What is IT?

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Beyond having an aptitude for IT, find out where your interests will fit into the larger IT ecosystem.

We have all heard of information technology (IT), and the scores of people who join the IT industry every year in India. Students often make subject and course choices in school aimed at helping obtain that coveted job in IT. But do we understand what IT is? What are the opportunities in this space and how does one develop the skills to be a successful IT professional? This week, we shall discuss this sector. We want you to understand how different companies are involved in the use and development of IT services or products, before diving into the details.

As the human body comprises multiple organs, each with its own function, every organisation has units that perform specific functions such as human resource, finance, strategy, sales and marketing, operations and so on. In this context, IT acts as the organisation’s nervous system. IT makes communication and transactions across multiple functions within the organisation and with external customers and partners possible through efficiently conveying information.

In everyday life

IT is present in every industry sector and we use it daily. For example, your favourite fast food chain relies on the supply of mass-produced ingredients reaching its stores on time to be used in making your pizza. The efficiency of noting down your order, transmitting it to the kitchen and then ordering the right quantities of materials is made possible through the use of information systems. Another example — banks are dependent on information systems to store your money and assets in an electronic form that represents your wealth. You can buy products online from e-vendors without touching any physical cash — all because of the sophisticated IT systems. Some of the largest and fastest growing companies in the world such as Google or Amazon have become successful because of their sophisticated information storage and retrieval mechanisms. Every company, independent of its size or line of business, can use IT for its improvement.

Independent vendors

Now that we understand why IT is important to businesses, let us look at some of the more prominent types of IT companies and jobs. IT can be a supporting function within a company as described in the retail chain example or it can be the core product or service that a company offers like that of Google. As the support function of IT in organisations is well defined, for example, a system which can help manage the accounts of a company is the same for most companies, tried and tested “software packages” are available for these purposes. This brings us to the first category of companies that primarily focusses on the development of these software packages. These companies are known as independent software vendors (ISV) in the business world and have large teams of professionals who develop systems addressing generic corporate needs such as accounting, human resources or inventory management systems. Unlike concrete infrastructure, technology infrastructure needs to change often to accommodate rapidly changing economic conditions and business practices — the ISVs focus on building and updating systems that meet these needs.

System integrators

The second most common type of IT companies is the ones you see and hear about most often in India, the system integrators (SI). These companies bridge the gap between the ISVs and their customers in various industries. The SIs focus on understanding customer requirements and matching those customer needs with existing software packages developed by the ISVs. An SI may help a retail food chain pick the appropriate supply chain software to use and then continue the engagement through customising it for the needs of the company.

The world of IT is large and permeates through every aspect of the business world. Having a clear understanding of where a company fits into the larger IT ecosystem and then relating your interests to that company is essential in trying to understand if this is a field you want to pursue a career in. Stay tuned for our next article which covers the career possibilities and skills required to be successful within the IT field.

The writer is director at the Pathways Programme.

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