Information technology

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Information technology (IT), as defined by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) is "the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems, particularly software applications and computer hardware." In short, IT deals with the use of electronic computers and computer software to convert, store, protect, process, transmit, and retrieve information, securely.

In this definition, the term "information" can usually be replaced by "data" without loss of meaning.

Who Is In the Game

There is an old joke that there are only two industries that call their customers users: the IT industry and the illegal drug industry. In both industries, customers depend on the products. There are many players in the information technology arena and their motivation, expectations, and influence are just as varied. This visual attempts to provide a taxonomy of these participants.

The customer organizations consist of two broad categories: the individuals or groups responsible for the implementation, operation, and management of IT infrastructure and services, and the individuals or groups that use and depend on the infrastructure and services. Customers have looked to leverage their IT resources to support their business; however now more and more there is a focus to align the business with IT and identify how the business can leverage IT, not only to support their business but also to be part of their business.

The vendors in the IT industry can be broken down into two broad categories, hardware and software. The hardware vendors include the processing systems which range from small personal computer systems through server-based systems right up to mainframe systems. Hardware vendors also include the networking infrastructure (e.g., switches and routers) as well as appliances like VPN concentrators, remote access systems, and intrusion detection systems. Another key element in our IT infrastructure is storage; this includes removable and archival storage as well as the likes of storage area networks (SAN), network attached storage (NAS), and content addressable storage (CAS).

Hardware is useless without the appropriate software to drive it. In that vein there are a myriad of software categories, which we have loosely broken down to four categories. Operating systems provide the platform to make use of and manage the hardware of a computer system. Applications include the software that implements a particular task or function. For businesses applications are the processes and functions that drive the business. Services and utilities are more specific, utilitarian instances of applications.

Trends in the industry for outsourcing have spurred a variety of professional services companies that provide services such as integration of applications, systems, and networks, implementation support, development of software solutions, and consulting services.

Within the industry there are also several organizations that are influencing or setting directions for the industry. These include regulators, standards bodies, both domestic and international, and finally industry groups that comprise a variety of players usually focused on a particular area of the IT industry.

Finally, a set of players not traditionally placed in the IT industry includes the carriers. Convergence of networks and information systems have now brought them into the playing field and provide a range of services.

IT Governance

Information technology is often a key enabler to allowing a business to be able to execute on its strategy. As a result, the decisions around investments in information technology are finding themselves more and more tied in with business issues. IT governance in its basic definition is the process by which these IT investment decisions will be made. To that end a successful IT governance framework will include a defined structure, established processes, and effective communication and accountability measures in place. The IT governance framework will define who will make the decisions, how the decisions will be made, and what measure of accountability will be used.

As you might expect there is a spectrum of how organizations have effectively implemented their IT governance. Forrester research refers to these as their IT governance maturity model and has defined four levels to this model. Those organizations establishing “best practices” who have been using well defined governance practices for some time. Those organizations who have “consistent” practices which have been established but are still evolving. Those organizations that have “fragmented” practices in that different parts of the organization are either not consistent or in some cases non existent. Finally those organizations that only show “ad hoc” practices which usually results in an everyone for themselves approach.

Strategic IT Objectives

The objectives of the typical IT organization have seen some key additions recently. Operational performance and excellence are no longer enough. In the current economic climate, the IT organization needs to demonstrate its value and align with business objectives; in doing so it needs similar risk assessment and management objectives as those applied to business objectives. Finally, the IT organization is crucial in achieving compliance, an important issue today.

IT Organizational Structure

The structure of the IT organization within a business, as identified by Forrester research, falls broadly into four categories.

  • Centralized: All IT decision making and budgeting occur in one place.
  • Decentralized: All business units and IT functions have formed their own budgeting and decision making process. While individual organizations may function effectively, synergy across the organization is difficult, if not impossible, with this model.
  • Hybrid: A combination of the two categories above, this approach provides centralized corporate control while divesting individual responsibility for business unit-specific applications.
  • Project-based: Central control still applies, but individual projects are spun off with cross- functional members. The challenge of this approach is the additional burden of project member selection and representation, but this can be offset with efficient and effective project deployment.

The Key Influential Players of IT

There are potentially many people involved in an organization’s Information Technology (IT) department, depending on the size of the company. The titles have evolved over the years, based on the changing nature of the roles.

Roles are typically defined as either a staff, or strategic position, or one that is a line, or tactical role. The C-Level positions are strategic. Staff and Management positions are often tactical. Directors can be based on the nature and culture of the organization, although they are most often considered strategic positions with a narrower span of responsibility than a typical C-Level.

The some of the titles in use in business today are listed below.

External Links

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), the nation’s leading information technology (IT) trade association.