Information systems or information technology: Which bachelor’s degree is right for me?

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Higher education offers many opportunities for students interested in degrees that prepare them to work with many types of technology. With hardware and software serving in a variety of foundational roles for nearly every industry in the modern global economy, there are many degree tracks to pursue. That also means there are a wide variety of employment options that align with specific educational achievements, whether it’s computer science, information systems, information technology, or a different type of technology-focused degree.

Understanding the difference between information systems and information technology (IT) is vital for students interested in earning a degree related to technology and pursuing a career in one of many related fields. Whether you want to pursue an online information systems degree or follow the IT path, you should know what each one offers. Let’s review the concepts that set these two disciplines apart and look at how you can choose between them.

Image of a hand typing on a computer

IT vs. IS: Information technology

What sets the information technology field apart from other, similarly named disciplines that also focus on technology? The IT world focuses on the digital and physical infrastructure that companies need to operate, from sharing information internally to communicating with clients and making purchases. In this respect, the IT profession has to cover a lot of ground — the staff members who make up this department have responsibility for all of the computers and related systems and tools used to connect them to each other and the internet.

One area where this comes into play is with troubleshooting, repairs, and replacement of equipment. In general, IT employees are responsible for everything from helping a user fix a recurring issue with their workstation to wholesale replacement of computers and related infrastructure during a planned upgrade. A deep familiarity with common technical issues, current hardware and operating systems, and managing technical transitions are all valuable traits for IT professionals.

This is also true for constructing, maintaining, and improving networks, both internal and external. IT staff are tasked with keeping the company connected to itself through an intranet as well as the global internet, and must respond quickly to any issues or connectivity problems that arise. Highly skilled IT workers supplement a strong personal knowledge base with the ability to effectively seek out solutions to problems, and can apply old and new information quickly to fix a wide range of major and minor problems.

In terms of career outcomes, there are a variety of positions graduates holding an IT degree may seek out. They include roles like help desk technician, network administrator, security specialist, software engineer, systems analyst, project manager, and network architect. Examples of more senior positions for veterans of the IT world are chief information officer and IT manager.

One of the clearest ways to describe the difference between IT and IS is while IT focuses on the infrastructure needed to connect an information system throughout a company, IS involves the development of information systems and includes IT as a discipline specifically tied to the operation of technology that the system uses and lives on.

IT vs. IS: Information systems

IS is a concentration that blends together operations and technology to develop effective, responsive, and powerful systems attuned to the needs of individual organizations. The modern business world depends on technology, and IS professionals fill the critical role of ensuring a company’s digital systems, needs, and workflows are aligned. Without IS specialists on staff, enterprises can encounter serious issues related to effective gathering, sharing, communication, and storage of vital information needed to keep operations moving forward. Bridging the gap between company leaders who may or may not have a strong understanding of the technological underpinnings of their operations and the systems used to reliably transmit and interact with business information is vital, and IS professionals shine in this role.

Those in higher-level IS roles must also have the ability to determine the needs of the company as a whole and match them with technological solutions. This is one area where the crossover with IT specialists can appear. After IS staff determine what’s needed for the business to use its data to the best of its ability and keep it secure, IT staff will make sure the existing network of hardware and software can handle any necessary changes as well as upgrade equipment and add onto it as needed.

In terms of career paths, IS professionals have a number of options. Common roles include computer network architect, computer systems analyst, information security analyst, web and software developer, and many similar roles. There’s plenty of crossover in terms of general position types often filled by IT and IS staff, which isn’t surprising considering how close the two disciplines are in some respects. More advanced positions can include chief information officer as well as information systems manager and a variety of similar roles.

Take the next step with an online information systems degree from UAB

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is proud to offer a completely online information systems degree program that students interested in IS can pursue, no matter where they’re located. With a completely asynchronous learning environment that allows you to learn and participate whenever you have free time, you can balance a variety of personal and professional responsibilities as you work toward an in-demand degree. To learn more, get in touch with an advisor today.

Recommended Readings:
Information systems vs. computer science: Which degree program is the right fit?
4 reasons why business skills can help you as an information systems professional

UAB Collat School of Business: Online BSIS Degree
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