can be a bit confusing. Two of these specializations, Computer Information Systems (CIS) and Management Information Systems (MIS), sound similar but play different roles in the information technology field.

Computer Information Systems

CIS is a specialization that has a lot in common with the traditional study of computer science. CIS emphasizes the technical side of an organization’s information systems. CIS professionals provide expertise in the installation, maintenance and troubleshooting of computer and network infrastructure. They learn to diagnose system flaws, upgrade hardware and software, create and manipulate databases, and optimize computer security. In all cases, the CIS professional works to ensure that an organization has the networked computer infrastructure needed to support modern and effective information systems.

A comparison between CIS and MIS becomes one of emphasis. Imagine a spectrum in an IT department with technical support on one end and managerial support on the other. A CIS professional’s duties are more on the technical side. This is not to say there is no room for management within the CIS sphere; CIS professionals may indeed rise to oversee their departments. When CIS professionals do obtain management positions, their focus is usually internal – based on their particular department and the actual organization network infrastructure. A CIS professional is not as likely to be tasked with organization-level data support for managers and decision-makers.

Management Information Systems

Where CIS focuses on the technical side of the organization, MIS emphasizes the business side. An MIS professional focuses on how computer information can facilitate decision making among an organization’s managers. Rather than examining information specific to a single department, MIS professionals examine data that is organization-wide.

For example, an MIS professional might be asked how information can be used to improve the performance of an organization, or how the organization of information itself can be improved. In terms of data expertise, an MIS professional may be responsible for illustrating how sales information corresponds to overall business aims and performance, or whether or not current data systems are sufficient to support informed management policies. The tendency for an MIS professional to focus on the reliability of system information, data analysis and the degree to which information technology can be improved to better support decisions is a defining contrast between MIS and CIS.

As with CIS professionals, the focus of MIS professionals on management is a matter of degree. As a part of the information technology department, an MIS professional is still expected to understand how the technical components of a system come together to provide information to decision-makers. An MIS professional would not, however, necessarily be called on to provide technical support in the event of system failure.

The difference between CIS and MIS can be subtle at times, particularly since there is substantial overlap in the background knowledge that CIS and MIS professionals are expected to have. The decision to pursue one specialization over the other lies primarily in whether you would prefer to focus on technical issues or management-level data support. Both CIS and MIS professionals operate as part of the information technology department and typically support each other in their responsibilities. If you decide that CIS or MIS is your primary interest, formal education can provide the training and credentials necessary to help professionals advance in the field.

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