Information Technology

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Information technology, as defined by the Information Technology Association of America

(ITAA), is "the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems, particularly software applications and computer hardware." Encompassing the computer and information systems industries, information technology is the capability to electronically input, process, store, output, transmit, and receive data and information, including text, graphics, sound, and video, as well as the ability to control machines of all kinds electronically.

Information technology is comprised of computers, networks, satellite communications, robotics, videotext, cable television, electronic mail ("e-mail"), electronic games, and automated office equipment. The information industry consists of all computer, communications, and electronics-related organizations, including hardware, software, and services. Completing tasks using information technology results in rapid processing and information mobility, as well as improved reliability and integrity of processed information.

History of Information Technology

The term "information technology" evolved in the 1970s. Its basic concept, however, can be traced to the World War II alliance of the military and industry in the development of electronics, computers, and information theory. After the 1940s, the military remained the major source of research and development funding for the expansion of automation to replace manpower with machine power.

Since the 1950s, four generations of computers have evolved. Each generation reflected a change to hardware of decreased size but increased capabilities to control computer operations. The first generation used vacuum tubes, the second used transistors, the third used integrated circuits, and the fourth used integrated circuits on a single computer chip. Advances in artificial intelligence that will minimize the need for complex programming characterize the fifth generation of computers, still in the experimental stage.

The first commercial computer was the UNIVAC I, developed by John Eckert and John W. Mauchly in 1951. It was used by the Census Bureau to predict the outcome of the 1952 presidential election. For the next twenty-five years, mainframe computers were used in large corporations to do calculations and manipulate large amounts of information stored in databases. Supercomputers were used in science and engineering, for designing aircraft and nuclear reactors, and for predicting worldwide weather patterns. Minicomputers came on to the scene in the early 1980s in small businesses, manufacturing plants, and factories.

In 1975, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed microcomputers. In 1976, Tandy Corporation's first Radio Shack microcomputer followed; the Apple microcomputer was introduced in 1977. The market for microcomputers increased dramatically when IBM introduced the first personal computer in the fall of 1981. Because of dramatic improvements in computer components and manufacturing, personal computers today do more than the largest computers of the mid-1960s at about a thousandth of the cost.

Computers today are divided into four categories by size, cost, and processing ability. They are supercomputer, mainframe, minicomputer, and microcomputer, more commonly known as a personal computer. Personal computer categories include desktop, network, laptop, and handheld.

Information Technology's Role Today

Every day, people use computers in new ways. Computers are increasingly affordable; they continue to be more powerful as information-processing tools as well as easier to use.

Computers in Business One of the first and largest applications of computers is keeping and managing business and financial records. Most large companies keep the employment records of all their workers in large databases that are managed by computer programs. Similar programs and databases are used in such business functions as billing customers; tracking payments received and payments to be made; and tracking supplies needed and items produced, stored, shipped, and sold. In fact, practically all the information companies need to do business involves the use of computers and information technology.

On a smaller scale, many businesses have replaced cash registers with point-of-sale (POS) terminals. These POS terminals not only print a sales receipt for the customer but also send information to a computer database when each item is sold to maintain an inventory of items on hand and items to be ordered. Computers have also become very important in modern factories. Computer-controlled robots now do tasks that are hot, heavy, or hazardous. Robots are also used to do routine, repetitive tasks in which boredom or fatigue can lead to poor quality work.

Computers in Medicine Information technology plays an important role in medicine. For example, a scanner takes a series of pictures of the body by means of computerized axial tomography (CAT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A computer then combines the pictures to produce detailed three-dimensional images of the body's organs. In addition, the MRI produces images that show changes in body chemistry and blood flow.

Computers in Science and Engineering Using supercomputers, meteorologists predict future weather by using a combination of observations of weather conditions from many sources, a mathematical representation of the behavior of the atmosphere, and geographic data.

Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing programs, often called CAD/CAM, have led to improved products in many fields, especially where designs tend to be very detailed. Computer programs make it possible for engineers to analyze designs of complex structures such as power plants and space stations.

Integrated Information Systems With today's sophisticated hardware, software, and communications technologies, it is often difficult to classify a system as belonging uniquely to one specific application program. Organizations increasingly are consolidating their information needs into a single, integrated information system. One example is SAP, a German software package that runs on mainframe computers and provides an enterprise-wide solution for information technologies. It is a powerful database that enables companies to organize all their data into a single database, then choose only the program modules or tables they want. The freestanding modules are customized to fit each customer's needs.


Computer software consists of the programs, or lists of instructions, that control the operation of a computer. Application software can be used for the following purposes:

  • As a productivity/business tool
  • To assist with graphics and multimedia projects
  • To support household activities, for personal business, or for education
  • To facilitate communications

Productivity Software Productivity software is designed to make people more effective and efficient when performing daily activities. It includes applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentation graphics, personal information management, graphics and multimedia, communications, and other related types of software. Word-processing software is used to create documents such as letters, memos, reports, mailing labels, and newsletters. This software is used to create attractive and professional-looking documents that are stored electronically, allowing them to be retrieved and revised. The software provides tools to correct spelling and grammatical mistakes, permits copying and moving text without rekeying, and provides tools to enhance the format of documents. Electronic spreadsheet software is used in business environments to perform numeric calculations rapidly and accurately. Data are keyed into rows and columns on a worksheet, and formulas and functions are used to make fast and accurate calculations. Spreadsheets are used for "what-if" analyses and for creating charts based on information in a worksheet. A database is a collection of data organized in a manner that allows access, retrieval, and use of that data. A database management system (DBMS) is used to create a computerized database; add, change, and delete data; sort and retrieve data from the database; and create forms and reports using the data in the database. Presentation graphics software is used to create presentations, which can include clip-art images, pictures, video clips, and audio clips as well as text. A personal information manager is a software application that includes an appointment calendar, address book, and notepad to help organize personal information such as appointments and task lists. Engineers, architects, desktop publishers, and graphic artists often use graphics and multimedia software such as computer-aided design, desktop publishing, video and audio entertainment, and Web page authoring. Software for communications includes groupware, e-mail, and Web browsers.


Information processing involves four phases: input, process, output, and storage. Each of these phases and the associated devices are discussed below.

Input devices: Input devices include the keyboard, pointing devices, scanners and reading devices, digital cameras, audio and video input devices, and input devices for physically challenged users. Input devices are used to capture data at the earliest possible point in the workflow, so that the data are accurate and readily available for processing.

Processing: After data are captured, they are processed. When data are processed, they are transformed from raw facts into meaningful information. A variety of processes may be performed on the data, such as adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying, sorting, organizing, formatting, comparing, and graphing. After processing, information is output, as a printed report, for example, or stored as files.

Output devices: Four common types of output are text, graphics, audio, and video. Once information has been processed, it can be listened to through speakers or a headset, printed onto paper, or displayed on a monitor. An output device is any computer component capable of conveying information to a user. Commonly used output devices include display devices, printers, speakers, headsets, data projectors, fax machines, and multifunction devices. A multifunction device is a single piece of equipment that looks like a copy machine but provides the functionality of a printer, scanner, copy machine, and perhaps a fax machine.

Storage devices: Storage devices retain items such as data, instructions, and information for retrieval and future use. They include floppy disks or diskettes, hard disks, compact discs (both read-only and disc-recordable), tapes, PC cards, Smart Cards, microfilm, and microfiche.

Information and Data Processing

Data processing is the input, verification, organization, storage, retrieval, transformation, and extraction of information from data. The term is usually associated with commercial applications such as inventory control or payroll. An information system refers to business applications of computers and consists of the databases, application programs, and manual and machine procedures and computer systems that process data. Databases store the master files of the business and its transaction files. Application programs provide the data entry, updating, and query and report processing. Manual procedures document the workflow, showing how the data are obtained for input and how the system's output is distributed. Machine procedures instruct the computers how to perform batch-processing activities, in which the output of one program is automatically fed into another program. Daily processing is the interactive, real-time processing of transactions. Batch-processing programs are run at the end of the day (or some other period) to update the master files that have not been updated since the last cycle. Reports are printed for the cycle's activities. Periodic processing of an information system involves updating of the master files— adding, deleting, and changing the information about customers, employees, vendors, and products.


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