What is information technology?
Information technology (IT) is the hardware and software used to create, store, transmit, manipulate, and display information and data. Metaphorically, it is the lifeblood of the Information Age. On a high level, it is anything and everything that has to do with computing and communications.
That said, the term is generally applied only to technologies used in a business environment. If you take a TV and use it to display data, you’re looking at a piece of information technology. It’s not always the technology itself but how it is applied determines whether it gets the IT label.
Origins and evolution of information technology
Although the term itself first appeared in an article in the Harvard Business Review in 1958, information technology has existed in analog form for centuries. From ancient tools like the abacus and inscriptions of medicinal herbal recipes on rock walls of Egyptian temples to more “modern” wonders like the typewriter, adding machine, and telegraph, mankind has been evolving ways of manipulating, recording, and transmitting information since the dawn of written language.
More recently, IT began to take the form we now think of when we use the term with the inventions like a nationwide telephone system and ENIAC, the first programmable, electronic, general-purpose digital computer. Information technology has always been about extending and enhancing the limits of the human brain and communication range. Without IT, human interaction and commerce remain limited to what an individual can do with their own mind and voice. IT is what allows individuals and groups to multiply their own mental capabilities. They can then interact at a distance and across time, building on what came before.
Digital technology and the ability to connect computational devices together in local and eventually global networks accelerated advances. Over a relatively short period of time since the middle of the last century, there have been exponential increases in the capability and capacity of every component of an IT system:
- The speed and complexity of numerical calculations
- The amount of information that can be stored per physical area of storage medium
- The complexity and speed of encryption and decryption protocols
- The throughput of wired and wireless transmission networks
- The resolution and fidelity of audio and visual displays
The pace of change and innovation over the past 50 years has been mind-boggling.
The business of information technology
With the possible exception of the sidewalk lemonade stand, almost every business today depends on information technology. If those kids selling lemonade drum up business by announcing their pop-up shop on social media, however, they are benefitting from information technology.
Regarding IT’s impact on business, information technology is a commerce multiplier in several ways. There are companies that…
- Use information technology to conduct or promote their business
- Create and manufacture IT hardware and software, both custom and off the shelf
- Operate systems comprised of IT built by other companies on behalf of their business customer
- Educate individuals on how to build and use IT systems
- Service and maintain IT systems on behalf of all of the above
IT is the foundation upon which businesses operate. As a result, a strong and evolving IT strategy is vitally important to enterprise organizations. With the pace of technological change, businesses must regularly evaluate the extent to which their IT infrastructure and operations support their business strategy. It’s not enough to have a business or product roadmap; an IT roadmap is also a key to market success.