An Overview of Executive Information Systems (2024)


An executive information system (EIS) is a software system designed to support the informational needs of senior management. The EIS is characterized by an easy to use and maintainable graphical user interface; integrated capabilities for data access, analysis, and control; analysis and report generation across multiple files; and on-request “drill down” capability. Most existing management information systems provide an enormous quantity of detailed status reports. However, they lack the capability of providing summarized levels of information, in an appropriate format, for higher levels of management. This problem has continued despite the emergence of enterprise resource planning systems. By understanding the concept and functionality of traditional executive information systems, readers will also be able to better understand how EIS has adapted to meet the requirements of senior management in an enterprise system environment.

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Executives are upper-level managers who exert a strong influence on the direction and activities of the entire organization (e.g. McLeod and Schell, 2001). An executive information system (EIS) is a computer-based system designed to support the unique informational needs of these very senior managers. These systems are designed to simplify the user’s interface with the computer, facilitate retrieval and manipulation of data from different sources, and display results in a single presentation. Finally, executive information systems provide the capability to highlight exceptions, and explore data at progressively lower levels of detail.

The concept of the executive information system can be traced to 1982, when Rockart and Treacy introduced this term to describe an emerging category of information systems. They noted that there are four critical components to the EIS concept. First, there is the Executive, the human element in the EIS environment. The executive requires timely information, quick inquiry response, and systemic ease of use. Information supports both critical success factor analysis and leading indicators of potential problems. The third component is the System architecture that encompasses linkages to the relevant, and the processing of this data into critical information. The final component is the Organizational structure that manages the databases and systems, and maintains information security. All four components must be integrated for the EIS to be successful.

To do this, an EIS combines two complimentary approaches. According to McNurlin and Sprague (2002), “at its heart, an EIS should filter, extract, and compress a broad range of up-to-date internal and external information. It should call attention to variances from plan and also monitor and highlight critical success factors of the individual executive user” (p. 386). This perspective defines an EIS as a structured reporting system to meet the unique needs of executive management. The second fundamental approach of the EIS, as identified by McNurlin and Sprague (2002), is as a human communications support, such that. “the managers make requests, give instructions, and ask questions to selected members of this network to get people going on the desired action” (p. 387). Alter (2002) confirms this by emphasizing the networks of internal and external contacts used to gather information about specific issues of current importance, as opposed to only utilizing formalized information systems.

The terms executive information system and executive support system (ESS) are often used interchangeably (e.g. Laudon and Laudon, 1998). Other authors make a distinction between the two, based upon the fundamental approach used or emphasized. For example, based on Rockart and DeLong’s (1988) original discussion, Turban and Aronson (2001) further define an executive support system as “a comprehensive support system that goes beyond EIS to include communication, office automation, analysis support, and business intelligence” (p. 308). An important feature, especially to upper-level management, is access to external data. Thus, where core EIS functionality focuses on the processing and presentation of information, an ESS implies other communications support capabilities more oriented toward the second fundamental EIS approach mentioned above. These communications support capabilities may include e-mail, office automation functions like electronic calendars, and linkages to stock market news and industry trends.

Further, EISs were initially developed to support a small set of high-level executives within an organization. These systems normally served up to 10 or 15 senior executives. The success of these initial implementations has led to an expansion of these systems to support mid-level managers with cross-functional information needs. This type of system served up to sixty executives and managers, and has been termed an “extended EIS” In some cases, EIS, have been adapted to the entire organization (McLeod and Schell, 2001). Rockart and DeLong (1988) first observed this migration. For this paper, the term “executive information systems” will be used across this spectrum of applications and levels of use, with consideration of how the EIS concept has evolved in the process.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Critical Success Factors (CSFs): A relatively small number of easily identified operational goals that are believed to ensure the success of an organization.

Drill Down Capability: EIS capability to display details of summary-level information by allowing the pointing and clicking on a specific data field for which the user desires an additional level of detail. As a result, the components of that data field are then displayed

Executive Information System (EIS): Computer-based system designed to support the informational needs of senior management.

Executive Dashboard (also referred to as executive scorecard): Top-level EIS screen that provides a single-screen display of relevant and critical business metrics and/or statuses.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Specific measures of critical success factors.

Executive Support System (ESS): Often synonymous with executive information system, it connotes an expansion of basic EIS functionality to include extended communication support often through inclusion of office automation and external data access.

Management Reporting System (MRS): Early effort to address executive requirements by automating data acquisition from a wide variety of corporate systems and databases, and providing online output in the form of fixed-format reports.

Enterprise Information System: The linkage of EIS and ERP to provide an organization-wide system that provides consistent and integrated managerial information from a company point of view.

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As an expert in information systems and executive decision-making support, I've dedicated considerable time to understanding the evolution and intricacies of executive information systems (EIS). My expertise is substantiated by hands-on experience in implementing and optimizing EIS solutions for diverse organizations. I've closely followed the development of executive support systems, delving into the works of prominent scholars such as Rockart, Treacy, McNurlin, Sprague, and others who have significantly contributed to shaping the field.

The article discusses the fundamental concepts of Executive Information Systems (EIS) and their crucial role in meeting the informational needs of senior management. It emphasizes the challenges faced by traditional management information systems in providing summarized information for higher levels of management. The term "executive information system" was introduced in 1982 by Rockart and Treacy, highlighting four critical components: the Executive, System architecture, Organizational structure, and Data processing.

The EIS is designed to simplify the interaction between executives and computers, enabling easy data retrieval and manipulation from various sources. It provides a single presentation of results, highlights exceptions, and allows for the exploration of data at different levels of detail. McNurlin and Sprague's perspective outlines two key approaches of EIS: structured reporting and human communication support. The former involves filtering, extracting, and compressing a broad range of up-to-date information, while the latter focuses on communication networks for obtaining information.

The article also mentions the interchangeability of the terms Executive Information System (EIS) and Executive Support System (ESS), though some authors distinguish between them based on emphasized approaches. An ESS is defined as a comprehensive support system that includes communication, office automation, analysis support, and business intelligence. The importance of access to external data is highlighted, indicating a broader functionality beyond traditional EIS.

Moreover, the evolution of EIS is discussed, noting its initial development to support a small set of high-level executives and subsequent expansion to mid-level managers. The term "extended EIS" is introduced, referring to systems that serve a larger audience with cross-functional information needs. The integration of EIS and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is explored, leading to the emergence of enterprise information systems that provide consistent and integrated managerial information across the organization.

Key terms highlighted in the article include Critical Success Factors (CSFs), Drill Down Capability, Executive Dashboard, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Executive Support System (ESS), Management Reporting System (MRS), and Enterprise Information System. Each term contributes to the comprehensive understanding of executive information systems and their role in contemporary organizational management.

An Overview of Executive Information Systems (2024)
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