What's in a Name? With IT/IS, It's About 'Service'

FRAMINGHAM (05/01/2000) - Information technology or information services? Each name conjures up a distinctly different psychological and philosophical image.

Who are you? How do you view yourself? Do you see yourself as a service provider or product creator?

Should we be technologists in a "service" capacity within our enterprises' IS, and not IT, departments? Information delivery is a service to our customers, both internal and external. Moshe Rubinstein, a Fulbright Hays fellow and distinguished professor at UCLA, rightfully says we have migrated beyond the "technologist" phase of the Information Age.

He cites the electric light, telephone, automobile and mainframe computer as inventions that ushered in new eras of technology. These eras were owned by specialists of the times who smugly forecast a highly limited market for their particular technologies. How naive they were!

Each of these examples evolved from a curiosity to a useful tool to - finally - an on-demand service.

There's that word again!

Mankind has evolved through the "labor" era to the tangible capital of the Industrial Revolution to the less-tangible intellectual capital of the Information Age. IT is the least-plausible moniker to describe what we do. IS - information service - is far more accurate.

The dawning of the Information Age and the subsequent diffusion of the mainframe-based glass house to desktops, coupled with the Internet explosion, have forever altered our lot in life. We are a service industry: We provide a service to our customers. God knows we're no longer pure techies laboring under the shade trees like the auto mechanics of yore. Those days of glass-house cocooning are history. For us, the future is heading toward the marketing and sales of our rapidly changing offerings. (Marketing and sales - that's scary!) Still, unfortunately, that techie image of IT still pervades our corporate departments and outside consultants.

Fear not; you are not alone. The media, including the print media (do you hear me, Computerworld?), still refer to us as "IT." Gurus making huge sums of money off us still use the identifier "IT." Can they all be wrong? Of course! After all, the world's best minds in the 16th century knew the sun revolved around the Earth.

Starting today, starting here - the time to change is now. Change is a good thing, remember? Internally, you can be a techie until the day you die, as long as you adopt a gilt-edged commitment to the service of your users and outside customers. Remember these three principles: Service, service, service.

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