Information technology (IT) is the lifeblood of most businesses. It is used to fulfill administrative and production requirements, and it crosses all industries. Generally, the larger the enterprise, the greater the need for a sophisticated and professionally managed information technology infrastructure.
Computers are at the core of IT, but to say information technology is just computers is to ignore the complexity and diversity of the technologies businesses need to stay afloat in the 21st century. A more complete definition of IT is this: all of an organization's hardware and software for storing, retrieving, transmitting, and managing electronic information. Information in this context is in its broadest sense and includes images and digitized sound and video. Among the tools companies use to manage their information are:
personal computers, terminals, and workstations
network servers (including Internet) and other networking hardware
scanners, printers, and other peripherals
all forms of software, including proprietary systems and site licenses for off-the-shelf packages.
These technologies serve many purposes in a business. Some are purely logistical or convenient and thereby save time and resources. Others are essential to the company's output or its competitive advantage. Examples of IT's benefits to different areas of an enterprise include:
timely and efficient delivery of products and services
higher sales through better understanding of customer behaviors
cost savings from fewer staff hours and reduced human or machine error
better resource planning through detailed, accurate, and timely financial information.
Medium to large corporations oversee their often substantial investments in these technologies through a specialized department that may be known simply as IT, or as information systems (IS) or management information systems (MIS). This area may be under the direction of a chief information officer (CIO), but many IT departments report ultimately to the company's chief financial officer (CFO).
ACQUISITIONS AND UPGRADES
Most large organizations must purchase and install new hardware and software on a regular basis. In order to do so effectively, IT managers must be familiar simultaneously with business needs and available technologies. Some purchases may be very routine; the corporation may only need additional units of existing devices it has already implemented, or, as is the case with software upgrades, there may only be one logical course of action. However, many IT-acquisition decisions demand strategic vision for the organization. IT decision-makers must be able to match present and future needs with technological solutions, often in the face of rapidly changing technologies and severe financial repercussions from choosing the wrong technology.
The acquisition process can be especially troublesome when custom software is being implemented. These projects are notorious for exceeding cost estimates and taking longer than planned. Moreover, custom software clients must be wary, after added time and expense, of whether the new system will serve all of the needs it was intended to satisfy—and without loosing the essential strengths and capabilities of the system it is replacing.
SERVICE AND MAINTENANCE
Another requisite to owning information technology is ensuring that it is compatible with other technologies already in place and that it functions properly. Compatibility issues extend from making software applications work together on a single computer to allowing substantially different computer systems to share information. A mix of new and old technology can present special challenges. Over time, most computer equipment requires some form of servicing, usually due to component failures, user mistakes, or obsolescence. This aspect of IT isn't trivial: performing routine service and maintenance in a large IT environment may require a substantial investment in technical staff hours (or outside services) and replacement equipment.
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