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Real World Problems in Controlling Information Systems

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One of the most important responsibilities of the management of computer using business firms is to assure the security and quality of its information services activities. Controls are needed that ensure the accuracy, integrity, and safety of the information processing activities and resources of the organization and its end users.

Here are three real world problems in controlling information system, sourced from Computer Magazines (individual source quoted below), for analysis in Professional Management of Information Systems and related engineers of the field. These examples are purely educational in purposes (Engineering Professional Practice), please do not take them otherwise.


Polymerics Corporation

After receiving a negative performance review, an employee at craft manufacturer Polymeric’s Pawtucket Rhode Island warehouse ended his Friday shift with a network-based spree of destruction. “He ripped network cards and cable out of PCs,” said Geoffrey Clarkson, the chairman of the $80 million manufacturer of Tulip-brand craft paints. “He also edited the password file to stop people from logging in and altered the inventory control, which could have caused a fair amount of chaos. We were prepared for this and were able to recover from it quickly,” said Clarkson. Just two months ago, Polymerics installed LAN Investigator Plus, a LAN software-monitory utility.

“We protect all our program files, including order-entry, accounting, and inventory control,” said Clarkson. “These (are) mega-thousands of dollars’ worth of expensive software and data on our system.” Shortly after the vandal corrupted the system from a PC in Rhode Island LAN Investigator identified the corrupted files and flashed an alert to Clarkson, who is based in the firm’s Waltham Massachusetts headquarters. “First thing Monday morning, all we had to do was look at the audit trace in Investigator. It showed what was altered and what he tried to do.” The product not only indicated the trouble, it also repaired the damage. “We restored everything by a simple instruction to Investigator,” Clarkson said. Polymerics uses Investigator for other purposes, too. “We could catch a virus, for example, and it helps us keep track of alterations to our systems,” said Clarkson.

  1. How did Polymerics protect its Local Area Network of PCs from the effects of this computer crime?
  2. What capabilities does LAN Investigator Plus have to control computer misuse and malfunction?

(Source: Bob Evan “Software Security System Thwarts Attack on Data”, PC Week April 10, 1989, pp 37-38)

Strategic Anticompetitive Systems

Strategic Information Systems can run into antitrust problems if they provide too much of a competitive advantage. That point was driven home by two recent antitrust actions involving computerized networks run companies that have achieved market dominance. Recent antitrust lawsuits have involved American Airlines, which has the largest online reservation system in the United States, and MasterCard International Inc. and Visa International Inc., which together control 90 percent of the revolving credit industry.

Antitrust liability is one of the legal risks that corporations run when they use information as a competitive weapon, especially if the company has a dominant market share in a particular niche or region of if it controls an essential network, according to Peter Marx, a Wellesley, Massachusetts-based attorney who specializes in information law. Such companies are vulnerable to charges of conspiracy to create monopolies, unfair competition, price fixing, or illegal barriers to entry.

  1. Why do strategic information systems have the potential to violate antitrust law?
  2. When does the use of Information Systems as a competitive weapon become anticompetitive and illegal?

(Source: Milch Bens, “Strategic Systems Pitfalls in Stomping Competitors”, Computer World, August 7, 1989, pp 1-14)

IBM Corporation

We’ve done plenty of IBM bashing in the pages of PC Week over the years but sometimes the company does something that’s so right we can’t resist giving it a pat on the back. The latest “something so right” corners in the form of SpeechViewer, a PS/2-based product designed to help speech-impaired people improve their speech. As the person speaks into a microphone, the system presents such things as pitch, loudness, and vowel accuracy as pictures on the screen. A child learning to control how loudly he or she speaks would, for example, see a clown opening its mouth wider as he or she spoke louder.

It’s easy, popular, and sometimes true to see IBM as the lumbering behemoth of the computer industry. According to this view, IBM is either a bully trying to bend competitors and customers to its will or a pitiful giant too muscle-bound to keep up with the market. But there’s another reality, and SpeechViewer is a good example of it. It sometimes takes a company the size of IBM to develop a product like this. According to IBM, it took 10 years of working with speech pathologists to develop SpeechViewer. We’re doubtful it will ever turn much, if any, of a profit. But how many “cloners” would have had the time and money to invest in it?

This product is the second in IBM’s Independence Series. The first is the ScreenReader, which lets visually impaired persons hear text just as sighted person would see it on the screen. IBM even runs a National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities in Atlanta, which can be reached at (800)-IBM-2133.

We’re lucky to be part of the PC industry. It’s one of the most fast-moving, fascinating, and important pieces of the entire economy. But because of that, it’s all too easy to get caught up in either outracing your competition or outdazzling yourself with technology. Hats off to IBM for reminding us that there’s another side to technology: the good it can do for our fellow human beings.

  1. Do you agree with the points made in this article about IBM’s actions and the computer industry?
  2. What other examples of the good that information system technology can do you see or experience?

(Source: “Cheers to IBM for Uncovering Technology’s Human Side”, PC Week, January 16, 1989, pp 60)

Note: If you are the author or copyright holder of above three examples and think that we should not publish these articles on our site for entirely educational purposes, please give us a buzz on the contact sheet. We would be happy to remove them for you.)

 

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