The IT industry is much broader than just a few well-known companies. It's made up of a wide range of employers that operate in all types of business sector. Understanding this landscape can help you identify a good assortment of companies in which you can use your skills.
The list below is a quick summary of some of the key activities you may come across:
Businesses are always looking to improve their processes, and frequent updates in technology mean there are regular opportunities for development. Analysts explore the existing situation to understand a client's or their own business needs, work out how those could be met, and then put forward a specification for appropriate technology to be developed. The recession has made saving money through technology solutions a high priority.
Organisations create and collect vast quantities of data. Business intelligence involves using technology to access, analyse and understand information and set up ways to report data. Making data available and usable is the key focus as it enables an organisation to make better business decisions. Most industries also face increasing government or industry regulation and need to find ways to protect their data and comply with standards.
One of the main uses of IT these days is in communication – internet, telephone systems, video conferencing, email and so on. All this technology needs IT experts to develop and maintain hardware, software and networks. Supporting mobile workers is a key focus and brings with it interesting challenges related to security. Smartphones and Wi-Fi are changing the landscape of corporate communications even further.
Businesses bring in experts from outside to help them find solutions to business problems and meet their IT needs. An organisation will hire a consultant to examine their situation, identify their requirements, come up with the optimum solution and develop appropriate technology. It's often also an opportunity to improve efficiency, which has become even more vital to businesses in the current economic conditions.
Data analytics involves analysing data to discover relationships and describe events. Analytics may involve examining data from past performance to understand what happened in a previous situation so that a business can make better decisions. Alternatively, businesses can try to predict future performance based on current information.
Information is of no use to an organisation if it can't be stored, retrieved, analysed and used. Information management involves developing programs and systems to organise and manage data so that it can be a valuable resource. Disaster recovery and business continuity are also covered within this area, since loss of or loss of access to data has high costs.
Technology companies produce software and hardware to meet the needs of businesses and individuals. Some organisations will also have in-house development teams that build bespoke systems. Software and hardware designers and engineers research, design and test new systems and technology, and then modify and implement them to suit a particular market, use or client's needs.
It pays to look to the future, as one of the big stumbling blocks for IT is the speed at which technology becomes dated and obsolete. Architecture is the long-term planning and design of infrastructure and systems for a business. Future-proofing and planning for growth are important to provide longevity of data and equipment when considering new infrastructure and systems.
The vast enterprise networks of multinationals and, increasingly, mobile working practices mean that people need to have fast, easy and secure access to information from their organisation's servers, wherever they are. Networks exist so that information technology resources and computers can be linked – whether they're one metre or many thousands of miles apart.
Many organisations prefer not to employ their own IT department. Instead, they outsource their IT requirements, bringing in outside experts for technical support or development activities. Some outsourcing is done remotely, through network connections, while other work involves being physically present at the client's site. Contracts may be long or short term. Outsourcing services can be a whole business sector in itself.
A number of major vendors provide 'off-the-shelf' technology, and while that sounds straightforward, things are never that simple. Implementation involves setting up and configuring the system to suit the particular business needs of the organisation. Furthermore, the new package has to integrate with existing systems, which could be numerous and complex in a large organisation.
When big IT changes are on the cards, it's important to have someone overseeing the project and making sure that it's successful and delivered on time. Project delivery involves working out the specifications and scope of what needs to be achieved and then managing the work of teams to deliver the desired outcome.
Research and development
A great deal of investigation and planning is required before new technology and gadgets can be released. The constant advances in the information technology industry are due, in no small part, to tireless researchers and developers investigating new systems and products from concept through testing to final launch.
Security technology development
Hackers can be a nightmare in organisations where security of data is essential. To prevent unauthorised access to confidential information, intricate technology is required. Developers face a never-ending battle to find new security measures before the old ones become obsolete. And while hackers are one threat to security, computer users typically create bigger security issues day to day: security is also about internal procedures.
Not everyone who uses a computer is a technology whiz and technology goes wrong. IT support problems may range from trivial, easily fixed issues to complex problems that take days to sort out. Support technologists need to be good at diagnosing problems and coming up with solutions under pressure. Some support roles require interfacing only with the equipment and other technologists.
With so many different systems on the market, clients often use applications that are not designed to work together. The systems need to be configured and integrated so that data can be transferred from one application to another. This is a particular issue when upgrading obsolete technology or adding new technology to a 'legacy' system.
The e-explosion opened up millions of opportunities for web developers, and the boom in social networking platforms and new web technology applications have seen a return to former halcyon days. Web developers write mark-up and code, while other people input the text and other content. E-business is still expanding and requires technologists to support developments.