June 30, 2006|
Here is a not-so-well-known historical tale about the
term Information Technology (IT).
Its use is such commonplace nowadays that most people never gave it a
second thought, and believe it has always been around.
In the 60s and 70s, anything to do with the computers is referred to
as the Data Processing (DP)
department. The term DP still conjures up images of 132-column green bar
fan-fold forms, teletype printers hammering away, banks of
refrigerator-sized minicomputers and
room-sized mainframes with
panels of flashing lights; and expressionless operators wearing white
gowns, thick glasses and pocket protectors. That was the era when only
major government agencies and major corporations could afford the
computer equipment and the team of specialists. Interestingly, the job
title "DP Specialist" often meant data entry clerk, typing into a CRT
terminal, or generating punch cards (which was at the time, the primary
form of storage).
Microcomputers transformed from
purely hobbyist toys to serious business tools within a very short time
from 1976 to 1981. That covers the range from Apple ][, to Commodore
PET, to TRS-80 and numerous other CP/M-based machines (including the
Osborne 1), to the "revolutionary"
IBM-PC, which was generally regarded as the first serious
business tool in its class. The subsequent PC compatible market gave
birth to an explosion of powerful yet relatively inexpensive hardware.
In the early 80s, with the advent of viable
microcomputer-based solutions, small enterprises, as well as
individual departments within major corporations and government started
to establish their own computing operations to solve problems. In the
business sector, the terms Decision Support
Systems (DSS) and later, Management
Information Systems (MIS) were coined, mostly for marketing
purposes, by companies touting their new generation data processing
solutions. This was the era where the computing-related workers
went from being "scientist-like" to more business-oriented. The shift
was clearly reflected in both their personality traits and predominant
attire. Now, the line "MIS Director" on your business card
would earn you the
flirting rights with the most attractive crowd at any cocktail party.
As prices continued to drop and personal computers
became ubiquitous at the workplace, they evolved to be something more
about the rank-and-file workers and their mundane business activities,
and less about the top brasses in the board room charting corporate strategies.
Inevitably, the word "management" in MIS was eventually dropped, and it was then known as simply
Information System (IS).
At last, the once venerable computer system is now a standard issue
apparatus for information workers everywhere.
Then came the 90s...
when the Asian sector firmly established itself among the major global
movers and shakers of the computing industry. They started replacing the
term IS with Information Technology (IT)
to give it the appropriate emphasis on "technology." A subtle motivation was to account for the fact that the
industry is no longer focusing on the computer itself. Rather, it's the
overall application of technologies in all aspects of life, with
various gadgets and more importantly, new processes and services being
The Europeans soon
followed suit, and later the term caught on in the United States―
within academia at first, then the IT industry itself, and finally―society
at large. So, it has now been a decade since the term "IT department" has
been in circulation, here in the U.S., and it has become part of
the everyday vocabulary in the last few years.