The term “information” has a diversity of meanings, from everyday usage to technical interpretations. Generally speaking, the concept of information is associated with knowledge derived from study, experience, or instruction. Technology, on the other hand, refers to the application of knowledge to the practical aims of human life, or to changing and manipulating the human environment. Technology includes the use of materials, tools, techniques and sources of power to make life easier or more pleasant and work more productive. Technology began to influence human endeavour as soon as people began using tools. Technology also started being used for managing information when the amount and variety of information grew to such vast proportions that the human brain could neither store nor process it efficiently.
The term Information Technology (IT) was coined by Jim Domsic of Michigan in November 1981. Domsic created the term to modernize the outdated phrase “data processing“. Information Technology is a general term that describes any technology that helps to produce, manipulate, store, communicate and/or disseminate information. Presumably, when speaking of Information Technology as a whole, it is noted that the use of computers and information are associated. “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.” IT deals with the use of computers and computer software to convert, store, protect, process, transmit and securely retrieve information.
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, video, text, 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.
Another related term, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is sometimes used in preference to Information Technology, particularly in the fields of education and governance. In common usage, it is often assumed that ICT is synonymous with IT; ICT in fact encompasses any medium to record information, technology for broadcasting information; and technology for communicating through voice and/or images. It includes the wide variety of computing hardware (PCs, servers, mainframes, networked storage), the rapidly developing personal hardware market (mobile phones, personal devices, MP3 players), application software (from the smallest home-developed spreadsheet to online software services); and the hardware and software needed to operate networks for transmission of information. Thus, ICT makes more explicit that technologies such as broadcasting and wireless mobile telecommunications are included.
History of Information Technology
The basic concept of Information Technology 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. 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.
Indian IT Industry
The Indian Information Technology industry has played a key role in putting India on the global map. Thanks to the success of the IT industry, India is now a power to reckon with. According to the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), the apex body for software services in India, the revenue of the IT sector has grown from 1.2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in FY 1997-98 to an estimated 5.5 per cent in FY 2007-08. The net value added by this sector, to the economy, is estimated to be 3.3 to 3.9 per cent for FY 2007-08. Direct employment in Indian IT-BPO crossed the 2 million mark, an increase of about 389,000 professionals over FY2007; indirect job creation is estimated at about 8-9 million. IT-BPO exports (including hardware exports) reached USD 40.9 billion in FY2008 as against USD 31.8 billion in FY2007, a growth of 28 per cent. Many of the global IT companies have development centres in India where a lot of new products are being designed. India’s most prized resource in today’s knowledge economy is its readily available technical work force. India has the second largest English-speaking scientific professionals in the world, second only to the U.S.
The phenomenal growth of the Indian IT Software & Services, IT Enabled Services (ITES) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector has had a perceptible multiplier effect on the Indian economy as a whole. In addition to the direct positive impact on national income, the sector has grown to become the biggest employment generator, and has spawned the mushrooming of several ancillary industries such as transportation, real estate and catering, and has created a rising class of youthful consumers with high disposable incomes. This, in turn, has triggered a rise in direct-tax collections and propelled an increase in consumer spending.
Applications of Information Technology
Every day, people use computers in new ways. Computers and other electronic devices are becoming increasingly affordable. They continue to be more powerful as information-processing tools as well as easier to use. Humans are continually becoming dependant on IT-enabled devices for carrying out simple tasks like remembering a phone number to complex ones like flying a fighter plane. Information Technology has applications in almost all aspects of our life. Some of the important ones are:
Science and Engineering: Scientific progress in fields like biotechnology is almost entirely dependent on the use of computers and other microprocessor-controlled devices. 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 (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs 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.
Business & Commerce: 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 business functions like 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. Almost all the financial transactions in the world are done electronically. Newer technologies like m-commerce have enabled almost everybody to carry out routine financial transactions on the move.
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.
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. Management Information System (MIS), with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at its head, is a whole, new branch of enterprise management.
Education: The advent of Information Technology has changed the meaning of the term “literate”, with computer literacy being almost as important as basic literacy in many cases. Computer education is an essential course at the primary level in most schools across the world. With more information getting digitized every day, and the internet making it accessible to anyone across the world, students are increasingly relying on electronic sources of information rather than physical libraries for their needs. Instructional methodology has also undergone a sea change with use of images, animations, videos, presentations and e-learning to complement traditional techniques.
Governance: The concept of e-governance is one of the most novel applications of Information Technology whereby it is changing the lives of millions across the globe. Computerization of Government activities makes it easier to supervise and audit, and makes the administration more responsive to the needs of society. It also bridges the divide between the Government and the people. Technologies like touch-screen kiosks help disseminate information on land records, photo identity cards, pending bills etc. and enable even illiterate people to take more informed decisions. India is leading the world in the effective use of IT for elections.
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. Most critical life support equipment are programmed to respond to changes in the patient’s status in split-seconds, thereby reducing the response time and risk of human error. Newer concepts like robotic surgery enable specialists to perform surgeries from remote locations. Genomic studies greatly depend on supercomputing power to develop technologies for the future.
Entertainment: IT has changed the lifestyle of most people. The convergence of various technologies has created various options for entertainment like games, streaming music and video, digital television broadcasts, satellite radio, animated movies etc. which can be accessed with the help of mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers or on television either with a cable connection or wirelessly using newer-generation WiFi, CDMA or GPRS technologies.
Information Technology plays a vital role in most of our daily activities. There is hardly anyone who has not been affected or influenced by IT. With each passing day, newer applications of IT are being developed which increase our interaction with and dependence on IT-enabled devices. Therefore, understanding this technology and using it creatively is imperative to human progress.
Excerpt from ‘Information Technology in Veterinary Science‘ (2009), New India Publishing Agency, New Delhi. ISBN 978-81-908512-4-4. More details here.