Information Systems vs. Information Technology: Differences & Examples

Instructor: David Whitsett

David has taught computer applications, computer fundamentals, computer networking, and marketing at the college level. He has a MBA in marketing.

The terms information systems and information technology are often used interchangeably but in reality, these are different. In this lesson, we will understand their basic differences and how these resources are utilized differently by small and large businesses.

Understanding Systems and Devices

Your company issues you a laptop to use at work. When you're at work, you're plugged into the company network and you have access to company's printers and servers. If something goes wrong with your laptop, you call the company's help desk and they send a technician to help. With all of these resources and attachments, when you're at work your laptop is part of an information system.

At the end of the day, you turn off your laptop and head for home. The laptop is no longer a part of an information system as it's not connected to other devices. it is just a device with network connection capabilities and now a part of information technology (IT). So a laptop is an information technology device but it can also be a part of an information system. This means that a device can be a subset of a system.

When people hear the word system these days, some jump to conclusion that it means a machine or computer. But information systems have been around a lot longer than computers.

Early Days of Information Systems

An information system is a coordinated set of tools that are used to store and process information. So, in theory an information system can be as simple as paper and pencil. A library is an information system, so information systems have been around for hundreds of years. Information systems have evolved tremendously since the advent of computer technology, going from manual records to system records, information is available at our fingertips through an Internet connection.

With the development of computers, information systems include people (programmers, technicians, analysts), machines and processes. So information technology is a part of the whole system. Just like manual records were the resources for business decision making in the old days, information systems are the resources these days.

Examples of Information Technology

So if a laptop is a piece of information technology, what else qualifies as IT? Basically IT gear can be any piece of hardware or software because we're referring to the technology part of the information system. All the devices like servers, printers, routers and even your smartphone qualify as information technology if they can connect to a network and become part of a system.

The flip side is that which devices would not be considered as IT devices? It used to be a clearer line of demarcation; if a device couldn't become part of a network or attach to the Internet, it wasn't considered information technology. Standalone copy machines and audiovisual equipment come to mind. But processors and connectivity is embedded in so many devices that it's hard to draw a firm line. For example, think about the new smart refrigerators with touch-panel computer screens embedded in the doors - a smart appliance!

Information technology can also refer to activities associated with computer-based systems, such as the study, design, implementation or support of these systems. Computer technicians in a business are often referred to as the ''IT guy'' and the term has taken on a life of its own in popular culture, with Internet memes and mentions on TV and in the movies.

Business Size and Information Flow

Because of a lack of resources, small businesses handle information technology and information systems differently than larger companies. Here are a few differences:

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