Information technology (IT) is a term that describes the processes and strategies for using technology to provide business solutions on a broad scale.
Often, the term IT is used to reference the department that oversees the installation and maintenance of computer network systems within a company. This is the side of IT that most professionals are familiar with—the experts that get called in when there are computer issues that need to be fixed. But the scope of IT in business goes well beyond general repairs.
IT encompasses essentially every aspect of computing within business. This includes the study, conceptualization, development, execution, and support of information systems. IT may also refer to the systems themselves, specifically software applications and the physical hardware on which they run. Finally, IT also includes IT governance, which ensures that information technologies are being correctly utilized to help organization’s reach their goals while effectively managing IT risks.
As such, IT has very broad application across industries and organizations; essentially every business today includes some IT components, even if they do not field a separate IT department.
IT has been an essential aspect of business since the early days of the digital age. However, as technology increases in complexity, so do the various components of IT. Today, IT is multi-structured and intricate, and includes such technologies as telecommunications, security, cloud computing, data centers, networks, storage, computers, and servers.
Just as IT is an umbrella term that includes a range of systems, processes, strategies, and resources, there are many different roles and responsibilities associated with information technology. These include the following:
Modern business runs on information technology. From incorporating management information systems to help gather, analyze, and report valuable data, to ensuring the correct functionality of essential communications equipment in an increasingly remote workforce, IT has a hand in everything. And those organizations that are able to effectively employ IT across departments and use cases are gaining an undeniable competitive edge.
The current push towards increased IT has also resulted in increased IT responsibilities. The following are new and and upcoming IT needs that businesses must be capable of addressing:
More organizations are adopting BYOB policies in the workplace. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine forced many businesses to adopt remote-work policies, taking on some or all of the responsibility of managing mobile devices, wireless hotspot, and roaming abilities for employees.
Quickly supplanting traditional conference calling, and precipitated by the need to facilitate face-to-face communication during the global pandemic, digital video conferencing has become increasingly common in business. IT must ensure proper network bandwidth to promote effective video hosting.
Rather than host large ‘server farms’ in-house, many organizations now work with third-party cloud vendors to store their data. IT must be able to work effectively with these vendors to ensure data security and usability.
As data-collection capabilities improve, the amount of available data increases exponentially. Organizations depend on IT to process large amounts of data, incorporating significant processing power, advanced software, and analytical insight.
Because IT’s mandate is to manage and optimize essentially every aspect of computing within business, the benefits it brings to the table are nearly limitless. Any business advantage offered by digital technology can be viewed as a benefit of IT. That said, these benefits usually fall within the following categories:
Software-based communication tools and organizational platforms make it possible for large numbers of teams and individuals to coordinate effectively, establish processes, and prioritize tasks.
Improved communication and technology support allows businesses to respond more quickly to changes within their markets. Additionally, automation and machine-learning facilitate better product development with reduced turnaround time, allowing organizations to do more with less.
Outsourcing to cloud vendors significantly reduces the investment costs of many IT services. Automation reduces the need for surplus staff. Improved productivity means more returns in shorter amounts of time. FInally, IT advances (such as e-commerce stores) represent new revenue streams for many already-established companies.
Legacy data-storage solutions are often hard to manage and tend to result in data silos that make it difficult to access essential information. IT advances, such as cloud-based data storage, organize and allocate data, making it available to authorized users from anywhere in the world.
Even a small data breach can end up costing a business millions of dollars in lost or corrupted data, and that is to say nothing of the reputational damage organizations suffer when they fail to protect their customers’ information. The right IT approach improves data security, ensuring that every system is up to date with the most-recent security measures.
Whether serving customers or employees, the main function of IT is the same: To facilitate better, more-effective processes to increase user satisfaction.
In short, an organization that embraces effective IT solutions will see improvements across the board.
One of the most difficult aspects of IT is its inclusiveness. IT extends across the physical hardware and through the software that runs on it.
IT software consists of applications and systems software. Applications include email servers, web servers, databases, transactional systems, and customer management systems. System software includes operating systems, boot programs, basic input/output systems, and device drivers. IT software consists of the programs, in all of their forms, that run on IT hardware.
Hardware consists of the physical devices that run the software. Hardware can also be abstracted, incorporating virtualization and cloud computing to meet application requirements. Hardware includes input/output devices, processing devices, and storage. Hardware servers communicate with one another through computer networks and via the internet.
Within the last decade or so, business IT has experienced a revolution in the form of cloud computing. The most fundamental difference between cloud and on-prem IT is where it is located. As the name suggests, on-premises IT is fully based on site, managed locally on the business' own hardware. Cloud software is hosted on the vendor’s server where it can be accessed remotely at any time and from anywhere through a secure internet connection.
For smaller businesses with less-complex IT needs, maintaining an in-house solution may be the easier approach. Likewise, because on-premises IT excludes outside vendors, the organization in question maintains complete control over every aspect. They have final say and responsibility over security and uptime, and they tend to see a lower total cost of ownership.
However, in most cases these benefits are offset by certain disadvantages. Initial CapEx for on-premises solutions can be extremely high, and ongoing maintenance and repairs bring with them their own expenses. Additionally, on-premises IT means longer implementation times. Simply put, on-prem IT demands that the businesses themselves handle every aspect of IT on their own, as well as account for any and all associated costs. This can lead to an increased need for IT personnel, increased installation, maintenance, and repair costs, and make it difficult to scale effectively as the business grows.
Cloud-based IT is seeing increasingly widespread use throughout essentially every industry and market. This is because cloud computing offers a number of clear advantages over on-premises options.
Cloud IT allows businesses to use a pay-as-you-go model, paying only for the cloud resources they use, and easily maintaining established budgets. Organizations can also free up professionals to focus on other essential tasks and considerations, rather than forcing them to invest their valuable time into maintenance, repairs, security, and IT management. Cloud IT solutions are also extremely scalable; instead of having to purchase, install, and configure new IT hardware to account for business growth—or deactivate and remove hardware in the event of negative growth—organizations can work with their cloud vendor to scale available resources to meet business needs.
As for the downsides to cloud computing, they are few and far between. These include the risks of sub-par cloud security and undependable cloud accessibility. When a company chooses to work with a cloud provider, they rely on the provider to secure their data and ensure that their service meets minimum up-time requirements. That said, given the increasingly competitive cloud landscape, cloud vendors know that their continued existence relies heavily on their ability to meet client expectations, and take their responsibilities accordingly.
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