What is Information Technology?

From an educational standpoint, Information technology (IT) can be regarded as a broad-based discipline that cuts across many other computer-related fields. It takes a large part of its identity from computer science, but it is also heavily informed by various facets of engineering, science, business, and industry. Whereas computer science deals with the fundamental constructs of computation, mathematical and algorithmic processes, and the structure and numerical representation of information, IT as a discipline is mostly concerned with the deployment and configuration of hardware, software, and supporting infrastructure to transmit and retrieve data, manage and process information, facilitate communications within organizations, and enhance productivity of end users. Hence, IT is sometimes regarded as an applied arm of computer science, though the term “applied” is not meant to suggest that the study of IT is in any way less comprehensive or less challenging.

The IT discipline may also be viewed as a cousin to the discipline of information systems (IS). The primary difference is one of focus. Whereas IT can be approached from the perspective of almost any field or venture (including business), IS generally pertains to the adaptation of computer-related technology in business settings. In some companies, it would be hard to distinguish between IT and IS, because “the system” and “the technology” are the same thing, and IS and IT personnel sometimes perform the same tasks. The key distinction often has to do with management. Whereas IS professionals are usually responsible for planning, organizing, and administering IT resources across the entire enterprise, IT professionals are more often responsible for making things work. Of course, this is a broad generalization, but one that serves to make the point.

IT can also be described as the physical nuts and bolts of a communications infrastructure; that is the collection of hardware, software, and other equipment and gadgets that are linked together to form a digital or electronic highway from one point to another. Such a collection might include computers, networks, security mechanisms, databases, and related architectures, protocols, and services. On the other hand, IT can refer to specialized processes and approaches (such as data warehousing) or classes of commercial applications software (such as enterprise resource planning, or ERP, systems) used to manage information, even though these tools more often fall in the IS realm.

Additionally, IT is often characterized in terms of the Internet and all of its associated aspects and representations, where enhancements in digital media and communications, including web-casting, pod-casting, streaming media, and video-on-demand, are continually altering information delivery in ways that are revolutionizing education, commerce, politics, social services, and even global warfare.

Some people also regard IT as the ever-changing environment of cool new products, services, and capabilities that are meant to make life easier and work more productive, communications more reliable and instantaneous, leisure time more fun and exciting, and the world, in general, a more digital place to live. For example, some of today’s most exciting IT developments are found in the telecommunications sector where rapidly advancing wireless capabilities, along with the continuing evolution of broadband (high speed Internet) connections and related developments such as the voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) are rapidly transforming the way we communicate as a global society. Likewise, new developments in radio frequency identification (RFID) and point-of-sale transactions are having a significant impact on the way information is obtained and stored.

From these brief descriptions it is clear that IT is a diverse and dynamic field that has a significant and growing impact on society. It is a field that many students find exciting and challenging, and one that typically brings substantial financial rewards.

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