Information systems (IS) and information technology (IT) are often considered synonymous. In reality, information technology is a subset of information systems. The perception that these terms can be used interchangeably can cause confusion for individuals interested in pursuing a technology-related career. Although both these fields deal with computers, they have distinct characteristics and specific career paths that require different education and training.  

Information Systems

Information systems is an umbrella term for the systems, people and processes designed to create, store, manipulate, distribute and disseminate information. The field of information systems bridges business and computer science. One of the reasons people may not distinguish between IS and IT is that they assume all information systems are computer-based systems. An information system, however, can be as simple as a pencil and a piece of paper. Separate, the objects are just tools. Used together, they create a system for recording information. Although information systems are heavily reliant on computers and other technology-based tools, the term predates computers and can include non-technological systems.

A degree in information systems often includes courses in:

  • Information Theory
  • Foundations of Management
  • Social Science
  • Information Technology

Careers in information systems can include a variety of fields, such as actuarial sciences, analytics and programming, communications, computer security and auditing.

Information Technology

Information technology falls under the IS umbrella but deals with the technology involved in the systems themselves. Information technology can be defined as the study, design, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems.

IT typically includes hardware, software, databases and networks. Information technology often governs the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of digitized information, or data, generated through the disciplines of computing and telecommunications. Information technology focuses on managing technology and improving its utilization to advance the overall business goals.

A career in information technology often requires a degree in computer or information science and can offer several career paths, such as cybersecurity, network or database administration, infrastructure management, business intelligence or enterprise resource planning, computer programming and software development.

Degree programs in information technology typically include courses in:

  • Mathematics
  • Database Design
  • Computer Science and Forensics
  • Programming Languages

Information systems and information technology are growing fields that offer a variety of job options and long-term professional growth. Although these fields are related, individuals who are interested in a technology-related career should understand the differences in order to select educational programs that will prepare them for a career that best matches their skills, interests and goals.

The Bottom Line

When deciding which of these computer-related paths to pursue, it’s critical to be clear and detailed about exactly what it is you’re looking for in a career. By fully understanding the differences and similarities between information systems and information technology, prospective students can better select an educational path. Gathering data about your prospective field and evaluating it carefully will allow you to make an informed choice about the best career path for you.

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