Modern Network Architecture

Dec 4 2011   9:44PM GMT

IS vs IT

James Murray James Murray Profile: James Murray

I’m kind of used to the way technical and non-technical people interchange the terms Information technology and Information System.  I was speaking with a very savvy client who began splitting hairs over the difference between IT and IS.  I mentioned that most people use the term interchangeably because they don’t know the difference. 

I asked her to clarify the difference she saw between the two terms.  

As I listen to her description I wondered if most technology professionals could do as good a job.  When I was going to college I picked up a degree in MIS after deciding that programing in Pascal was interesting but programing was really not my life’s passion.  I quickly transferred from CIS to MIS.  But that’s about as much I picked up in college about what Information systems was/is. 

To define Information system the term is frequently used to refer to the interaction between people, processes, data, and technology.  

In my career as an IT Consultant I’ve found that I have been focused on work systems that involved people communicating between machines (often through a machine.)  As an IT Consultant I am focused on work systems devoted to processing (capturing, transmitting, storing, retrieving, manipulating and displaying) information.  Then making sure that each person involved in the business process had access to the information needed to be considered successful. 

Working on multiple software development projects I found that Information Systems for the CIS professional had a different meaning.  Somehow the people part of the project seemed less important.  Rather than focusing on people, the developer focuses on the information systems themselves.  Retrieving data from a data store often requires an algorithmic process that the MIS expert seldom thinks about.  The focus of the CIS professional then is computational theory while the MIS professionals if focused on the work system between people and machines. 

The confusion between IS and IT (The acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information) seems like a natural thing.  If we think of technology as an iceberg; Information Technology is the tip of the iceberg seen above the water.  Information system professionals are the 90% of the iceberg that is under the water that can’t be seen. 

It’s interesting too that most IT professionals can’t see below the water line as well.  In a world where marketing language allows us to expand the definitions of words far past their boundaries IT and IS seem to be suffering from this problem.  Over the years IT professionals have become almost as clueless as their users.  I’ve always thought it was a little odd when an IT professional takes the credit for building an application.  When all they’ve really done is start a complicated automated process.  I guess though it makes up for all the times the developers blame the problem on the IT professional instead of the code. 

As technology becomes more and more complex it seems that more and more of the technology is disappearing from the view of the users and from the technicians themselves.  Very few people have a full understanding of the entire system.  My thought then is that with the cloud and unified communications entering the modern network architecture there will probably be more confusion about the two areas of technology.

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