The Information Systems Discipline at the University of Sydney

A Definition of the Information Systems Discipline

Information Systems is an applied discipline that studies the processes of the creation, operation, and social contexts and consequences of systems that manipulate information.The creation and operation of such systems requires the sub-processes of systems analysis, design, development and management which are bracketed at the beginning by social context and at completion by social consequences. Education in Information Systems has traditionally dealt with building competencies in systems analysis, design and management, which has in the past separated it from Computer Science, and Software Engineering in particular, which concentrate on computer programme development. However more recently it is the foregrounding of the brackets around the technical competencies, along with their expansion into new technologies, that is, social context and consequences of information systems that is a significant differentiator of the Information Systems discipline from allied disciplines of Software Engineering, Computer Science and Computer Engineering.

This definition castes a wide scope of subject areas as the concern of the Information Systems discipline and defines a difference to other disciplines which are dominated by the methods and practice of a more restricted domain and consequences.

The Information Systems Professional

The Information Systems professional has two principal roles within an organisation. They have to be able to manage the change processes that are inevitably initiated by the introduction of technology into their workplace, and they have to manage the operational aspects of business and organisational activities founded on computing and communications technology, including the development of new computer based activities. Hence an IS professional is a leading figure in both organisational change and organisational performance. From this definition it is a natural deduction that for IS professionals to work effectively they must have high competencies in understanding the emergent properties of computer and communication systems, and superior competencies as a change agent which must include interpersonal communication, intellectual rigor of thought and emotional balance. These features are all heavily represented in job advertisements for IS professionals in today's press.


The first set of competencies are achieved in an educational programme by teaching the characteristics of computer systems and having some familiarity with practical development of the principal technology of information systems, that is database management systems (DBMS) and as well, system definition, design and development. The second set of competencies comes from a teaching programme that consists of a number of layers. The first layer incorporates communication skills both written and oral, critical analysis skills, and self-assessment skills. The second layer consists of understanding formal methods of information collection and analysis, while the third layer consists of introspection and self-reflection, social awareness, emotional development and roundedness, and valuing epistemological understanding.


Just as the best leaders earn respect from the community by exercising superior ethics, sensitivity, social understanding and intellectual rigour to their work, and at the same time integrate multiple points of view into their solutions to problems, so our graduates should be inculcated into these values and aspire to apply them at the highest possible standards of human endeavour. Ultimately the aim of the academic programme is to produce leaders within the varied industries and organisations that our graduates occupy. Just as the University of Sydney expects to be Australia's leading academic institution so the Information Systems Discipline expects to produce the leading proponents of its values and skills and the leaders of the future. The challenge is to develop an educational programme that incorporates and promotes these characteristics. The definition of such a programme needs to be founded on a statement of principles and values captured in a suitable mission statement.

Mission Statement

The Information Systems Group within the University of Sydney asserts and respects the value of human worth. We are committed to the application of information technology to support and be subservient to human endeavours. We see respect for the individual to be paramount to the successful utilisation of technology for the betterment of the society and the individuals who make up our society. Specifically we seek:


To establish and enhance the value of information technology to human needs both individually and organisationally.

To create an environment of intellectual diversity, vigour and vitality.

To create an intellectual environment where undergraduate, postgraduate and career professional students feel free and confident to explore their interests and expertises so as to develop to their fullest potential of innovativeness, creativity and leadership.

To develop in students the values of intellectual vitality through diversity of knowledge and interests.

To develop students who have self analytical reflection so that they know what they know and value the principle of lifelong learning.

To develop in students an appreciation of ethics and social responsibility and valuing that each person has their own reality.


To develop a research programme that significantly contributes to understanding optimal ways of integrating Information Technology (IT) into our individual, societal and organisational ways of life.

To improve the skills and competencies of the IT industry by introducing graduates with a diversity of skills drawn from a large cross-section of the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

To contribute to the development of the IT industry through high quality education of Science, Commerce and Engineering graduates.

To contribute to the development of the IT industry through the exchange of ideas, principles and practice by consulting to the industry and involving industry representatives in research and education programmes.

To contribute to improvement in the use of IT in other disciplines that use Information Systems for their professional needs and development.

To develop an educational program committed to producing graduates with the highest fluency in Information Technology knowledge.

Educational Programme Objectives

The objectives are built around the idea of developing in students the highest level of fluency in Information Technology knowledge. This fluency consists of three forms of knowledge: contemporary skills in the use of today's computer applications; foundational and advanced concepts on the principles of information, programming, computers and networks; and, intellectual capabilities, that is, the ability to apply Information Technology in complex situations and to incorporate high-level strategic thinking to the contexts IT is used in.


It is taken as a premiss that information systems are used in some context of a business or organisation, hence the role of an educational programme has to be to place the expertise of IS in a context. IS as the majoring programme can teach the concepts and core skills while leaving the application of these skills and values to the disciplines that use information systems. As the discipline of IS exists only within the context of the application of the system, understanding the nature of systems reveals how systems are greater than the sum of their parts. A systems thinking approach to IS education emphasizes this understanding.


The core skills and concomitant concepts to be developed by an IS education programme consist of:


The intellectual capabilities to be developed in students consist of being able to:


The core values of our academic programme are: