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Are we in the IT sector or the ICT sector?

By Wayan Vota on June 6, 2011

it-vs-ict.jpg

When you think and speak of your company and your profession, do you use the term “IT”, as in Information Technology, or do you say “ICT” as in Information and Communication Technologies? I ask this question after reading the following article in Vanguard Nigeria:

A rather unusual but heated debate had erupted during a session at the NITMA awards organised by the Nigeria Computer Society NCS in Lagos recently during which leading stakeholders in the sector and the President of the Information Technology Association of Nigeria, ITAN; Dr. Jimson Olufuye had argued vehemently over the proper acronym to call the sector: IT or ICT?

The arguments had ruffled a lot of feathers, particularly the chairman of the event Mr Orjinta Orji-Alla who is the former president of the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria CPN and member of the NCS. He stood and threatened that those who do not agree with the council – which insisted that the sector be called ‘IT’ – had better resign from it.

Now while I do not feel that strongly between the terms IT or ICT, I do think ICT is the better term for our industry. IT to me means the heavy infrastructure of servers and IT help desks you find in the back rooms of big international companies and governments, manned by staff who never leave the confines of their air conditioned cubicles.

ICT on the other hand, is the use of IT to expand the impact of programs and services beyond the city center. ICT is figuring out what IT works in a rural school, or have a health clinic will communicate with its non-literate clients or the IT staff of distant central offices. Most of all, ICT, by adding the “C” sets us apart from standard IT, which does not work in the absence of urban support staff.

Enough of me – what do you think? Should we use ICT or is it just hype and fashion added to plain old IT?

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Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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13 Comments to “Are we in the IT sector or the ICT sector?”

  1. Jaume Fortuny says:

    IT sounds like hardware. To me it brings to mind a bunch of useless junk.
    ICT has the human component of “communication”. Its use has been extended to serve people. which gives a positive sense.

    It’s more likely to whom see technology from the standpoint of the user benefit prefer ICT.

  2. Lawrence Pixa says:

    Some might say it depends on your country or region. However, there are political stakes such as: do you include “telephony” in the “Communications” part of ICT? If you are familiar with the ITU (int’l telecom union) charter, where do they fit? Typically the US does not combine “Post and Telecom Services” with IT in terms of economic reporting – however the EU does, and they do their own calculations re: the US economy.

    I’ve participated in a number of ITU sessions on the subject in Geneva while working in the private sector. An ongoing debate internationally has been does the ITU take over the purview of Internet governance and telephony internationally? or perhaps not? This is an example of one topic only, there are more. So this is not just about branding or marketing of the sector, the separation of the “C” from “IT” has roots in some deep international and government policy and structural economic debates.

    Technology convergence will eventually force the issues further, imho. Until then, if you use ICT in front of certain audiences (US in particular) be prepared to explain.

    For the purposes of taxonomy, when communicating to large audiences, it’s a superficial debate, just adapt appropriately.

  3. I don’t see what’s to debate. No future for unconnected hardware. With just about everything having an IP address and communications being the world’s biggest business, I would respectfully suggest to keeping the C in ICT. Now let’s just get on with it.

  4. Pernille says:

    ICT!

    IT is nothing (but hardware) without people and communication…

    Pernille

  5. Tom says:

    This is interesting, as I’ve always thought of the difference more of a regional or country specific semantic issue. When you say ICT in the US, most people get confused. ICT seems more encompassing than IT.

    This presents a different way of thinking about ICT’s and what that name implies.

    thanks,
    Tom

  6. Andrew Dupree says:

    What is information technology? The Dictionary of Information Technology (c/o Wikipedia) says “… the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of … information by a … combination of computing and telecommunications.”

    Really, it seems that the “communication” part is inherent in the definition of IT itself. After all, what good is information if it is not communicated?

    We’re quibbling over minutiae here really, but one could argue that “IT4D” adequately encompasses the human connection inherent in this field of work.

  7. Wayan Vota says:

    I really feel that someone who says that are IT has the dreams (or reality) of working in a Fortune 500 company. Those that say ICT are trying to bring (relative) fortunes to 500 million people.

  8. I have worked in the misnamed “IT” field, and what you all are doing in the ICT field is definitely NOT “IT.” “IT,” as Wayne has said, is about networking computers together and making all those computers actually work. It includes software and hardware support and sometimes includes software development, depending on who you ask. Though some call that “Computer Science.” Yes, it is all very complicated. I think this confusing jumble of names came about because, back when these things were named, no one knew where the computer and technology fields were going to go. So now we have a bunch of names that could reasonably be interpreted as meaning any one of the different fields. It is now as if someone threw out random cards with computery sounding words on them and randomly selected them as names for all the different fields. Yes, it is a mess, but we have to live with it. Technically, I think “IT” should be named “NT” for Networking Technology, but what are you gonna do?

    That said, there is no reason to add to the confusion. By calling your field (the specialized field of using computers and data communications to aid in education or humanitarian needs within under-served areas) by the same name as is already being used for a far more general field, all you will do is confuse people. Personally, I even think the term ICT is a little vague and open to vast misinterpretation. ICTO (for Information and Communications Technology Outreach) might be a better and more descriptive term. But there are already lots of people using the “ICT” term (this web site is a case in point), so you might as well keep using it.

  9. atliu says:

    Interesting discussion here. I don’t know if there’s any one right answer, but let me share my perspective: I spent most of my career in Silicon Valley in “IT” departments (there goes that term again) or consulting to IT departments or in software development. Sometimes the IT department was called “IS” for Information Services, to emphasize the service orientation more than the technology. But in both cases of working in the IT/IS department, it was NOT just about hardware and networks. Application development and support which included project management and business process analysis was done within the IT/IS department (this is the work I did), so I worked in groups that managed the accounting/finance/HR systems, inventory/manufacturing system, sales and lead tracking system, customer support, the financial data warehouse, and so on. Overall it was about delivering solutions to support the company’s business operations and growth. When I worked in Cisco’s IT department in the mid-90’s, I worked with some ex-Apple people who were amazing data modelers but didn’t know a lick of SQL, that’s how specialized it got in large companies. They couldn’t code or configure a server but they were a part of the IT department.

    When I moved into the field of ICT4D, I assumed that the “C” was included to emphasize the importance of the communications issue in developing countries – poor, limited and expensive land line infrastructure, internet access and connectivity overall. Not sure who came up with ICT – maybe the UN?

    I agree with the poster who said that IT is the term known in the US private sector. I usually have to explain what ICT is and I use the above rationale for it since I don’t know the true origin of the term. The terms still have issues but I can live with it.

  10. Nnaemeka Nwosu says:

    ICT. It’s more all encompassing than IT.

  11. Mark S says:

    I have no issue with anybody who thinks that “IT” is not accurate. But to change it (back in the mid 90’s) was a pedantic step. The general population had grown to understand that “IT” meant the concept of information and the universe of devices that supported its communication. “IT” became part of the vernacular, lost its initial limited meaning, and needed no restictive definition. But alas, along came the edu-elite, for whom nit-picking over the meaning of this accepted phrase became a matter of gravity. So they stuck a “C” in there, with the result that an acronym that was previously understood was replaced with one that failed to communicate. And the confounding “C” stood for “communication”. Irony indeed. Meanwhile, at my school where we have “ICT” subjects, kids routinely ask where they can opt for “computing”.

    I wish I could go back in time to whatever committee invented ” ICT”, and with a soft foam hammer hit them over the head whilst screaming, “No!”

  12. chaitanya says:

    can btech it engineers are eligible to do computer hardware?

  13. Anonymous says:

    If you’re doing anything technical (programming, building hardware, creating databases) then it’s IT.
    If you’re a user (using a software package, creating a “user experience”, designing something) then it’s ICT.