Public Sector Management Information Systems

Richard Heeks



Information Systems for Public Sector Management Working Paper Series

Working Paper no. 5


Published by:

Institute for Development Policy and Management

University of Manchester, Precinct Centre, Manchester, M13 9GH, UK

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Table of Contents


A. Introduction

A1. Management Monitoring and Control Systems

A2. Complicating the Simple Picture

B. Features of Management Information Systems

B1. Link to Data-Gathering Systems

B2. Reports, Reports, Reports

B3. The Role of Reports

B4. Management Information System Model

B5. Benefits of MIS Computerisation

C. Examples of Management Information Systems

C1. Internal Transaction-Based MIS

C2. Public Administration and Regulation MIS

C3. Public Service Delivery MIS

D. Conclusion



Management information systems (MIS) are fundamental for public sector organisations seeking to support the work of managers. Yet they are often ignored in the rush to focus on ‘sexier’ applications. This paper aims to redress the balance by providing a detailed analysis of public sector MIS. It firstly locates MIS within the broader management monitoring and control systems that they support. Understanding the broader systems and the relationship to public sector inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes is essential to understanding MIS. The paper details the different types of reports that MIS produce, and uses this as the basis for an MIS model and a description of the decision-making benefits that computerised MIS can bring. Finally, the paper describes generic public sector MIS that address internal government transactions, public administration/regulation, and public service delivery. Real-world examples of all types are provided from the US, UK, Africa, and Asia.

A. Introduction

Management information systems can be defined as information systems that provide reports which assist the managerial monitoring and control of organisational functions, resources or other responsibilities.

MIS were first developed during the 1950s and 1960s but came into the organisational mainstream somewhat later. There was a rich literature on MIS during the 1970s, continuing into the 1980s (e.g. Davis, 1974; Davis & Olson, 1984). However, the explosion of other organisational applications of IT has led MIS – at least as defined above – to retain only a small foothold in many more recent publications. Despite their book titles, for example, Hicks (1993) devotes just one chapter to MIS, whilst Laudon & Laudon (1998) devote just a few pages. Nonetheless the fundamental importance of MIS has meant some writers continue to provide a broad and deep discussion of the topic (e.g. Zwass, 1992; Lucey, 1997).

Our discussion in this paper begins with a deeper understanding of the managerial processes that management information systems support.

A1. Management Monitoring and Control Systems

A generic model of a monitoring and control system is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Monitoring and Control System Model



This monitoring and control system consists of four main elements:

Monitoring and control therefore represents a feedback loop, in which information about a later stage is fed back into control of an earlier stage. Where all is well, the system's only function is to monitor and report. Where a problem - a shortfall between the actual and the desired situation - arises, the system's function is to assess the impact of that problem, and to decide on and then implement remedial action. Most organisational systems are intended to work on a negative feedback principle where corrective action is in the opposite direction to monitored deviations from norms. Take the case of a budget system. Where the monitoring mechanism indicated that more than budget was being spent, feedback should lead the control mechanism to correct this by starting to spend less.

Rationally, the system provides the mechanisms by which the organisation a) knows if it is achieving its objectives, and b) achieves its objectives in the face of problems. In order for this to happen, all the following must be present:

The place of management information systems in the model is indicated in Figure 1. As shown, MIS can be of two different types:

Computers are not a necessary part of this or any other management syste