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.
What is 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. One example is management information systems, which use information such as a database to improve performance, create reports and make decisions.
Speaking of decisions, decision support systems are another example of an information system. Similarly, these systems use databases and commercial decision support to prepare business packages such as forecasting, linear programming and decision trees.
Information Systems Courses
A degree in information systems typically incorporates aspects of information theory, hardware and software systems, business concepts and networks. For example, a few courses from Florida Tech’s BS in Computer Information Systems degree program include:
- Foundations of Information Systems
- Network Theory and Design
- Database Concepts and Programming
- Programming in Java
Information Systems Degree Programs
Information systems degrees are available at the undergraduate and graduate level. Depending on the university, they may be available in the College of Business, Technology or Engineering. Here are a few examples:
- Associate of Science in Computer Information Systems
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems
- Master of Science in Information Systems
Career Paths in Information Systems
Since information systems deals with how humans and businesses use computers to get work accomplished, information systems provides a variety of job opportunities when combined with relevant work experience.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)*, employment of computer and information systems managers is projected to grow 12% from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also states that the median wage for this career was $142,530 in May 2018.
A few other potential job titles in information systems include:
- Computer systems analyst
- Systems security administrator
- Business analyst
What is 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.
Information Technology Courses
Degree programs in information technology typically focus on the architecture and security of information technology systems. For example, courses in Florida Tech’s MS in Information Technology include:
- Security in the Enterprise
- Information Security Management
- Database Systems Management
- Strategic Management of Technology & Innovation
- Computer Systems Administration
MS in Information Technology graduate Robyn Powell’s favorite course was Management of Software Systems:
“In this class, I learned about all aspects of software engineering, including the design, analysis and construction of systems, and that the main goal of software engineering is to make software that is reliable, efficient, maintainable and meets the needs of the customer. We performed case studies on failed software systems, the cause of the failure and how failure could have been avoided. These studies were extremely valuable because we were able to see other companies’ mistakes and how to avoid them.”
Information Technology Degrees
Information technology degree programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
- AS in Information Technology
- BS in Information Technology
- MS in Information Technology
Career Paths in Information Technology
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. Some job titles include:
- IT director
- Cybersecurity analyst
- IT architect and systems manager
According to the BLS**, computer and technology occupations are projected to increase 13% from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual wage for careers in this category is $86,320, which is 123% higher than the median salary for all occupations. This category includes careers that pertain to both information systems and information technology.
Information Systems vs. Information Technology
The difference between information systems and information technology is that information systems incorporates the technology, people and processes involved with information. Information technology is the design and implementation of information, or data, within the information system.
While both information technology and information systems will involve working with others, IS professionals are typically more integrated in using technology and other systems to accomplish business objectives. IT professionals, while serving an important function to the overall organization, are more focused on the machines and hardware and software systems.
Which is Right For You?
Information systems and information technology are growing fields that offer a variety of job options and long-term professional growth. According to Dr. Christian Sonnenberg, Florida Tech’s IT and information systems programs provide “a number of different skills in the areas of business and technology.”
“For example, for technical skills, you might learn about the normalization of databases. When you are normalizing a database, you are essentially making it more efficient. Whenever you query for something in a database, you’ll get those results back faster, and that leads to faster response times on a website. This, in turn, will lead to higher productivity and more efficiency at the company level.
On the business perspective, you’ll learn about topics like project management and steps along the system lifecycle, the identification and management of risks, and how do you deal with the costs and scheduling personnel. You learn about the technical side of things and the business side.
In addition to that, you’ll also learn general skills such as teamwork, communication, ethics and leadership – things that are core across pretty much all of our degrees.”
Whether you’re interested in information technology or information systems, you should understand the differences to select educational programs that will prepare them for a career that best matches their skills, interests and goals.
Interested in learning more about Florida Tech’s IT and IS degrees?
*Bureau of Labor Statistics,U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Information Systems Managers, on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm (visited August 14, 2019).
**Bureau of Labor Statistics,U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Technology Occupations, on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm (visited August 14, 2019).
National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Degree and/or certificate program options do not guarantee career or salary outcomes. Students should conduct independent research for specific employment information.