The Meaning of IT

What does the IT in ITIL® stand for? This question may seem easy to answer. The IT stands for “information technology”. But what does that really mean? Is there more than one way to answer the question of what the IT in ITIL® means? I believe there are more than one context or meaning for IT and we must be aware of the distinct meanings. Let’s take a look at some of the ideas or concepts behind IT.

·       IT as “information technology”: This most basic use of IT refers to the physical and technological pieces and components made up of electronics and operating/machine software. E.g. A desktop computer is IT as “information technology”.

·      IT as “management information systems (MIS)”: Computerized components that are used to manage, control and govern information used to run a business or organization. E.g. A customer relationship management system is IT as “MIS”.

·        IT as “collection of applications and infrastructure”: This umbrella use of IT encompasses anything technological or computerized regardless of its usage or its nature. E.g. Cloud computing is IT as “collection of applications and infrastructure”.

·       IT as “place”: This use of IT refers to the location where IT management, control and governance occur. E.g. A data center is IT as “place”.

·        IT as “organization”: This logical use of IT represents the “department” of people who create, deliver, manage, control and govern “information technology” and “management information systems”. The IT folks are IT as “organization”.
Many times I have run across individuals and organizations where the use of the term IT or “information technology” has become confused or misused. This leads to misunderstandings, poor decision making and unclear roles and responsibilities. ITIL® encourages us to clarify our terminology and use it in its proper context.
So let us look at an example. One of the most confused uses of IT is that of IT as “organization”. Unfortunately there is no clear boundary or standard as to what makes up an “IT Department”. Some companies include all IT related work: projects, application development, infrastructure management, support and many other areas. Some companies take a more narrow view and only include the back-end operational activities of supporting infrastructure and operating systems. Business application development, support and management are not included.
This lack of consistency in definition and usage leads to issues when trying to apply ITIL® and other best practices. Does ITIL® cover application development, if that is not part of an “IT Department”? Does ITIL deal with strategies that are related to outside of a narrowly defined “IT Department”? Does requirements gathering and design belong “inside” or “outside” an “IT Department”?
ITIL® itself does not necessarily provide clear answers to these questions. ITIL® does provide guidance that will lead an organization to become more consistent and comprehensive with its usage and definition of terms like “information technology”. If your organization has not undertaken to clarify basic terms like “information technology” it may be interesting to see different definitions based on different perspectives.  The benefits and value will reveal themselves in the long run.


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