What is IT?

What is IT?

Paul Emmerson


I feel that I know enough about marketing, finance, operations, production, HR, etc to enter the students’ world at the beginning of the course – for example to ask a few intelligent questions when they introduce themselves. However this is not the case – at least for me – with IT. The IT world is largely a mystery to me. I am, however, now a little clearer thanks to the Swiss IT guy I have just finished teaching. He explained the big picture of IT to me, aided by two websites that we kept referring to on the course. I give their links below – you’ll find that they have many articles for class discussion and vocabulary development, and your IT students will already be familiar with much of the content (the language of IT is international).



I have made a mind map of the IT world using the different sections of these sites and my own ideas, and it is included below (for reference) and also on page 3 of the pdf for this post (for printing out). Feel free to print it out and use it in class. Your IT students could use it to introduce themselves and their role within the organization, and then in later lessons you could have a series of discussions according to which branches of the mind map are relevant to them. Note that this mind map is just one possible ‘way in’ to the IT world, and it has to be approached flexibly (eg there are numerous connections between the different branches).

Certain terms in the mind map need further explanation. As usual in BE it’s your students who can and should be explaining these terms to you, but I’ve given you a little background below so you are not completely clueless when they start talking. For additional clarification on anything from the mind map, the usual search engines will help.


Compliance means conforming to established guidelines and legislation. It’s a big issue for IT. Software, for example, may be developed in compliance with specifications created by some standards body, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and may be distributed in compliance with the vendor’s licensing agreement. In the legal system, compliance refers to behavior in accordance with the law, such as laws to prevent a conflict of interest (perhaps a big auditor needs new laptops for its consultants, but one of the potential laptop vendors is a client of theirs, or a prospective client). Compliance is now a big concern of corporate management, and some large companies even have a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO).


ITIL is big in IT right now. It stands for IT Infrastructure Library (the ‘library’ reference is historical and not important), and you’ll find a pdf that gives a good overview here:


Basically, ITIL provides tools to align IT services and processes with general business needs. It serves as a roadmap to guide organizations to more efficient and cost effective use of technology. ITIL gives a process and a language by which ‘techie’ IT managers can speak to managers from other business units in terms that both can understand. It reminds me very much of TQM and Six Sigma from previous decades, with tools and techniques, courses to attend, qualifications to achieve, and – you guessed it – lots of consultants.

Type ‘ITIL’ or ‘ITIL Service Management’ into Google Images and you’ll get all sorts of graphics that you can use in class as a starting point for discussion. There are examples included below (for reference) and also on pages 4 to 6 of the pdf for this post (for printing out). The quality is not great, and if you prefer to see them directly on a computer in class, the URLs are given for you to click and then zoom inside your browser to magnify the graphic.

Cloud Computing

The old idea is that IT infrastructure, platforms and software were located on servers and PCs inside a company’s offices, with additional use of a Data Center for larger companies. Everything was connected via a Local Area Network (LAN). The new idea is that much of this migrates to the web, where it is leased. This is called ‘cloud computing’ because a cloud symbol is often used to represent the Internet in flow charts and diagrams. The Wikipedia article on Cloud Computing gives more information, including problem areas such as privacy, security, availability and performance.



Malware (short for ‘malicious software’) refers to viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, rootkits, spam etc. The role of a firewall is to try to block them.

Media Convergence

Media Convergence is the idea that all media – internet, computer files and data, voice, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, films, leisure software such as gaming – are coming together so that they can all be accessed on all platforms (PC, notebook, smartphone, television). Media convergence occurs wherever information can be digitized, and brings together the “three Cs”—computing, communications, and content.

IT mind map (see pdf for large printable version)

ITIL: an introduction (see pdf for large printable version)

(taken from http://www.tech-faq.com/itil-processes.html)

(taken from http://www.combatconsulting.com/itil-version-3-overview/)

ITIL: an example for IT infrastructure (see pdf for large printable version)

(taken from http://www.netconsulting.co.uk/content.php?nID=46)

The ITIL service model: an overview (see pdf for large printable version)

(taken from http://www.cloudstoragestrategy.com/2009/07/cloud-computing-and-itil-measuring-the-quality-of-service-delivery.html)

One Comment

cindy hauert

This is great! At the Hochschule Luzern I’m responsible for designing courses for the module “BIT” (Business IT) and this is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

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