Literature Review

Progress in the technical-scientific field, and in particular in information and communication technologies (ICTs), has generated significant effects throughout the entire entrepreneurial system and, in particular, on the banking information systems that are today totally permeated by them.

The information system, in the sense of a dense and complex network of element whose aim is to support the manager’s decision-making process through information inputs [7, 8], if it is analysed in its objective dimension, appears entirely based on the computer component in its hardware and software dimensions. The communicative flow, the number of variables considered to be deserving of attention, the importance attributed to them and the number of stakeholders with which the bank interacts have progressively increased together with an increase in the information flow required by both management in support of the decision-making process and supervisory bodies [9, 10]. The need, increasingly felt by banks to deal with events characterized by unpredictability, the frequency of which is growing, the reduction in the times required for carrying out the different activities and the new rules and procedures imposed by the regulations have rendered obsolete both the traditional decision-making processes often based on values such as trust and knowledge of the counterparty and the traditional organizational structure.

ICT, in its various forms of application, plays an active and decisive role within a bank, thanks, in particular, to the subset of its applications, whose functions are collection, memorization, processing, analysis and recovery of data and information aimed at the rapid dissemination among those involved in the operational activities.

The subjective and objective dimensions of the business information system acquire a decisive role in the current competitive context. Moving in real time, being able to count on prompt and accurate but never redundant information and having available decision-makers with highly professional skills and the ability, on the one hand, to capture weak signals originating in the surrounding environment and, on the other hand, to evaluate appropriately the importance of the information to be subjected to close analysis and interpretation are essential requirements.

Such management requirements imply the need to be able to count on an adequate information system, on an organizational structure that is able to meet fully the new needs, emphasizing the possibilities linked to technical-scientific progress, and on a solid and competent management, supported effectively by the presence of systems based on the most modern computer technologies.

Information procedures become therefore an essential part of the system, their task being to define what has to undergo analysis, the type of data to be recorded, the selection, classification and processing according to which the business reporting is constructed. Computerization presupposes an activity of standardization and therefore a process of measurement, based on the translation into quantitative terms of the phenomenon being analysed. Such an operation leads to the identification of measurements, that is, entities expressed numerically and defined by quantities constructed on the basis of predefined magnitudes that are variable according to the designated objectives.

The activity of standardization and therefore measurement represents, today, a particularly critical aspect in the management of a bank. This is particularly true in the context of the supply and monitoring of credit where the greatest difficulties found lie in the difficulties of the standardization, and therefore of measurement, of variables of a qualitative kind [11].

Banks, especially small and medium sized, today face a trade-off between the need for standardization in compliance with the directives of the national and international supervisory authorities [12] which require increasingly automated, and therefore objective and traceable, processes, and the need to preserve their own particular characteristics and sources of competitive advantage [13].

The exchange and sharing of information (visibility) by actors in the process of credit supply and management becomes fundamental [14, 15], being considered, in the literature, a central element in the achievement of results [14, 16], in guaranteeing transparency in the processes and in the prompt indication of possible anomalies [17].

With respect to the question being examined, it would be interesting to look briefly at the meaning that should be attributed to the concepts of number, datum, magnitude, quantity and measurement, interrelated but not coinciding concepts.

The concept of number has changed over time, from being a constitutive element of that part of reality that is accessible, not to the senses, but to reason, typical of the school of Pythagoras, to being perceived today by modern philosophy of mathematics perspectives a set of signs defined by a given system of axioms. From a spatial-temporal point of view, in addition to the above-mentioned perspectives, we can trace a third according to which number is defined on the basis of the concept of class. Such an approach implies the identification of two dimensions of inquiry: the extensive and intensive dimensions.

With respect to the first dimension, number is definable as “the class of all classes, similar to the given class”. From the definition, we deduce the extensive dimension of the phenomenon referable to the enumeration of the members belonging to the class. In the intensive meaning, class is described, on the other hand, on the basis of the characteristics of its members falling therefore outside the concept of number stricto sensu.

Number, an important part of the language through which the business economy “speaks”, is used by it for the representation of facts and of real trends regarding the life of the company, ascribing to number an instrumental role with respect to a subsequent, necessary activity of analysis and interpretation of the same.

Company representations contain within them a meaning that transcends the mere mathematical expression generally used. Measurement is indeed not limited to the sole activity of enumeration with the relative assignment of numbers to objects on the basis of predefined conventions but implies a subsequent, important activity of interpretation and evaluation of the trends on which the decision-making process is founded.

The quantitative expression of business phenomena enables the scholar to conduct first of all an analysis based on a process of a rational kind, founded on a rigorous and therefore scientific method, and secondly to carry out spatial-temporal comparisons in order to express judgements of past performances and to outline possible trends for future ones.

In business economics, the numbers on the basis of which an appropriate representation of the particular facets of the polyhydric phenomenon of the company is provided, and on which is founded the activity of choice proper to any decision-making process, are denominated data.

The two concepts seem to be interconnected but never coincident, the concept of number being included in that of datum, but the second characterized by a broader application and greater depth.

The concepts of number, quantity and measurement can be analysed in the light of the three dimensions of semiotics: syntactic, semantic and pragmatic.

While the syntactic aspect is present and intrinsic to the concept of number used in the various branches of knowledge, dealing with the “study of syntactic relations between signs, abstracting from the relationships of signs with objects or with interpreters”, the semantic and pragmatic aspects, characteristic of contexts in which it is essential not only to attribute a precise meaning between the object of representation and the means used but also to consider the cognitive value assigned to the first, prove to be of little significance for it.

Applying to the notion of number, the concept of magnitude, that is, of unit or index of measurement on the basis of which to express the result of the activity of measurement, the notion of quantity is obtained. The concept of quantity conforms therefore to the numerical representation of a given phenomenon and is characterized by the possibility of applying to it the syntactic and semantic dimension of language. While what has been observed for number is valid for the first dimension, the semantic dimension is ascribable to the link existing between the quantitative expression underlying it and the phenomenon whose representation it is intended to provide. In accounting, language quantities are numerical representations of facts and events expressed using currency as index of measurement.

The last logical category is understood as the final result of the process of measurement. The concept of datum contains all the dimensions of language including pragmatics. The datum appears in fact as a number with which a magnitude is associated, and therefore a quantity, referring to a given, precise phenomenon. The datum proves, therefore, to be the element underlying every process of evaluation. It is with the managerial activity of interpretation that the datum becomes information, and, by means of its stratification, knowledge, which gives rise to decisions which are translated into actions that lead to results.

The Dikar model [18], represented in Fig. 1, has this orientation:

The Dikar model

Fig. 1 The Dikar model

Systems of measurement are not generalizable or absolute: they vary in time and space according to the environmental, social and cultural contexts in which they are applied and used.

With respect to the time variable, such systems are changeable to the extent that the object it is intended to represent by means of them appears is variable, as are changeable the means and the techniques used in the same representation; with respect to the spatial variable, the latter differ to the extent that aspects considered important, and therefore worthy of measurement and consequent interpretation, and the tools used for such purposes, appear changeable. The increase in the level of environmental turbulence and the consequent increase in the degree of business complexity have brought about changes both in the aspects considered important in the decision-making process and in the modes of measurement of the performances achieved. The systems of measurement are characterized, furthermore, by the lack of objectivity in an absolute sense being based on activities of measurement carried out by man who, starting from the observation of a given phenomenon, tries to translate the qualitative aspect intrinsic to it into quantitative terms on the basis of certain assumptions. This determines the first limitation that leads to the impossibility of “true and precise” determinations in absolute terms and therefore to not being able to speak of totally objective systems of measurement since “the observer disturbs the observed” [19].

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