Study notes

What is ICT?

You see the letters ICT everywhere - particularly in education. But what does it mean? Read our introduction to this important and fast-changing subject.

ICT is an acronym that stands for Information Communications Technology.

However, apart from explaining an acronym, there's no universally accepted defininition of ICT. Why? Because the concepts, methods and applications involved in ICT are constantly evolving on an almost daily basis and it's difficult to keep up.

A good way to think about ICT is to consider all uses of digital technology that exist to help individuals, businesses and organisations use information. ICT covers any product that will store, retrieve, manipulate, transmit or receive information electronically in a digital form. For example, personal computers, digital television, email, robots.

So ICT is concerned with the storage, retrieval, manipulation, transmission or receipt of digital data. Importantly, it is also concerned with the way these different uses can work with each other.

In business, ICT is often categorised into two broad types of product:

  1. Traditional computer-based technologies (things you can typically do on a personal computer or using computers at home or at work)
  2. Digital communication technologies (which allow people and organisations to communicate and share information digitally)

Let's take a brief look at these two categories to demonstrate the kinds of products and ideas that are covered by ICT:

Traditional computer based technologies

Standard office applications

Word processing: eg MS Word to write letters, reports etc

Spreadsheets: eg MS Excel to analyse financials, calculations, create forecasting models etc

Database software: eg Oracle/MS SQL Server/Access to manage date in many forms from basic lists (eg customer contacts to catalogues)

Presentation software: eg MS Powerpoint to make presentations

Desktop publishing: eg Adobe Indesign/Quark Express/MS Publisher to produce newsletters, magazines and other complex documents

Graphics software: eg Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create and edit images such as logos, drawing or pictures for use in DTP, websites or other publications.

Specialist applications

Accounting package: eg Sage/Oracle to manage an organisations accounts

Computer Aided Design (CAD): to assist the design process. Specialist programmes exist for many times of design such as architectural, engineering, electronics and roadways

Customer Relations Management (CRM): to allow businesses to better understand their customers by collecting and analysing data such as their product preferences and buying habits etc. Often linked to software applications that run call centres and loyalty cards, for example

Digital communication technologies

Communication of data by electronic means, usually over some distance is often achieved via networks of sending and receiving equipment, wires and satellite links.

The technologies involved in communication tend to be complex. You certainly don't need to understand them for your ICT course. However, there are aspects of digital communications that you needs to be aware of. These relate primarily to the two types of network and the ways of connecting to the internet. Let's look at these two briefly:

Internal networks

Usually referred to as a local area network (LAN), this involves linking a number of hardware items (input and output devices plus computer processing) together within an office or building.

The aim of a LAN is to be able to share hardware facilities such as printers or scanners, software applications and data. This type of network is invaluable in the office environment where colleagues need to have access to common data or programmes.

External networks

Often you need to communicate with someone outside your internal network, in this case you will need to be part of a wide area network (WAN). The internet is the ultimate WAN - it is a vast network of networks.

In a broader context

Your ICT course will almost certainly cover the above examples of ICT in action, perhaps focusing on the use of key applications such as spreadsheets, databases, presentation, graphics and web design software.

It will also consider the following important topics that deal with the way ICT is used and managed in an organisation:

  1. Nature of information (the "I" in ICT): this covers topics such as the meaning and value of information, how information is controlled, the limitations of ICT and legal considerations
  2. Management of information: this covers how data is captured, verified and stored for effective use; the manipulation, processing and distribution of information; keeping information secure and designing networks to share information
  3. Information systems strategy: this considers how ICT can be used within a business or organisation as part of achieving goals and objectives

As you can see, ICT is a broad and fast-changing subject. We hope our free study materials (revision notes, quizzes, presentations etc) will help you master IT!

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