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What's the difference between information technology and information systems?

IT professionals working together

Information technology and information systems are closely related fields. Though many people use the two terms interchangeably, they are not the same. Before you enroll in an information systems or information technology (IT) degree program, you should take time to understand the difference.  

Here’s a look at the fields of information technology and information systems to help you decide which subject better matches your interests and career goals. 

What is information technology?

Information technology involves computer systems and devices that are used to store and provide access to information. IT is a very broad field, but its primary focus is the computer infrastructure needed to collect, store and transform data. The field of IT also includes communication systems, robotics and other tools that rely on digital architecture.   

Though the field of information technology can encompass a wide range of specialized systems, it typically focuses on four main areas.  

  • Hardware: Hardware refers to the physical components of computers, servers and other IT equipment. Supporting components, such as cooling fans and power cords or batteries, are also considered hardware, as are modems, routers and other internet equipment.
  • Software: Software refers to the programs that run on a computer or device. Each piece of software handles different IT-related tasks. Examples of software include word processors, email clients, accounting systems and smartphone applications. 
  • Databases: Databases are the digital warehouses where information gets collected, stored and accessed. They require hardware, such as servers or drives, to store the information. You also need software to organize, find and transform the data into useful insights. 
  • Networks: Networks are the connections that people use to communicate and access information. IT pros focus on creating these systems, controlling access to them, and securing them so that unauthorized users can’t see privileged information. 
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Information technology degrees

Here are the degrees to consider if you are interested in a tech education.  

  • An associate degree in IT is a two-year program that provides the educational foundation for entry-level positions in the field by providing foundational knowledge of networks, software and hardware configurations, and cybersecurity. 
  • A bachelor’s degree in IT is a four-year technology degree that provides in-depth knowledge and practice in networking, cybersecurity and using coding languages to build and configure computer systems and databases. 
  • A bachelor’s degree in computer science can also provide the knowledge necessary to work in IT, especially if you want to focus on software. 
  • A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity can develop skills valued by IT departments that want to protect their data and communication systems from the growing threat of hackers.  

If you already have a tech-related degree, you can consider pursuing IT-related continuing education courses to learn specific skills that can help you transition to a technical role or enhance your education with a master’s degree or certificate. 

Information technology careers

Information technology is an ever-evolving field as technology continues to evolve and new threats emerge. Here are some of today’s most common career paths to pursue with an IT degree.

  • Network and systems administrators set up and configure the software and hardware needed to create an internet or intranet network. They also ensure that the system is secure and control and monitor access. 
  • Computer support specialists help users troubleshoot and fix software, hardware and connection issues. In this career, you can work with customers of a computer or software company, or with employees in a corporation. 
  • Cybersecurity specialists protect computer and network systems and infrastructure from cyberattacks. 
  • Database administrators are experts in configuring and securing the digital information warehouses that are essential to today’s data-driven businesses. IT pros in this field oversee access, security and updates. 
  • Network architects are IT specialists who design and build new networks to fit the specific needs of their employer or client.

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What are information systems?

Information systems are used to collect, store, transform, analyze and process data. Information systems specialists can use IT infrastructure, but their primary focus is the access to and use of data.

While today’s business world runs on computers, information systems could hypothetically include paper files, notebooks and other non-digital methods.  

Information systems can be created for specific purposes, such as informing decision-making, analyzing data or feeding information to machine learning programs. 

Information systems degrees

Information systems degrees are available at undergraduate and graduate levels. Some colleges offer master degree programs in information systems that are meant to build on a bachelor’s degree in information systems, IT and computer science.  

  • A bachelor’s degree in computer information systems or management information systems gives students the technical knowledge necessary to pursue an entry-level tech job, such as a data analyst, or enhance their career with a master’s degree program where they can build on specific skills.
  • A bachelor’s degree in computer science can also provide a good foundation to pursue a graduate program or find a position working as a software developer for information systems. 
  • A Master of Information Systems degree includes studies of analytics and data science topics as well as IT-related subjects. Master’s degree programs also often include management and communication classes meant to prepare students for leadership roles. University of Phoenix offers a competency-based masters of information systems degree that may be a good option for professionals with a fair amount of industry experience looking to gain credit for what they already know and focus on what they don’t to develop new skills. 
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Information systems careers

Like IT, information systems careers can cover a wide variety of specialties. Growing fields like data science and machine learning are leading to new positions that require specific knowledge. This is why continuing education and graduate degrees are so common for information systems professionals.  

Here are five common career options for people with information systems degrees.  

  • A business analyst uses data to study trends, make projections and help decision-makers in a company develop strategies. This position requires both a knowledge of information systems and experience in your employer’s industry. 
  • An information systems manager oversees the design, operation and security of specific information systems. They continuously assess the needs of the company and create strategies, systems and programs to fill those requirements. 
  • A software developer focusing on information systems can create specific programs to organize, collect or use data. These programmers often use algorithms to automate data collection and analysis. 
  • A systems analyst looks at the current information systems in a company or organization and finds ways to improve them or create new tools that can streamline the use of data. 
  • A database architect assesses the needs of a company and creates information warehouses and systems for collecting data and transforming it into useful insights.  

Some careers, such as those involving cybersecurity, fit under both information systems and information technology umbrellas. 

7 steps to help you stand out in the competitive technology industry

Which tech field is right for you?

The best tech field is the one that matches your skills and interests. Both information systems and information technology require technical knowledge, so your early education will be similar regardless of your choice.  

However, if you are interested in creating and maintaining a broad technical infrastructure, IT is a better career choice. If you prefer to focus on the analysis and use of data, information systems could be a better field for you.  

If you are uncertain, visit phoenix.edu to explore technology degree offerings to help decide which field is the best match for your experience, interests and professional goals.