IS vs IT

The relationship between Information Systems and Information Technology (IT) depends on who you ask. In school we learn an Information System consists of people, process, and technology. So technology is only one component of Information Systems, right?

Academia versus Industry

Yes, but  in the industry we see IT departments that implement information systems. Let's clarify by adding some context and definitions.
  • The generic academic text-book Information System (IS) manages information.
  • IS consists of People + Process + Technology.
  • People = users. If dealing with Content Management, be sure to include content authors, end users, and maybe IT.
  • Process = manual and automated steps. If in TridionWorld, be wary of using the word workflow since its also a product feature.
  • Technology = software + hardware (and sometimes IT personnel, depending on who you ask).
An IS handles information, sometimes in a business, possible for management, and at least in organizations often connected to to software that attached to a three-letter acronym (TLA) such as CRM, WCM, WFM, WFO, or CXM.

Data and Metrics

Tip: there's a distinction between levels of data.
  • Data = raw observations
  • Information = processed data
  • Knowledge = actionable information (at least how I understand it)
I you like metrics you can map the above to:*
  1. Level or given measurement at one point in time (data)
  2. Trend of measured levels as seen in a graph (information)
  3. Benchmarks or comparison (knowledge)
  4. Actionable steps (or analysis)
*Thanks again to Lars and Kurt from a Gartner PPM Summit workshop for this explanation.

In the end, I like the IS definition because it allows for a variety of scenarios, jobs, and roles. Your company may name the IT department whatever it wants with whatever roles make sense, but in the end any computer information system includes people, processes, and technology.

Tips when dealing with either IS or IT

  • Use "IS = People, Process, and Technology" to evaluate any IT project, situation, or problem. It forces a healthy perspective for the big picture.
  • Not all people have the same skills, interest in the system, nor motivations.
  • Not all process is manual, nor automated.
  • Technology influences people and processes, ideally by allowing the same (people) to do/process more
  • It's probably not a good idea to sell technology as a "do more with less" solution, especially if your presenting to the people that may be displaced by such technology
If people call IT by something else, get clarification but go with it. It's more important to help people improve their processes, possibly with technology, than to argue about differences in terminology.*

*Except for health insurance and wellness companies that deal both with CMS, the US Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a CMS as in content management systems. If that's the case, consider using WCM for Web Content Management. ;-)

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