Geographic information systems have been used by researchers since the 1960s to provide governments, industries, and policy makers with key data to inform their decision making. Since that time, geographic information system software has become key to successful management of the environment. More than an aid to mapping and monitoring areas that may be negatively impacted by development, this technology is effectively used to determine areas affected by contamination, and used in harmony with other field engineering technologies to forecast the impacts of resource planning. Geographic information system software is able to provide key data to policy makers as they make decisions that affect public health, land development, and global sustainability.

Geographic Information System Software Is Key To Tracking Environmental Data

The development of GIS technology has vastly improved the efficiency of collecting data for environmental research and resource management. One of the greatest efficiencies offered by computerized mapping technologies is in resource planning, which is no longer dependent on field engineering technicians collecting and compiling data. Geographic information system software is capable of integrating a variety of complementary research data (including wildlife and plant survey information) to provide a complete picture of impact for land development, transportation, and resource management projects. For this reason, it has become a key tool for researching factors that affect public policy and decision-making by regional governments and industry for land development and water resources.

The Link Between GIS And Protection Of Environmental Health

GIS has made management of land and water resources simpler, more efficient, and more cost-effective. Identifying hazards to human, animal, and plant life can now be done easily using GIS technologies. Testing contaminants to runoff for water purity in a specified region, for example, is but one key use of modern geographic information systems. Sites known to be hazardous, like abandoned mining areas, can be mapped and monitored using geographic information technology, and assist in determining variations in contaminant levels and effectiveness of clean up operations. Marine areas also benefit from computerized mapping technologies for managing oil spills — some of the most devastating disasters that have occurred, with enormous environmental impact, in recent decades.

How GIS Integrates With Other Data Tracking Systems To Protect The Environment

While it can’t be denied that geographic information system software is key to resource planning and management, GIS are further enhanced by their integration with other technologies. After all, cartography alone cannot show the complete picture of wildlife in an area that may be impacted by municipal planning for a new regional rapid transit system, or the creation of power lines, substations, and transformers as part of the electrical distribution system for a local utility company. The tracking of wildlife population through radio signals, for example (known as wildlife telemetry) is an important area where scientists work with GIS technicians to provide the most complete picture of overall environmental factors to relevant governments and industries.

As powerful as current GIS systems software is, the future of this technology is exciting. The potential of usefulness on the global scale, when GIS is combined with web technologies, robotics, and remote sensing imagery — to name a few — and its ability to be used to promote environmental sustainability and community development in the richest, and poorest, nations make this technology essential to worldwide sustainability efforts.

Information technology has been an important part of improving operational efficiency in the business community for many years. While the types of systems being used hundreds of years ago were very primitive, they laid the groundwork for the highly advanced computer networks that are being used today. Technology has become such an important part of improving profitability and maintaining a competitive advantage that corporate leaders have started paying very high salaries to individuals who understand the technical aspects of computer science and who possess the qualities needed to effectively manage large groups of people in an administrative environment.

In recent years, colleges and universities have developed a specialized degree path that is designed to give students the technical expertise to understand rapidly changing computer hardware and software along with the administrative insight needed to manage people effectively. This new educational track is commonly referred to as Management Information Systems (MIS) Degree. While the MIS Degree is still poorly understood by most people, it represents a very appealing career opportunity for individuals who wish to remain on the forefront of the evolution of commercial operations. Graduates of these programs have discovered that their skills are in very high demand and are capable of commanding salaries that rival traditional careers that require advanced degrees.

The reason that graduates from these programs are in such high demand is related to the fact that there are so many different types of information systems that are used to address specialized needs within individual businesses. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a general term that refers to networks of computer hardware and software that are used to improve the way information flows through a company. These systems are capable of providing feedback to individual business departments so that measures can be taken to improve productivity. They also consolidate data so that corporate executives have the information they need to make informed business decisions.

ERP systems are used in many different operational processes including production, distribution, transaction processing, resource acquisition, supply chain management, inventory control, employee management, accounting, finance, marketing, and many others. Computer networks can be designed as part of a solution for one specific area or can be designed to work with one large system that is intended to replace every aspect of a company’s operational process. Both large and small information systems can be a challenge to implement and often require the specialized knowledge and skills of technology professionals. These individuals understand the unique challenges that come with the system integration process and can ensure that networks are operational within a reasonable period of time.

An additional benefit that comes with hiring MIS Degree graduates is the ability to adequately anticipate problems that might arise as a result of integrating new computerized technology with old operational processes. A thorough integration initiative will include projections on how well the new system will communicate with established systems as well as a detailed evaluation of how employees will react to the new network. There are many other considerations that must be addressed when integrating a new information system and tech savvy administrators will need to be on hand to manage the system both during and after the integration process.

Individuals who feel that they might enjoy the unique challenges that accompany a career as a technology professional are encouraged to explore the opportunities that are available to management information system specialists. This career field is experiencing tremendous amounts of growth due to an increased need for corporate integration of computer networks and is anticipated to continue to grow for the foreseeable future. The new technology needs of both large and small businesses have created many unique and highly profitable career opportunities in both the private employment arena and in the consulting industry.

Introduction

The term “agent” has been used in AI & in cognitive science as a synonym for “intelligent systems”. Over the past few years, researchers in various fields of computer science have adopted this term as a common abstraction that subsumes several important research issues. This technology is able to capture many of our best intuitions & goals for advancing computer science & information technology.

Enterprise information systems have traditionally suffered from an impedance mismatch. Their operational environment is best understood in terms of agents, responsibilities, objectives, tasks and resources, while the information system itself is conceived as a collection of (software) modules, data structures and interfaces. This mismatch is one of the factors for the poor quality of enterprise information systems, also the frequent failure of enterprise information system development projects.

In order to capture more semantics of the dynamic aspects of information systems, such as the events & actions related to the ongoing business processes of an enterprise, it is necessary to make an ontological distinction between active & passive entities, that is, between agents & objects. In particular, the semantics of business transactions can only be captured if the specific business agents associated with the involved events & actions are explicitly represented in the information system in addition to passive business objects.

The concept of Agent-Oriented Programming (AOP) is proposed by Y. Shoham. AOP is an extension of object-oriented programming. The two main points of AOP are:

The state of an object has no generic structure; while the state of an agent has a ‘mentalistic’ structure i.e. it consists of mental components such as beliefs & commitments.

Messages in OOP are coded in an application-specific ad-hoc manner, while a message in AOP is coded as a ‘speech act’ according to a standard agent communication language that is application independent.

The intuition underlying AOP have an ever greater potential for information systems engineering than for general software engineering.

Current information system concepts & technologies are largely based on the Entity-Relationship (ER) meta-model & the Relational Database (RDB) model. Concepts & techniques from OOP are now increasingly applied in the area of information systems. In the former, everything is viewed as an object, from GUI push buttons to entire server programs.

Current information system technologies do not support the concept of an agent. The customer of an enterprise are not explicitly represented & treated as agents but rather as objects in the same way as items or bank accounts.

Agents

The agent metaphor subsumes both natural & artificial systems. A formal agent concept for the purpose of representing agents in information systems may abstract away from many of the higher-level cognitive aspects of agents. It only needs to capture those aspects that are relevant for tracking & evaluating the events and interactions of interest.
In an enterprise information system, for instance, only events and interactions associated with business processes are of interest.

There are several approaches to defining agents, only two of them being relevant for our purposes:

1. The software engineering approach emphasizes the significance of application independence high-level agent-to-agent communication as a basis for general software interoperability.

2. The mentalistic approach, based on the knowledge representation paradigm of AI, points out that the state of an agent consists of mental components such as beliefs, perceptions, memory, commitments, expectations, goals & intentions.

In an agent-oriented organizational IS, on conceptual grounds, we have to distinguish between internal agents & external agents. In the case of an agent-oriented enterprise IS, example of subagents is sales persons & examples of external agents are customers.

What is an Agent-Oriented Information System?

In an agent-oriented information system (AOIS), the concept of an agent may occur in three different, but not unrelated, ways:

1. Extended IS functionality by means of agent-based software technologies

2. The ‘agentification’ of information systems

3. The explicit representation of agents in an IS

Information Systems & Agent-Based Software Technologies
Extended IS functionality, such as adaptive user interfaces or cooperation support services, may be realized by means of agent-based software technologies. The extension of traditional information systems by a whole set of new agent-based functions for supporting interoperation, group collaboration & change management is the main concern of the cooperative information systems.

Information Systems as Agents

The ‘agentification’ of an information system by adding further state components & by implementing support of an agent communication language enables it to cooperate with other agentified information systems & to participate in automated business processes.

Intelligent agents continuously perform three functions:

1. ‘Perception of dynamic conditions in the environment’
It refers to incoming messages representing communication events (such as receiving a request for a sales quotation or an acknowledgement of a sales order) and environment events (such as receiving a payments).

2. ‘Action to affect conditions in the environment’
It refers to communication acts of the AOIS (such as acknowledging a sales order) and to physical acts (such as delivering goods or making a payment).

3. ‘Reasoning to interpret perceptions, solve problems, draw inferences, and determine actions’
It refers to things like the proper processing of incoming messages, the computational inference of correct answers to queries, and the determination of proper actions (such as locking all sales orders of a customer whose credibility is in question or issuing as alert when the fulfillment of a commitment is overdue).

An information system may be explicitly designed as an agent by:

1. treating its information items as its beliefs or knowledge

2. adding further mental components such as perceptions (in form of incoming messages), memory, & commitments.

3. providing support for agent-to-agent communication on the basis of a standard agent communication language.

In automated business-to-business communication, prices & contracts may be negotiated by agent-oriented enterprise information systems without human intervention. In this case, an IS acts as an agent of the enterprise it belongs to. For this, it needs to have information about the market it has to act in, and about its potential business partners, and it needs to fulfill its commitments from previous business transactions. That is, in addition to representing facts about objects & other agents, an agentified IS needs to maintain & process commitments.

In order to agentify an information system, its schema has to be partitioned: in addition to the tables representing the current state of affairs that form its belief, special tables are needed for representing its memory (about past events & actions) and its commitments and claims. For querying the perception state by processing incoming messages a built-in data structure (such as an event queue) has to be added. Finally, the reaction patterns representing the reactive & communicative behaviors of the information system have to be specified, by means of reaction rules. Depending on a triggering event type & possible on a mental condition (involving beliefs, memory, commitments and claims), a reaction pattern specifies an action & an associated mental effect that may lead to updates of belief, commitment & claim tables. In this way, an information system turns into a knowledge-perception-memory-commitment (KPMC) agent.

Representing Agents in Organizational Information Systems

An organization may be viewed as a complex institutional agent. It is composed of various subagents that act on behalf of it. In the perspective of an organization, its internal agents have to be distinguished from external ones. While the information items represented in certain database tables of an organizational information system typically count as the common beliefs of the internal agents, external agents do not necessarily share these beliefs.

A Use Case Specification Example

Flower Shop is a store selling and shipping different varieties of flowers. Flower Shop customers (on-site or remote) can use a catalogue describing available products to make their order. The catalogue is updated
regularly and mailed out to the shop’s customer base. Flower Shop is supplied with quality flowers by Flower Supplier. To increase market share, Flower Shop has decided to open up a retail sales front on the internet. With the new setup, a customer can order Flower Shop products in person, by phone, or through the internet. The internet system has been named FlowerAlive!

The basic objective for the new system is to allow an on-line customer to examine the different kinds of flowers in the FlowerAlive! internet catalogue, also to place orders.

The system is supposed to be available to any potential customer with internet access and a web browser. There are no registration restrictions, or identification procedures to navigate the catalogue. Even if she is not purchasing anything, an anonymous visitor is considered an on-line customer of FlowerAlive!.

Potential customers can search the on-line store by either browsing the catalogue or querying the flower database. The catalogue groups flower varieties into hierarchies so that potential customers can view and compare similar types of flowers. An on-line search engine allows customers with particular flowers in mind to search variety names and descriptions through keywords. Other internet visitors are just expected to navigate the catalogue by browsing FlowerAlive! offerings. Details about flowers include name, short description, breeder name, year introduced, cost, and sometimes pictures (when available).

When the customer decides what flower variety to buy, she can add the item to her shopping cart. At any time, the customer can decide to check out and purchase the items in the shopping cart. Once items have been checked out, the customer can complete the transaction by giving out relevant information (name, address, credit card number, bank account, delivery address and date, personal message, etc.) by phone or by internet using standard forms or encrypted secure forms.

Agent-Object Relationship Modeling

In this section we propose a new modeling paradigm: the agent-object-relationship (AOR) for modeling agent-oriented information systems. In the same way as an ER Model can be effectively transformed into a relational or object-relational database schema, an AOR model should be transformable into a corresponding database schema.

ER modeling doesn’t account for the dynamics aspects of information and knowledge processing systems. These aspects are related to notions like communication, interaction, events, activities and processes. For capturing dynamics aspects of information systems, it is necessary to distinguish between agents and passive objects.

In UML, the current object-oriented modeling standard, agents are only considered as ‘actors’ that are involved in use cases, but remain external to the system model.

Thus, ER modeling & UML support the design of object-oriented information systems realized with the help of relational & object-oriented database technology, while AOR modeling allows the high level design of agent-oriented information systems.

Conclusion

Similar to ‘object’, the term ‘agent’ denotes an abstraction that leads to more natural & more modular software concepts. It helps to capture more semantics about natural & AI systems an information system has to represent & to deal with. Although agent-oriented modeling techniques are still in their infancy, this paper is only a preliminary sketch of an evolving new paradigm. I hope that is have pointed out the most essential issues in its development.

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There are amusing and horrific stories of the trials and tribulations associated with the transfer of technology, and the implementation of new systems and architecture. There are lessons that we can learn from those who have blazed the trails before us, and those who have been burned by the blaze. Get your fingers ready to count the five fundamental considerations for implementing new technology.

What we learned from Oracle

“The original plan was to transition the existing IT infrastructure to Oracle over a period of three months. It is three years later, and we think that we are almost done with our Oracle implementation.” Does this sound familiar? if so, you have plenty of good company. Oracle is a powerful engine. It is high octane, scalable, and has flexible object oriented architecture to allow continuous growth and integration. So, what went wrong?


Quite often, in the eager anticipation to install the latest and greatest engine, the other parts of the car were forgotten or overlooked. Sure you have a powerful new engine, but your steering wheel is gone. It was replaced by a series of point and click drop down boxes to precisely instruct the car to turn at a specific angle. Do you want to make a 30 degree turn, a forty degree turn, or a 90 degree turn, right or left? Simply choose the appropriate item from the drop down menu and you will have the exact turn that you desire. Gone is that old fashioned and inaccurate steering wheel that required manual intervention and guidance to gradually adjust the turn in process, and installed is the precision turning device that is managed by your mouse. The problem is, nobody mentioned that the new steering mechanism was sold separately, and would take another six months to program. Nobody mentioned that everyone responsible for driving the car would have to learn a new steering methodology, lose the ability to make manual adjustments along the way, and need to learn to be more predictive and accurate in the selection of the accurate turn. Adjustments can be made along the way to correct a turn, with more point and click menu selections, if necessary. The extra time, design and development costs, and employee training are sold separately. You see, Oracles sells that powerful engine, not the steering wheel.

Does that sound funny or familiar? If it sounds familiar, then the humor is bitter-sweet. If it sounds ridiculous, then you have not experienced it yet. The steering wheel is only one example. Once the steering mechanism is programmed and put into place, then the other discoveries begin. That powerful engine comes with a speedometer and tachometer, so you can see your performance and the RPM of the engine. Isn’t is exciting to see that you have only partially tapped into the incredible power of this magnificent Oracle engine? Unfortunately, if you rely on other dashboard devices like signals for turns, air conditioning, or a radio, then you have to build these things yourself. After all, the engineers of the engine realize that you turn on different roads than everyone else, you have personal preferences for your climate controls, and you have personal preferences for terrestrial or Sirius satellite radio stations. Therefore, you need to build the point and click objects, menus, and radio buttons to accommodate your personal preferences, and all the possible variations thereof. Someone forgot to mention that all of these functions and amenities need to be custom designed for each driver.

Once the common dashboard and control devices are designed, developed, and implemented, then the next wave of discovery begins. The old buttons, knobs, and dials are gone. Everything has been replaced with the convenient control of a single device, your mouse. That seemed like a wonderful convenience when it was first described to you. All of the controls are at two fingers on one hand. Once you are past the pain of installing all of the other controls at additional cost, it occurs to you that it might be a little complicated to switch between steering the car, sending a command to roll up the windows, turning on the air conditioner, selecting a radio station, and signaling your turn, all at the same time with one device. All of these things require a different set of menus, so you need to choose your work stream very carefully. Otherwise, you may run into the back of a truck while trying to turn off the heater, and turn on Howard Stern. Just then, it begins to rain, and you realize that the windshield wipers have not been coded yet.

Dear Larry Ellison, please forgive me if my sense of irony has inadvertently presented what could be perceived as an unflattering commentary. It is merely intended to make a point about proper planning for transition of technology. After all, you do build a beautiful engine.

So, what should we do?

1) Be Aggressive

It is appropriate to be aggressive when implementing new technology that provides a competitive edge. The competitive edge may be related to overall system performance that empowers employees to become more productive. A competitive edge may be a utility that empowers clients and customers to become more self-sufficient, like installing the ATM machine outside the bank for customer self-sufficient convenience. The competitive advantage may integrate multiple functions, partners, or streams of data that allow for more intelligent decisions or effective business. If the implementation, integration, or transfer to new technology is going to have a substantial and measured competitive advantage, then be aggressive about the pursuit of technology.

2) Be Cautious

If the transfer of technology touches upon the core competency or revenue of your business, then be cautious about making any significant changes. This does not mean that you avoid improving technology. It merely implies that it is appropriate to be more cautious in studying the ramifications and ancillary applications which may be impacted by even a subtle change to the code. There are horror stories from companies that implemented seemingly innocuous changes to billing, and then failed to produce invoices or statements for the clients. During this period of the transfer of technology, revenue was suddenly reduced. The result created financial hardship for the billing company, and for the disgruntled customers who suddenly received several months worth of accumulated billing once the invoicing system issues were resolved. Not only was this an impact on cash flow during the interruption in billing, but it impacted the relationship with the clients as well. Be aggressive about competitive opportunities to grow your profit and performance, but be cautious when it comes to implementing changes that may impact your core business offerings, clients, or billing.

3) Be Quick

Be quick to implement minor changes, and carefully monitor the impact. When it come to performance enhancement, internal suggestions for simplifying routines, or improving the customer experience, do not delay. Design the small changes, test the changes thoroughly, and create a schedule to consistently roll out enhancements. Quite often, the little enhancements have the biggest impact to business performance.

4) Be Slow

When it comes to major changes in the architecture or systems that sustain your business, be slow in implementing change. Frequently, the core architecture and functions of the business are the most efficient and streamlined. The processes that get the most use are the ones that get the most attention, and are often the most highly evolved. Unfortunately, these are also the processes that typically are selected for the first priority when it comes to implementing a transfer in technology. On the contrary, avoid the allure of focusing on familiar ground, and preserve the primary processes until the transition has been tested on some of the more complex, and less often utilized, utilities. By focusing development on the most complex and least used functions, there is tremendous knowledge to be gained by the experience, and the least amount of impact to the business. There are too many horror stories of companies that eagerly transferred the main processes, and then spent months or years working out the bugs that could have been identified by developing a much less needed or impactful part of the process.

5) Be Safe

There is no better time to address the vast array of potential security needs than during the design, development, and implementation of new technology. What personal data to you manage, process, forward, or store? This is not limited to credit card transactions or bank account numbers for wire transfers. Somewhere in the enormous archives of data, you are probably holding precious private information on every one of your own employees. Employee records contain social security numbers, bank accounts for direct deposit, names and addresses, and possibly even reference to medical coverage. Quite often we think about the pipeline to our customers, and forget about the goldmine of private information inside our own facilities. Don’t we owe the same protection to our own employees?

Privacy data can include medical records, financial records, and personal information. Driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, or even matching email address with telephone numbers, are all potential risk to privacy. The threat is not limited to how people access the information from the outside, or the number of firewalls that you put into place. The threat is also from the inside, and what kind of information is available to employees and associates. How easy it is to look up client records and download the information to a thumb drive? How easy is it to copy the entire company database of customer information, account information, or intellectual property? What would it be worth to a disgruntled employee to take valuable client information to a competitor?

There is no better time than the present to have a security expert evaluate the potential breaches of privacy in your organization. If you have customers, credits cards, customer accounts, client information, intellectual property, financial information, medical information, or employee information stored electronically, accessible on a network, or printed in files, then it is time to consider security.

If you are in the midst of preparing for a technology transformation, design, development, integration, or implementation, then it is the perfect time to review all of the related documents with a security and privacy expert. If you are organizing all of this information, then why not take advantage of your efforts to protect your customers, your employees, and your business? Executives and management are increasingly being held responsible for ignoring or overlooking the potential security breaches in their respective organizations, both from protecting customers from external threats, and for controlling the actions of disgruntled employees. Mitigate risk to the company, and the executives of the company, by taking appropriate and reasonable precautions for expert analysis, controls, and privacy.

Words of Wisdom

“Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.”

– Putt’s Law

“For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.”

– Alice Kahn

“There is an evil tendency underlying all our technology – the tendency to do what is reasonable even when it isn’t any good.”

– Robert Pirsig

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”

– R. Buckminster Fuller

John Mehrmann is author of The Trusted Advocate: Accelerate Success with Authenticity and Integrity, the fundamental guide to achieving extraordinary sales and sustaining loyal customers. This revolutionary book applies peak management techniques and leadership skills, with common sense and practical applications to grow business, sustain loyal customers, and use personal talents for personal success.