What is an information system?

Some years ago (December 1998, according to my email archive) I participated in an online discussion on the ISWORLD mailing list, about what an information system really is. I posted this story, which I had heard told somewhere but never found a source for:

A CEO with hotel chain A found himself having to spend a night in a hotel from hotel chain B. Naturally, he was very curious as to what kind of information systems they had, and resolved to keep an open eye for competitive use of IT. As he approached the reception for first time, the woman behind it smiled at him and said "Welcome back, Sir!"

Flabbergasted, he said "But…it is 12 years since I was here last! How could you know that I have stayed here before, what kind of advanced information systems do you have that can store and find the fact that I was here 12 years ago?"

"Well, it is really very simple", she said. "When the doorman opened the door to your cab, he asked if this was your first stay with us. You answered no, and as you walked through the door, the doorman looked at me through the window and touched his nose. That told me that you should be welcomed back…."

Moral of the story: Information systems don’t have to mean information technology (at least not digital information technology)…. 

I was going to use this story in a paper I am writing, did a Desktop Google search for it – and found it not only in my email file, but also on a number of web pages (here and here, in addition to a previous story here).

It is kind of fascinating to see how these things move, but I still don’t know the real source of that story – does anyone?

(And incidentally, this story is an excellent teaching device…) 

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