A management information system, or MIS, is a computer-based system that gives managers the tools they need to organize and evaluate data for their organization. Like a manufacturing system is more than just a few pieces of machinery, a good MIS is more than just some software. An MIS is usually a collection of different software services all working together so that the data they contain can be searched and analyzed as needed.

MIS: People, Processes and Data

For an MIS to be effective, it must work for the managers who use it rather than the other way around. Before implementing an MIS, it's vital that you understand what the people need, what processes the system will use and what data it will be able to access.

Suppose, for example, a sales manager needs to review markup on the products being sold each quarter. In addition to her own sales figures, she would need an MIS that can also show her the different costs associated with each product. If the MIS can't access overhead or labor costs because it's not integrated with the accounting software, then the data she gets from the system will be inadequate, and the reports it generates will be practically useless.

Features of a Management Information System

The characteristics of MIS should always revolve around those who will be using it. A good MIS should offer the following features:

  • Flexible: An MIS should allow you to analyze and evaluate data from multiple sources as needed and in multiple ways depending on your needs.

  • Easy to use: Managers shouldn't need advanced knowledge in information systems in order to get what they need. Using the MIS should not be time intensive, and the reports it generates should not overload a manager with too much information.

  • Versatile: An MIS should be able to support different skills and knowledge.

  • Collaborative: An MIS should facilitate communication between managers and staff throughout a company. 

Components of a Management Information System

While an MIS can be a single software product, the larger an organization is, the more likely it is to be assembled using multiple products. The owner of a small company with an online retail website, for example, may be able to get the MIS features he needs from the same cloud-based customer management system he uses to track sales.

The larger and more disparate the company, however, the more likely an MIS will be composed of a variety of different software solutions, all working together. These can include:

  • Web content management.
  • Document management.
  • Records management.
  • Digital asset management.
  • Learning management system.
  • Learning content management system.

Common Limitations of MIS

Poorly implemented management information systems can cause more problems than they solve. Often, this is caused by not having enough available data or making too much data available to managers, resulting in information overload. Other common limitations include:

  • Too many MIS systems that don't work together.

  • Inability to incorporate legacy software programs into the MIS.

  • A lack of strategic direction from the organization regarding its use of technology.

  • Poor quality of data, including duplicated information, inconsistent data or data that is outdated.

  • Limited resources for purchasing, deploying and managing information systems.

  • Poor training of staff and management in using the MIS.

One of the most common causes of an inadequate MIS is failing to consult with the people who will be using it before deciding on a new system. Too often, organizations consider an MIS to be a technology solution and rely solely on the IT department to put it together. Everyone who is expected to use the system should be asked what they will need it to do and what information they require from it.