Next-Level Information Systems

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the quest for efficiency and clarity in the ocean of data we navigate daily has led to the development of sophisticated information systems. From the rudimentary to the revolutionary, these systems serve as the backbone of our digital society, empowering users to distill complexity into actionable insights. Embark on a journey with me through the tiers of information systems, exploring how they transform chaos into structure and ignorance into understanding.

Next Level Information Systems

Our world is vast, and filled with much that can be known. As technologists, we create tools to make it easier for people to understand and interact with their world.

Information systems are one of the kinds of things we create and use to help people to do that.

To create great information systems, we must have a clear and compelling vision for what type of system we are creating, and how it empowers its users to better understand and interact with their world.

What is an information system?

An information system is anything people use to understand their world. This can be as simple as a mantra in their mind, hand-written notes on a notebook, or as complex as a global network of databases and software.

The better an information system is, the more leverage it gives to people to understand and interact with their world.

All information systems are Reductions

Information systems take the complexity of the world and distill it into more managable bits. They are like a lens that focuses on the most important parts of the world, and blurs out the rest.

Good ones maximize the value of the information they present, and reduce the amount of work needed.

Higher-tiers of systems are more valuable, since they are more useful to more people, and require less work to use.

Here are the different tiers of information systems:

  • Tier 0 - No System
  • Tier 1 - Primitive Information System
  • Tier 2 - Queryable Information System
  • Tier 3 - Business Intelligence
  • Tier 4 - Business Agents

Tier Details

Tier 0 - No System

A Tier 0 information system is any person working without any information tooling or aids. They rely solely on their own human skills and memory to get things done. If there is any information shared, it’s shared conversationally with others.

Key Traits:

  • All processes are performed manually without the aid of any physical or digital tools
  • Information is exclusively retained in the heads of individuals
  • There is an absence of any systematic data exchange or storage
  • All of the intelligence and information live inside people

Tier 1 - Primitive System

A Tier 1 information system represents the most basic form of structured data management. It is a step above a Tier 0 system in that it allows for the storage and organization of data in a physical or digital format. Every piece of information need to be put directly into the system by people, and the data formatting and consistency is not enforced by the system.

Key Traits:

  • Information is stored in a physical or digital format
  • Information is portable and can be shared with others
  • There is some kind of organization to the information, making it easier to interact with
  • All of the intelligence is still inside human heads


  • Handwritten notes in notebooks, which capture information in a physical, portable format.
  • Digital spreadsheets like Google Sheets, which allow for basic data sorting, calculation, and storage in an accessible online environment.
  • Other simple digital or physical tools designed to organize and store data at a fundamental level.

Tier 2 - Queryable System

A Tier 2 information system introduces the capability to interact with the stored data in a more dynamic way. Unlike the more static Tier 1 systems, Tier 2 systems allow users to perform queries, enabling them to ask specific questions and receive tailored responses. This level of system is characterized by its structured data, improved data flows, and the ability to support more complex interactions with the information it holds.

Key Traits:

  • Specific data structures
  • Highly-organized data storage and retrieval
  • Can use it to answer complex questions
  • Can view and visualize information from the system
  • All of the intelligence is still inside human heads


  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems such as Salesforce, enabling businesses to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle.
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems like SAP and Oracle, integrating core business processes and facilitating complex queries across the organization.
  • Database Management Systems (DBMS) like MySQL, PostgreSQL, offering complex queries, data manipulation, and structured storage capabilities.

Tier 3 - Business Intelligence

A Tier 3 information system embodies advanced analytics and business intelligence capabilities. It significantly reduces the cognitive load on humans by processing and analyzing data autonomously to provide actionable insights and decision-making support. The system itself contains the intelligence to predict trends, identify anomalies, and suggest optimizations, thereby minimizing the need for human intervention in data analysis.

Key Traits:

  • Autonomous data analysis and insight generation
  • Advanced analytics capabilities, including predictive analytics and trend identification
  • Minimized need for human intervention in data analysis
  • Ability to suggest optimizations and identify anomalies
  • Processes and analyzes data to provide actionable insights
  • Contains intelligence to support decision-making processes
  • Still requires people to utilize the information


  • Advanced Analytics Platforms like Tableau and Power BI, which provide comprehensive tools for data visualization and analysis, and actively notify users of insights and key findings without being prompted.
  • ML-Driven Alert Systems using platforms such as TensorFlow and PyTorch, where machine learning agents analyze data to notify stakeholders of critical insights, predict outcomes, and autonomously adapt based on new data.
  • Health Informatics Systems that analyze patient data to predict health outcomes and personalize treatment plans, while actively informing healthcare providers of critical patient insights, thus improving healthcare delivery through proactive notifications.

Tier 4 - Business Agents

A Tier 4 information system represents the pinnacle of data-driven decision-making, where the system not only analyzes and provides insights but also takes action based on those insights under human direction. These systems leverage the intelligence gathered from Business Intelligence (BI) tools to autonomously perform tasks, make decisions, and solve problems, effectively acting as digital agents that manage and dispatch resources, both human and digital, to achieve business objectives.

Key Traits:

  • Autonomous decision-making capabilities
  • Leverages intelligence from BI tools to perform tasks
  • Acts under human direction but can operate independently
  • Manages and dispatches resources efficiently
  • Solves problems by applying insights from data analysis
  • Integrates with other systems to enhance functionality
  • Capable of learning and adapting from outcomes and feedback


  • Autonomous Supply Chain Management Systems that predict demand, manage inventory, and place orders with suppliers without human intervention, optimizing the supply chain in real-time.
  • Smart City Infrastructure Management Systems that analyze data from various sources (traffic, weather, events) to manage city resources like traffic lights and public transportation schedules autonomously, improving urban living conditions.
  • Personalized Learning Platforms using AI to adapt learning content and pace according to the student’s progress and learning style, providing a customized education experience with minimal need for teacher intervention.

Level-Up Your Information System

With this framework in mind of the different tiers of information systems, you can now take a look at the systems you are building. How can you move the key information out of people’s heads and into the system? How can you empower the system to provide more value to its users, with less work? How can you enhance the ability of the system to discover new insights and opportunities? How can you empower your system to take advantage of those insights and opportunities, instead of just telling people about them?

Level up your information systems by moving them from chaos to structure, from ignorance to insight, and finally from insight to action. The best systems don’t have users… they have directors.

Share your thoughts in the comments. How did you level up your information systems? What are the best systems you’ve ever used? What new features are innovators creating that you really like?