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Abstract

Audience comments about a debate at ICIS200 [Alter et al., 2001] related to e-business and the fundamental concepts of information systems noted that the debate was undercut by the lack of agreement about what are the fundamental concepts. As a follow-on to that debate, this article proposes a set of fundamental concepts for information systems. While there is no bullet-proof way to prove that a particular set of concepts captures what is truly fundamental within a diverse and rapidly evolving field, the attempt to identify these concepts challenges the reader to ask "If this isn't the way to identify fundamental concepts, what is the way to do that? If these aren't the fundamental concepts, what is a better set of fundamental concepts and why?" This article's overarching theme is that the fundamental concepts of information systems are mostly fundamental concepts of work systems in general. The article defines "fundamental concept" and discusses various considerations for identifying them. It then proposes a set of fundamental concepts organized in several layers. The first layer concentrates on the elements needed to summarize a work system. The second layer adds concepts that constitute a general vocabulary for describing, understanding, and evaluating work systems. Each concept in the second layer is related to a specific concept in the first layer. Since an information system is a special case of a work system, every fundamental concept of work systems should at least apply to information systems and might be a fundamental concept of information systems. Similarly for work system projects and information system projects, both of which are also special cases of work systems. The article argues that the fundamental concepts of work systems should be viewed as fundamental concepts for all three special cases and then concludes with a number of questions about that the reader might want to consider concerning the approach the article takes and the particular fundamental concepts that are identified.

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