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September 24, 2018

The Three Domains of Information Technology

Information Technology (“IT”) is a vast field that touches nearly every aspect of modern life. A good model for understanding IT is to think about the “domains,” or areas of work, in which IT is applied. Having a broad view of IT across these domains leads to a much stronger understanding of how IT works, and how it can help solve challenging problems. As an aside, it’s also interesting to think of IT this way, because it’s closely related to the history of technology, and many fascinating developments like the Antikythera Mechanism and Pascal’s Calculator come to light.

What are the domains of IT? At the most basic level, IT operates across Scientific, Business, and Personal work areas.

Scientific Computing
IT started as a primarily scientific endeavor to develop calculating and computing machines. In the Ancient world, these devices were designed to track and predict the movements of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. Later, in the Medieval and Renaissance era, devices were developed to calculate. As the Industrial Revolution took off, various computing machines were developed, finally leading to the earliest modern computers in the mid-20th century. Today, much of modern scientific discovery is possible because of computer, robotic, and micro/nano scale technologies.

Business Computing
IT quickly spread into Business because when properly applied it reduces costs, reduces errors, and increases productivity across nearly any business activity. Business IT includes central computers for managing core business activities, personal computers for assisting employees with tasks, and controllers that automate manufacturing and other processes. Although adopting new technologies in business is sometimes a painful and expensive process, when IT is done well the payoff is typically enormous in terms of greater productivity, speed to market, and reduced error rate. However, as we’ve all experienced, when Business IT is done poorly it can become a terrible source of inefficiencies and problems.

Personal Computing
Personal IT is a relatively new area, with technologies like games and personal or home productivity software emerging into mainstream since the late 1960s. This is the area of technology we typically see around us, as personal devices and the connected lifestyle have exploded. One great hidden benefit of personal IT is that technology has become far more accessible and better understood than ever before. On the other hand, it can be very misleading to think of Scientific or Business computing in terms of your home computer or Instagram account!

As the “Three Domains” graphic shows, IT commonly crosses boundaries to form hybrids of Scientific, Business, and Personal computing. A great example of this is the smart phone, which may be simultaneously used to solve complex scientific problems or control scientific devices, keep a business calendar and email up to date, and offer all kinds of entertaining games.

Scale
Another feature of IT is Scale, or size. As IT solutions move from small to medium and finally to large scale, the specific details of the solutions change to meet those sizes. For example, your home computer or laptop is great for most of your own computing needs, but is that device capable of managing an entire company? For example, would you trust your laptop to store all the sensitive payroll and HR data for a 35,000 person corporation? Or consider a scientific example: Some computational problems would take weeks or even years to solve on your home computer. Different kinds of computers can solve those same problems in minutes.

The main area of interest for Envizium and this site is typically called “Enterprise IT.” Enterprise IT is the domain of medium to large Business IT. But, as the Three Domains graphic illustrated, there’s often overlap into other areas. The table below gives a detailed overview of the three domains, examples of IT in each of the domains and at each scale, and highlights where Enterprise IT falls.

To summarize: IT has three “Domains,” Scientific, Business, and Personal, and the details of an IT solution change according to scale, from Small to Medium to Large. Thinking about IT in this way can greatly simplify conversations and problem solving anytime IT issues are involved. And, when working within Enterprise IT, this broader view brings the full scope of potential IT solutions to bear on a problem. In many cases the best business solution may be found within the Scientific or Personal domains, so thinking this way leads to better Enterprise IT outcomes.

Thanks for reading!

Zak

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