Six ethical principles of Information Management

Managers will do well to follow ethical principles while discharging their duties of Information Management.  Information Systems managers face ethical dilemmas numerous times during their tenure and following a set ethical guidelines is quite useful.  Firstly, when confronted by an ethical dilemma, managers will analyze the situation by evaluating the possible consequences of various options they have at disposal.  They will consider the impact of each option on various stakeholders in the company and choose to be as fair and just as circumstances allow them.  Most determining factors would be specific to the particular ethical dilemma at hand.  Along with the particular details of the problem, IS managers can peruse some time-tested, universal ethical principles in arriving at their decisions.

The first one is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, which is an old proverb with Christian associations. (Laudon & Laudon, p.419)  Putting oneself in the shoes of other parties and applying same standards of judgment are the basis of this principle.  The second one is the application of Categorical Imperatives – a concept first articulated by philosopher Immanuel Kant.  According to this principle, in order for a community or group to maintain its cohesion, there are actions that are forbidden to all members of it, irrespective of circumstances and other conditions. Similarly, certain responsibilities are to be fulfilled by all members without exceptions.  And Information Managers should see to it that they do not breach such categorical imperatives.

Rene Descartes’ Rule of Change is another useful guideline for IS managers to follow.  It says that “if an action cannot be taken repeatedly, it is not right to take at all”. (Laudon & Laudon, p.419)  Translated in common parlance as the slippery-slope rule, it once again emphasizes the interests of the team/company over individual interests.  While some actions might not have major consequences if they happen as isolated events, a collective change across the group would bring the whole organization down.  IS mangers should be wary of this and base their decisions accordingly.

The fourth principle is derived from the school of Utilitarianism (promoted by such intellectuals as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham).  This rule says that actions should be taken so that they lead to greatest good for the greatest number.  Applied to the context of management in the business environment, the decisions should be such that all stakeholders (that also includes the general public and the environment) find maximum benefit out of it.  The next ethical principle is the Risk Aversion principle, which is a corollary for the Utilitarian principle. Accordingly, it says

“Take the action that produces the least harm or the least potential cost.  Some actions have extremely high failure costs of very low probability (e.g. building a nuclear generating facility in an urban area) or extremely high failure costs of moderate probability (speeding and automobile accidents).  Avoid those high-failure-cost actions, paying greater attention obviously to high-failure-cost potential of moderate to high probability.” (Laudon & Laudon, p.419)

And finally, the ‘no-free-lunch’ rule should inform the managers of their responsibility toward the general public.  Though they are not accountable to them by law, applying ethical standards, they should see to it they do not damage or exploit public wellbeing in pursuit of profits.

Work Cited:

Kenneth Laudon & Jane P. Laudon, Chapter 12, Ethical or Social Issues in Information Systems, p.418 – 420, Essentials of Management Information Systems, 8th Edition, published by Prentice Hall-Pearson.