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What is information technology? Definition, applications and 5 examples of IT in action

By Cooper Nelson
January 12, 2022 • 14 Minutes

At a glance

  • Information technology is the use of computers and other devices to generate, process, protect or exchange any form of electronic data.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for computer and information systems managers is projected to grow 11% between 2020 and 2030, faster than the average growth for all occupations.
  • When deciding on an IT career, there are numerous specialized options to choose from, such as cybersecurity, software development and cloud computing.
  • University of Phoenix offers an online Bachelor of Science in Information Technology with customizable tracks and certificates in a range of IT specializations. 

If you are entering or planning to enter the workforce in any capacity, there's a good chance technology will play a role in your job. In the digital age, businesses of all types are using computers to organize their data and streamline their operations at every level.

Today, the growth of business technology has expanded the total number of information technology jobs, according to  the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, increasing the value of computer and technology skills in the business world.

Information technology is a broad term used to describe the use of computers, software and networks by businesses to organize data and information. There are numerous applications of information technology in business, such as security, inventory control, workflow management and more.

These applications offer a range of careers. Security specialists analyze vulnerabilities in networks and implement measures designed to protect them. Database administrators design databases and organize the information to meet user needs. Other professionals, like support technicians, help employees with technological problems as they arise.

And that's just the beginning when it comes to specialized roles for IT professionals in the workplace. 

To determine the best career path, individuals considering a career in information technology need to first understand what the field encompasses and what IT professionals do. 

Information technology definition

According to the American National Standard Dictionary of Information Technology, “information technology” (or IT) is defined as, “the art and applied sciences that deal with data and information. Examples are capture, representation, processing, security, transfer, interchange, presentation, management, organization, storage and retrieval of data and information.” 

This definition is deliberately broad, as many modern businesses use computers, software and other telecommunication technologies in all aspects of their operations.

As technology has advanced and more businesses have automated their operations, the roles of IT professionals have expanded even further. Information technology professionals have diverse responsibilities, must navigate a field rife with jargon and technical terminology and are crucial to the success of their organizations. 

Take the first step toward your career in information technology. Explore the Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at University of Phoenix.

Why is information technology important?

A well-functioning IT department is vital to the productivity and organization of any business. There are IT systems and applications designed for every level of operations, from data security to internal communication. In the modern world, industry leaders use these systems to improve production and set new standards for efficiency. Businesses of all types need IT systems to compete and grow in this new environment. Information technology specialists can help businesses succeed in several key ways:

Communication

All businesses need to communicate effectively to function and grow. Efficient communication among employees can cut down on overhead costs and prevent waste. IT innovations like communication software streamline information sharing by allowing employees to access systems and exchange files remotely. Managers and their teams can use these digital communications systems to quickly share important internal data with one another, track tasks and interact with customers more efficiently.  

Security

In the digital age, a business's data is a highly sought asset that must be protected. The annual number of malware infections nationwide has increased exponentially over the last 10 years, and approximately 230,000 new malware variants are produced each day.

Cybersecurity issues like data breaches and malware attacks can be devastating for businesses, but IT professionals can protect a company’s sensitive data from theft or accidental exposure by using cybersecurity software and employing strategies such as data sanitization.  

Research

Businesses of all types use internal research to analyze their operations and find ways to improve. This research can be highly beneficial, but its impact is directly related to the data that employees can compile and analyze effectively.

To help their companies compete, IT managers can use tools like qualitative research software to glean valuable insights from large samples of data. These insights can help inform policy changes and guide managerial decisions. 

Learn more about information technology’s cousin, computer science!

Information technology examples

Companies use information technology in a variety of ways. IT professionals often take on specialized roles to meet their company’s needs. They have numerous important roles in business. These include:

Network architecture

In business, network architects have the critical job of designing a company’s computer network, including physical components, operational procedures and communication protocols. The importance of well-functioning networks to businesses has made network architecture a high-paying job relative to the national average. The salary range for this career was less than $67,190 to more than $175,570 in May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

IT professionals use specialized programs like network architecture and administration software to track protocols and ensure optimal functionality. 

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Database administration

Database administration is the practice of centralizing and securing a business’s data. In many cases, the data is sensitive (such as client records and financial information) and must be secured to protect the company.

As more businesses turn to big data to guide their policymaking, database administration will become more important. Database administrators use IT tools like database management software to efficiently organize and aggregate data from different sources.

The salary range for this role in May 2020 was less than $54,070 to more than $155,660, according to BLS.

Information security

Information security is vital to businesses in all industries. Information security analysts are tasked with protecting company networks from cyberattacks and data breaches.

Security software helps analysts block malware and other types of cyberattacks. Other tools like network monitoring allow analysts to scan their systems for potential vulnerabilities and identify them before they can be exploited.

The salary range for information security analysts was less than $60,060 and more than $163,300 in May 2020, according to BLS.

Software vs. hardware in information technology

The tools used by information technology specialists are divided into two main categories: hardware and software. These two forms of technology are fundamentally different but are often used together to help businesses achieve their goals. Generally, companies need both hardware and software to establish and sustain functioning informational networks.  

Software

Software describes any programmed set of instructions computers follow to carry out tasks. Software can refer to any program or application that's designed to help computers perform a specific function.

Different types of software have different uses in IT. Operating systems like Windows and iOS help computers perform more efficiently at every level, while applications like office suites and database management programs are designed for a specific task or purpose.

Most types of software belong to one of six major categories: 

  • Application software: Programs designed for specific tasks (web browsers, games, word processors, media players, video editing programs).
  • System software: General software that guides a computer's basic operations and serves as a platform for more specialized applications (operating systems like Windows, Linux, Android or macOS).
  • Firmware: Instructional software that's embedded directly into a device’s internal hardware. Peripheral hardware items like printers and scanners have their own unique firmware designed to make their operations more efficient.
  • Programming software: Software that is used to help programmers write code for new systems and applications. Examples include debuggers, compilers and programming language editors like Eclipse or Coda.
  • Driver software: Software that controls the functions of a specific piece of hardware. Computer components like graphics cards and network cards each have their own “driver” software that guides its operations.
  • Utility Software: This type is designed to help IT managers maintain computers, diagnose problems or optimize a specific function. Examples of utility software include antivirus programs, diagnostic scanners and clipboard managers.

Software can improve network function and help employees complete complex tasks faster. Many software systems require a certain amount of hardware to run, so it's critical for IT managers to understand the system requirements for programs they use. 

Hardware

While software refers to the programs and applications installed on the computer, “hardware” describes the physical parts a computer or computer network needs to function.

IT professionals use two main categories of hardware: the internal parts of the computer and the external devices that provide input or output. Businesses need both types to optimize their network performance.    

The pieces of internal hardware in a computer (also called “components”) are the built-in, physical parts of the device, such as:

  • Motherboard 
  • Hard drive
  • CPU (central processing unit)
  • Video card
  • Network card
  • Heat sink
  • RAM (random access memory)
  • Power supply

External hardware devices in IT (also called “peripherals”) are appliances that connect externally to a computer and provide input, output or data storage. External hardware can take on many forms, such as:

  • Monitors 
  • Keyboards 
  • Speakers
  • Microphones 
  • Cameras
  • Touchpads
  • Printers 
  • Scanners
  • USB flash drives
  • Memory cards   

Information technology vs. computer science

When mapping out a path to a career in technology, it’s important to understand what steps you need to take. Different technology careers require different skills, and it's important to prepare for the job you want.

Information technology and computer science can seem very similar in scope, but these career paths have key differences. Both careers deal with technology, but the day-to-day responsibilities are quite different.

Computer science usually involves conducting research and analysis to aid in the development of entirely new programs. 

Common tasks for IT jobs:

  • Reviewing diagnostics  
  • Implementing and monitoring security systems
  • Helping staff members troubleshoot and solve technical problems
  • Assessing the efficiency and functionality of systems
  • Setting up computers and peripheral hardware for workstations
  • Installing and monitoring software on company devices
  • Monitoring employee compliance 

Common tasks for computer science jobs:

  • Overseeing systems development at each phase (including planning, design, system analysis, implementation, integration, testing and maintenance.) 
  • Programming and optimizing software
  • Conducting research and experiments to guide software development 
  • Working closely with data scientists and software developers
  • Creating predictive models to help guide strategy
  • Presenting research and strategy ideas to management
  • Collaborating with other departments to implement new strategies and solutions 

IT career paths and job opportunities

There are several reasons to pursue a career in IT. According to BLS, information technology jobs offer higher-than-average salaries and are becoming more in demand due to the rapid growth of cloud computing and big data.

Several paths can lead to a job in IT, but the first step is to earn an information technology degree. IT degrees are highly versatile, and earning an associate degree in Information Technology or Bachelor of Science in Information Technology can provide you with the foundation necessary to begin your career.

The next step after education is to find an information technology job where you can gain experience. The growing demand for IT professionals can provide jobseekers an opportunity to apply for jobs in the IT specialization that best fits their career goals. Below are some IT jobs that these degrees can prepare you for.   

Help-desk technician

Overview: IT help desk technicians, also known as computer support specialists, are typically responsible for helping employees identify and fix issues with their computers or networks. Relevant skills include troubleshooting with others, maintaining hardware and software and fixing network issues.

National average salary: IT help and support technicians can earn a wide range of salaries, due to the variety of fields and employers in which IT help is required. Computer user support specialists may earn anywhere from $32,830 to $88,940, depending on how specialized their work is and in which sector they are employed.

Education requirements: Help desk technicians and IT support specialists should consider an associate degree in IT, though certain employers or sectors may require a more advanced or specialized degree.

Job outlook: IT help desk technicians are already in demand, so growth in demand for their services is expected to grow at an average of 9% each year, according to BLS.

IT management

Overview: Computer and information systems managers are responsible for directing the computer-related activities of a company. Some IT management roles focus on directing projects and day-to-day operations of IT teams. Others take on more technical projects and must manage sophisticated equipment, systems or other digital resources.

As a result, skills needed by IT management professionals depend on their area of specialization, their field and the specifics of their role. Some IT management positions require advanced technical training, while others seek a blend of basic IT talent with some business or even management and human resource skills.

National average salary: The salary range for computer and information systems managers was $90,430 to $208,000 in May 2020, according to BLS.

Education requirements: Education requirements for IT managers can vary widely depending on an individual's skills, experience, location and employer. Typically, these professionals need a bachelor’s degree in IT, but some positions may require a graduate degree or additional specializations or certifications.  

Job outlook: As the adoption of technology grows across industries and organizations alike, the need for individuals to manage IT should increase as well. BLS projects employment to grow 11% between 2020 and 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. 

Health IT specialist

Overview: The healthcare sector is rapidly advancing and integrating next-generation digital solutions, tools and information management systems, and it has a diverse and urgent need for a variety of IT professionals to handle these emerging challenges. Everything from managing security for sensitive medical records to directly aiding healthcare providers in their documentation, patient assessments and research into new operations and potential cures relies on help from IT professionals.

Becoming a health IT specialist requires a combination of technical training and potentially clinical experience, familiarity with healthcare systems or other medical education, depending on the role.

National average salary: According to BLS data from May 2020, specialists managing health records can earn up to (and sometimes more than) $105,690 per year, while more entry-level information technologists working in private offices can start at $29,130. However, the range of roles and employment opportunities for technologists and IT specialists in healthcare is so wide that it's difficult to assign a specific salary potential. Pay depends on specialization, working in a public versus private setting and other factors.

Education requirements: Education requirements for health IT managers can vary depending on several factors, including experience, location and the job itself. Most positions will require a high-school diploma or its equivalent, as well as relevant experience. Additional requirements may include specific licenses or certifications or a postsecondary degree in a related field.

Job outlook: Overall demand for health IT professionals is projected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS. 

Web developer

Overview: Web developers have the crucial job of designing and building a company’s webpages. Web developers can specialize in front-end development (which focuses on the user interface) or back-end development (which concerns the internal mechanics of the site). Skills include proficiency in one or more programming languages (HTML, CSS, Java, Python), search engine optimization, debugging and design.

National average salary: The salary range for web developers was less than $40,750 to more than $146,430 in May 2020, according to BLS. Salary may depend on a web developer’s skills, experience, location and employer.

Education requirements: Education requirements for web developers and digital designers can vary based on factors such as experience and the employer. Web developers may have a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree in IT. Some employers require a bachelor’s degree in IT, computer programming or computer science.

Job outlook: Demand for web developers is forecast to grow 13% between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than average, according to BLS data.

IT skills for resumés

In addition to experience and knowledge of foundational industry terms, most businesses also carefully consider their candidates’ listed skills when deciding whom to hire or promote. Different information technology jobs come with varying responsibilities, but there are some skills that all IT professionals should have on their resumés:

  • Hardware knowledge: An understanding of both internal (CPU, graphics card) and external (keyboards, speakers, projectors) hardware, including what these components do and how they must be maintained.
  • Software knowledge: The ability to competently use relevant software applications, as well as an understanding of software development frameworks like Scrum.
  • Operating system proficiency: The ability to navigate operating systems, like Windows or Linux, and perform important tasks using computers that run them.
  • Network security: Knowledge of network security strategies and techniques, such as vulnerability testing, threat modeling, encryption and secure coding practices. 
  • Coding/programming: Proficiency in one or more of the major programming languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python). 

In the end, information technology is not only a growing field, it’s also a diverse one that relies on education, experience and specific skills. And that translates to plenty of opportunity.

How to write an effective resumé

Ready to start a career in information technology? Download our step-by-step guide to writing an effective resumé to help get started.