Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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What is ICT?

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the use of computing and telecommunication technologies, systems and tools to facilitate the way information is created, collected, processed, transmitted and stored. It includes computing technologies like servers, laptop computers and software applications, as well as the wired and wireless communication technologies that support telephones, the Internet, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the metaverse. The goal of ICT is to improve access to information and and make human-to-human, human-to-machine and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication easier and more efficient.

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This broad label includes the infrastructure and telecom components that enable synchronous and asynchronous communication across short and long distances. It consists of telecommunication and cloud computing services as well — and the governance policies that support their use.

The importance of ICT cannot be overstated because it has become the foundation of modern society — driving innovation, enhancing productivity and fostering global connectivity. 

History and Evolution of ICT

The concept of ICT can be traced back to the 19th century with the development of the telegraph and the telephone. These two inventions revolutionized the way people worked and interacted socially by making it possible for one person to communicate with another person in a different location in real or near-real time. 

In the middle of the 20th century, radio and television introduced the concept of mass communication, and by the end of the century, the internet had become a mainstream tool for communication, commerce and entertainment. Its use continued to grow rapidly in the following years, revolutionizing the way people work and digitally transforming the way people communicate.

Year Technological Advancement
1837 Morse code and telegraph
1876 Telephone
1895 Wireless telegraphy
1927 Television
1947 Transistor
1951 UNIVAC I (First commercial computer)
1969 ARPANET (Foundation of the Internet)
1971 First email
1990 World Wide Web
1991 GSM (Global System for Mobile communication)
1994 Netscape Navigator (Widely-used web browser)
1998 Google
2001 Commercial 3G networks
2004 Facebook
2007 iPhone
2008 Bitcoin (First blockchain-based cryptocurrency)
2010 4G networks
2016 AlphaGo (AI system defeating world champion Go player)
2020 5G networks
2023 Zoom (350 million daily meeting attendees)

Today, broadband internet and smartphones have made it easier than ever for people to create, access, share and consume information and in the future, ICT promises even more exciting developments. 6G networks will provide faster and more reliable connectivity, generative AI systems like ChatGPT will change the way people create and acquire information and emerging technologies like quantum computing and Web3 will inspire a wide variety of new ICT tools and applications.  

 Overview of ICT history

Information and Communication Technology Basics

ICT is often used as a synonym for information technology (IT), but the two terms can have slightly different meanings when used in different contexts. In the United States, for example, the acronym ICT is used in more often in education because in that context, IT can also mean instructional technology. In some industries, IT only applies to enterprise computing, while the broader label ITC encompasses both IT and communication technologies.

Using IT and ICT interchangeably can lead to confusion, particularly in situations where the distinction between the two is important. For example, a job posting that requires expertise in IT may be different from one that requires expertise in ICT, as the latter may require additional skills that specifically support communication and collaboration tools.

ICT is the intersection of Information Technology and Communication Technology

IT is often considered to be a subset of ICT that deals with the technical aspects of managing information, while ICT is a broader term that encompasses both IT and communication technologies.

While IT deals primarily with computer hardware, software, and networking technologies, ICT includes not only these technologies but also communication technologies such as telegraph, telephone, radio and television.

ICT Infrastructure and Systems

Information and communication technology includes a wide range of information, telecommunication and support tools and services that work together to facilitate communication. 

This includes: 

  • Hardware and software that supports the way information is created, disseminated, acquired and stored. 
  • Infrastructure and electronics that enable communication between hardware devices.
  • Protocols and interfaces that enable seamless communication and data exchanges between different hardware and software components. 
  • Tools for protecting sensitive information and ensuring the integrity of an ICT system. 
  • Standards for protecting data in transit, during processing and at rest
  • Governance policies for how information should be accessed, secured, processed, transmitted and stored.
  • Workers who have the skills required to design, develop, maintain and support ICT systems.

ICT infrastructure includes information technology, telecommunication technology and the services they support.

ICT infrastructure consists of IT, telecom and ICT services.

Centralized and Decentralized ICT 

When ITC architectures are centralized, the hardware, software and network infrastructure components that support communication are located in a single location and users can only access these resources from that location. This approach was cost-efficient during the early days of computing when the cost of wired communication infrastructure was high and mainframes had limited processing power. 

Broadband internet made it possible to decentralize ITC architectures. Once data could be transmitted faster and over greater distances, it became possible to store and access data remotely and run the same applications virtually on multiple remote servers. This led to increased adoption of unified communication systems (UCSs), cloud-based services and new types of collaboration tools

The increased bandwidth broadband provides has also inspired new ways to use peer-to-peer (P2P) network architectures. In a P2P network, each node (or user) can act as both a server and a client and share information with other nodes without the need for a central server. 

Today, this type of architecture is often associated with blockchain and cryptocurrencies, but it’s important to remember that P2P also plays an important role in the Internet of Things by allowing IoT devices to communicate with each other, share data and perform complex tasks that individual devices cannot handle.

Network diagrams for centralized and decentralized ICT.

Impact of ICT on Society 

ICT has reshaped the world’s economic landscape and workforce dynamics. 

E-commerce has created new opportunities for businesses and consumers alike, supporting globalization by enabling transactions and interactions to occur across borders seamlessly. Smart cities are improving urban living by leveraging IT and communication technology to improve transportation, public services and municipal infrastructure. 

The combination of information technology and communication technology has had a lasting impact on society. As technology and collaboration tools continue to advance, organizations are finding it necessary to continually reevaluate their best practices for sharing digital information and governments are continually looking for ways to reduce the digital divide

Digital literacy has become a necessary skill for everyone. The digital economy has introduced new types of jobs, improved productivity and allowed employees to collaborate remotely from just about anywhere they can connect to the internet. 

The environmental effects of ICT have also been profound. Data centers and electronic devices require significant amounts of power to operate, and the rapid growth and constant evolution of technology has led to a surge in e-waste as obsolete devices are discarded. This waste often contains hazardous materials that pollute the environment and can harm human health.

As IT and communication technologies continue to advance and become more like a necessary utility than something nice to have, individuals, organizations and governments need to recognize both the benefits and challenges of ICT’s impact on society. Best practices for building a more connected, inclusive and environmentally responsible world include:

ICT Skills, Certifications and Job Opportunities

As the world becomes increasingly reliant on digital communication, the job market for ICT professionals continues to expand. Individuals with the right skills and qualifications can look forward to a dynamic and rewarding career in this ever-evolving field. To succeed in this industry, candidates must possess a combination of technical skills and soft skills

The following jobs require candidates to have a strong foundation in both information technology and communication technologies:

  • Telecommunications Engineer: Designs, installs and maintaining communication systems and networks, including phone, wireless and fiber-optic networks.
  • Unified Communications Specialist: Focuses on integrating various communication technologies, such as voice, video, messaging and collaboration tools.
  • Network Architect: Designs, implements and sometimes manages data communication networks to ensure optimal performance, reliability and security.
  • VoIP Engineer: Specializes in designing, implementing and maintaining Voice over Internet Protocol systems.
  • Wireless Network Engineer: Designs, deploys and maintains wireless communication systems, including Wi-Fi networks, cellular networks and satellite communications.
  • Radio Frequency Engineer: Works with long-range and short-range RF technologies that allow information to be shared.
  • IoT Solutions Architect: Develops and implements P2P wireless networks that allow Internet of Things (IoT) intelligent devices to communicate with each other.
  • Video Conferencing Engineer: Specializes in the design, implementation and maintenance of video conferencing systems. May also be responsible for establishing video conference best practices that allow employees and business partners to communicate securely.
  • Telepresence Engineer: Designs and maintains telepresence systems that use high-quality video and audio communication technologies to create immersive, lifelike meeting experiences for remote participants.

ICT Certifications

While college degrees are desirable, many times it’s possible to get a job in ICT by acquiring a certification (or multiple certifications) that validates the candidate’s knowledge and competence. 

Popular certifications for information and communication jobs include: 

ICT and Digital Transformation

As businesses were forced to adapt rapidly to ensure business continuity and maintain productivity during COVID-19 lockdowns, digital transformation became a necessity rather than an option. 

Companies of all sizes suddenly had to rely on digital collaboration tools and services to keep their operations running. Teleconference calls, screensharing apps and virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts quickly became essential tools for employees forced to work from home the pandemic.  

The need for communication and collaboration tools during the pandemic touched every sector of the economy, including education, healthcare and e-commerce. 

  • Online e-learning platforms experienced a surge in demand as schools and universities had to quickly transition to remote learning
  • Contact tracing, remote patient monitoring and telemedicine became integral components of healthcare delivery during the crisis, allowing healthcare professionals to provide essential services while minimizing the risk of infection and ensuring the safety of both patients and providers.
  • E-commerce platforms thrived during the pandemic as consumers sought safe and convenient shopping alternatives. The rapid growth of e-commerce led to an increased need for digital services that allowed businesses to meet the increasing demands of their customers.
  • Virtual events and conferences gained traction, enabling organizations to share knowledge and foster professional connections during lockdown. 

The Importance of Cybersecurity 

As the world continued to embrace the digital transformation brought on by the pandemic, it quickly became clear to individuals, organizations and businesses that cybersecurity was more important than ever.

In 2022, 47% of all U.S. businesses lost money because of a cyber attack. According to the “Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2022,” each attack cost companies in the U.S. a median of $18,000.

The global annual cost of cybercrime is predicted to hit $8 trillion in 2023 and grow to $10.5 trillion by 2025, according to Cybersecurity Ventures’ “2022 Official Cybercrime Report.” 

In the wake of COVID-19, popular attack vectors include:

  • Phishing: Uses social engineering, spam and SMS text messages to trick the victim into revealing sensitive information or gain network access to conduct other malicious activities.
  • DDoS: Floods the target with excessive traffic and makes it unavailable to legitimate users to divert attention from other malicious activities.
  • Ransomware: Malicious software that encrypts a victim’s data and demands payment for the decryption key. This type of attack vector can be delivered as a service.  
  • Supply chain attacks: Targets third-party software and hardware vendors to gain access to a primary target’s network and data.
  • Cryptojacking: Installs cryptocurrency mining software on an unsuspecting users’ device and uses their computer resources to to generate digital currency without the victim’s knowledge or consent.

Popular Cyber Attack Vectors During Covid

 

To combat these types of increasingly sophisticated and expensive threats, ITC administrators should layer their security efforts and follow these best practices to help ensure their information technology and communication services run smoothly:  

Compliance and ICT 

Compliance is the process of adhering to the legal, ethical and professional standards that govern the use of technology. 

As ICT continues to evolve, so does the need for businesses and organizations to comply with national and international laws and regulations for ICT — or face legal penalties and reputational damage. 

Because cyber threats have become increasingly sophisticated, governments worldwide are mandating stringent cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive data and maintain user privacy

As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications become more sophisticated, new compliance measures are expected to address intellectual property and copyright issues and help mitigate the risk of identity fraud through generative AI

Governments and financial institutions have also introduced compliance measures specific to cryptocurrency transactions to lower the risks that digital currency can be used for money laundering, terrorist financing and tax evasion. Cyrpto compliance, which already includes Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering regulations, is crucial for businesses that want to operate in the cryptocurrency space. 

ICT and Entertainment

The impact of ICT on the traditional entertainment industry is undeniable. The shift from physical to digital media has led to new business models and revenue streams for IT and communication services and changed consumer behavior. Examples include: 

  • Streaming video services, such as Netflix and Hulu, have changed the way people consume movies and television shows.
  • Social media and content sharing platforms, like Facebook and YouTube, have redefined the way digital content is created, consumed and monetized.
  • Online gaming and betting platforms have introduced new audiences to online entertainment options.
  • Advances in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality have renewed interest in interactive storytelling and the metaverse.
  • Digital audio workstations (DAWs) have streamlined music production, making it more accessible to aspiring musicians. 

The future of ICT: Opportunities and Challenges

As society ventures further into the 21st century, information and communication technology is expected to continue evolving at an unprecedented pace and touch every aspect of people’s lives. 

ICT’s influence on business and management has been profound. From streamlining operations and enhancing decision-making to enabling new business models and fostering global collaboration, technology has become an integral part of both modern enterprises and small businesses.

The future of ICT is undeniably exciting, but it also demands a thoughtful and proactive approach to planning in order to ensure technology’s impact on society is both positive and equitable. 

One of the most significant challenges facing ICT is the digital divide. Ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status, are digitally literate and have access to technology and the internet is going to be essential for fostering inclusive growth and reducing inequality. This particular challenge is going to require concerted efforts from governments, the private sector and civil society.

Data networking and cybersecurity have also emerged as important challenges. Protecting ICT infrastructure from terrorists and IT systems from data breaches, while also ensuring the privacy of personal information, is going to require resilient networks that are capable of supporting an ever-increasing demand for data. In turn, this is going to require constant vigilance and significant investments in cybersecurity. 

In education, ICT has transformed the way people teach and learn. Artificial intelligence and e-learning platforms that support virtual and augmented reality are expected to further revolutionize the educational landscape. As the demand for tech and communications skills continues to grow, there will be a wealth of new job opportunities in areas such as generative AI,  software development, data analytics, network engineering and cybersecurity. Educating and preparing  workers for these emerging roles, is vital to ensuring that the benefits of technology are shared widely and that all individuals are equipped to succeed in an increasingly digital world.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues should not be overlooked, because technology’s impact on society extends far beyond mere convenience and efficiency. For example, cloud computing has raised concerns about data sovereignty and privacy, while the rise of artificial intelligence and automation has sparked debates about job displacement and ethical decision-making. 

As people navigate the future of ICT, it is crucial for society to balance the need for progress with the protection of individual rights and the well-being of ICT users.

 

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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.