Information Systems vs. Information Technology: What's the Difference?

Information Systems vs. Information Technology: What's the Difference?

Technology has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our lives. Accordingly, colleges and universities have responded by designing academic programs intended to prepare students for a diverse array of technology-related careers.

But the terminology that's emerged in our tech-oriented world often seems interchangeable to those out of the field, generating a lot of potential for confusion — especially if you're a student interested in pursuing a technology career. One common question is around the terms information systems vs. information technology.

While these terms, also known as IS and IT, have different meanings and should not be used interchangeably, they also comprise an integrated product that together impacts people, machines, and processes involved with the handling of data and processed information. For those who choose to pursue career paths in either of these areas or seek to advance in the IT environment, it is critical to understand both of these terms as a concept and a component of the information product.

In this article, we will explore the definitions between the two terms and reveal how understanding the two terms can help align your educational IT initiatives with your career goals.

Information Systems vs. Information Technology: An Overview

One helpful way to approach this discussion is to understand that information technology, or IT, is in fact a component of information systems, or IS. For a frame of reference for this understanding, consider how a central processing unit (CPU) is a component of the much larger unit of the personal computer.

IS encompasses all of the equipment, processes and people involved in the dissemination of information within an organization; it represents the computer network components performing the critical processing and dissemination of business and personal information. We see information systems with various purposes, from supporting marketing, management, and engineering processes to allowing for Cloud computing and securing virtual private networking (VPN) access. In essence, information processing systems leverage IT subcomponents to ensure users can personally and professionally network, process, store and disseminate data.

When examining information systems vs. information technology, then, the key difference between the two is that information systems focus on the information. Though technology facilitates the gathering and processing of information, the primary concern is the information itself, while information technology concerns itself more with the computer hardware and software.

Academic Programs in IS and IT

The main characteristics of an academic program in information systems first place an emphasis on how the information provided by technology networking components can help an organization meet its needs. In addition, IS coursework focuses on computers and the roles they play, with possible examination of ethical issues and the role of end-user interaction with the information system.

On the other hand, given that an IT professional's main responsibility focuses on setting up and maintaining an organization's networking components (such as topology, servers, switches, hubs, and VPN technology), the main characteristics of an academic program in information technology would include the functioning of IT components and how these components provide the base to store, network, and process, manipulate and disseminate information.

To conclude our discussion on the interchangeability of the terms information systems and information technology, we need to understand that both terms are forever technically linked in an effort to provide organizations a computing base to realize their business and operational goals. As such, academic programs in both disciplines must target how the integrated concept prepares students to meet the challenges of business and government needs, as our understanding of this integrated concept will both shape and implement the future of computing.

Ready to learn more? Explore online IT degree programs at AIU.