| June 30, 2006
IS → IT
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 give 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 mainframeswith
panels of flashing lights; and expressionless operators wearing
white gowns, thick glasses and pocket protectors. That was the era when
"computing" was the exclusive domain of government and major
corporations. Interestingly, the job
title "DP Specialist" often meant data entry clerk, typing into a CRT
terminal, generating punch cards.
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
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 gradually dropped, and became
System (IS). At last, the
once venerable computer system is now a standard issue apparatus for
information workers everywhere, especially with the advent of local area network (LAN).
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 introduced.
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
Personally, I was using IS and IT interchangably throughtout the 90s. In 1997, I coined the slogan "Bravo... your out-sourced IT
dept." (in a few variants) for print materials. A custom banner
graphic was created for rev. 4 of bravotech.us web site in July 2003.
Tags: Glossary, industry jargons, IT, DP, history, did-you-know...