An Introduction to IT
'IT' commonly refers to computers and network systems within business settings, encompassing tasks such as data generation, manipulation, storage, retrieval, transmission, security, and more in electronic formats. IT (information technology) serves as an overarching term encompassing television, telecommunications, software, e-commerce, and the internet.
Given the increasing complexity of cyber threats, IT support plays a vital role in both personal and professional contexts. The Government's 2022 assessment of cybercrime revealed that 39% of UK businesses had detected a cyber-attack, highlighting the need for a robust IT Support system.
IT support ensures the security of personal and business data while navigating the internet or handling emails, as well as addressing technical issues and keeping software up to date for efficient task completion.
The IT Timeline
The history of information management dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, around 3000 BC, with the beginning of the written word. However, the term 'IT' only emerged in the mid-20th century, coinciding with the advent of early office technology. It was formally introduced in the 1958 Harvard Business Review by Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas C. Whisler, who remarked, "the new technology does not yet have a single established name. We shall call it Information Technology."
The historical journey of computing technology can stretch as far back as 2400 BC with the invention of the first known calculating device. The main IT developments have been in more recent centuries.
One of the pivotal moments in IT evolution occurred in the early 19th century when the English mechanical engineer, Charles Babbage, conceptualised the world's first mechanical computer device. This remarkable invention, known as the 'Difference Engine', was initially created to aid in navigational calculations. Often hailed as the 'Father of the Computer,' Babbage expanded his ambitions further in 1833 with the creation of the 'Analytical Engine,’ designed for broader applications beyond navigation. Funding limitations meant that Babbage passed away without witnessing the completion of his ambitious machine. However, his legacy lived on through his son, Henry, who managed to construct a simplified version of the engine in 1888. This device was successfully demonstrated to the public in 1906.
The mid-1900s witnessed the development of early computers. A compact analogue electromechanical computer, that used trigonometry, was installed on a submarine to solve a problem with firing torpedoes at moving targets.
The Z2, introduced in 1939 by Engineer Konrad Zuse, marked a pivotal milestone as the world's first electromechanical digital computer. It relied on electric switches to drove and relays to perform calculations. Devices like the Z2, despite their groundbreaking significance, operated at slow speeds and were eventually succeeded by faster, all-electric machines. An example is the fully automatic Z3, created by Zuse in 1941.
In the history of computing history, the Colossus series, developed between 1943 and 1945, holds a prominent position as the world's first programmable electronic digital computers. These machines gained renown for their crucial role during World War II, particularly in intercepting and decrypting encrypted German communications transmitted by the Enigma machine. Alan Turing, an English computer scientist, mathematician, and theoretical biologist, laid the conceptual groundwork for modern computers with his seminal 1936 paper 'On Computable Numbers,' which introduced the concept of storing programmable instructions in a machine's memory.
Another milestone emerged with the advent of the Manchester Mark 1; a pioneering early programmable computer created by the Victoria University of Manchester. The collaborative efforts of Frederic C. Williams, Tom Kilburn, and Geoff Tootill initiated this project in August 1948, and the first operational version became available for use in 1949. However, the moniker "electronic brain" led to an intriguing debate with the Manchester University Neurosurgery department, questioning whether an electronic computer could ever truly exhibit creativity.
The commercialisation of general-purpose computing began in 1951 when the electrical engineering firm Ferranti International plc unveiled the Ferranti Mark 1, also known as the Manchester Electronic Computer. The Victoria University of Manchester was the first to harness its computational ability.
The first computer used in processing commercial business applications was developed by the Lyons Tea Corporation to increase business output in 1951 – Leo I. This marked a significant stride in the integration of computing technology into the corporate landscape.
A timeline of important IT developments
1835 – Samuel Morse invented Morse Code
1838 – Charles Wheatstone and Samuel Morse invented the Electric Telegraph
1843 – Charles Thurber invented the Typewriter
1877 – Emile Berliner invented the Microphone
1888 – Radio waves first produced by Hertz
1893 – Nikola Tesla invented wireless communication
1895 – Guglielmo Marconi invented radio signals
1898 – Nikola Tesla invented remote control
1907 – Lee DeForest invented the radio amplifier
1912 – Sharp Founded
1919 – James Smathers develops the first electric typewriter
1923 – Philo Farnsworth invented the electronic television
1933 – Edwin H. Armstrong first patented FM radio
1937 – The computing machine is first conceptualised by Alan Turing
1948 – Frederic C. Williams, Tom Kilburn, and Geoff Tootill design one of the first programmable computers, the Manchester Mark 1
1951 – The first computer that allows users to input commands with a keyboard arrives, the MIT’s Whirlwind
1956 – Basil Hirschowitz, C. Wilbur Peters, and Lawrence E. Curtis invented optical fibre
1956 – IBM invented the hard disk drive
1958 – Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce produced the first integrated chip, the Silicon Chip
1959 – The Xerox machine becomes the first photocopier to enter the consumer market
1961 – David Paul Gregg invented the optical disk
1963 – Douglas Engelbart invented the Computer mouse
1963 – Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider invented Cloud computing
1967 – Andries Van Dam and Ted Nelson invented hypertext software
1971 – Ray Tomlinson invented E-mail
1971 - James Fergason invented Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)
1971 – David Noble invented the Floppy Disk
1971 – The intel 4004 is invented, the first commercially available microprocessor
1972 – Magnavox Odyssey is invented and is the first video game console designed for use on TV’s
1973 – Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs invented the Ethernet
1973 – Xerox invented the personal computer
1976 – Hewlett-Packard invented the inkjet digital printer
1982 – One of the earliest domain search engines, WHOIS, is released
1984 – The first laptop computer enters the commercial market
1989 – Sir Tim-Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web
1990 – Archie, the first search engine, is developed by a student at McGill University in Montreal
1992 – Complete I.T. Founded
1993 – Benny Landau invented the E-Print 1000, one of the world’s first digital colour printing press
1993 – The first successful commercial plain paper copier Xerox 914 is released
1996 – The first internet enabled mobile device, The Nokia 9000 Communicator is released in Finland
1998 – Google established
1998 – PayPal is launched, enabling large scale payment via the internet
2000 – The first tablet computer is developed by Microsoft
2001 – Digital Satellite Radio invented
2001 – Apple releases the iPod
2003 – Mike Little and Matt Mullenweg launch WordPress, an open-source website content management system
2003 – LinkedIn is established
2004 – Web 2.0 emerged. People moved away from just consumers of internet to active participation
2004 – Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook
2005 – Floppy disk replaced by USB Flash drives
2005 – Google Analytics established
2005 – YouTube is launched
2006 – Twitter is launched
2007 – Apple Inc. debuts the iPhone
2007 – Kindle released by Amazon releases the Kindle
2009 – Unknown programmers under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto develop Bitcoin
2010 – Apple debuts the iPad
2010 – The inception of adaptable website design techniques. The beginning of responsive website design
2011 – Mass production commences for computer chips at the 22-nanometer scale
2012 – Quad-core smartphones and tablets are released
2012 – A robot successfully landed on Mars
2014 – Computer chips measuring 14 nanometres are made available
2014 – The smart watches market reaches 5 million
2014 – Amazon Alexa launched
2015 – Apple Watch launched
2016 – Supercomputing capabilities achieve a milestone of reaching 100 petaflops
2016 – Wireless devices surpass wired devices as the predominant means of accessing the internet
2017 – 10 nanometre chips are released
2018 – AI first publicly emerged
2018 – The initiation of an ocean cleanup project driven by technology
2019 - Google released Quantum Supremacy, a machine running on quantum mechanics that can answer questions that would confuse even the world’s top supercomputer
2020 – 5G was launched
Implications of IT in the Workplace
Irrespective of an organisation's size, the presence of IT systems has brought about both tangible and intangible effects that cover all aspects of business operations. The introduction of information technology has significantly influenced company communication, efficiency, mobility, and organisational culture.
Organisations typically opt for one of two approaches: either they establish an in-house IT support team, or they choose to outsource their IT management to a Managed Support Provider, ensuring the effective functioning of their IT infrastructure and to promptly address any issues that may arise.
Workflow and Communication Efficiency
Employees are no longer confined to written mail or phone calls. E-mail enables instant communication without obstructing the recipient. In the modern, digital age, communication tools like e-mail facilitate swift and clear interactions not only among colleagues but also with customers and clients, a particularly invaluable asset in a world where instantaneous responses are expected. Similarly, Microsoft Teams also enables instant, seamless communication and file sharing between colleagues, enabling a more joined up team approach.
Digital platforms such as websites extend the reach of businesses beyond conventional office hours, providing customers with opportunities to offer feedback, provide testimonials, and place orders for products and services at their convenience. Additionally, the integration of live chat services enables instantaneous messaging, fostering seamless communication between co-workers, businesses, and consumers.
Digital filing conserves office space and reduces annual paper and print costs, with any alterations able to be made immediately, at the click of a button. By connecting all these systems, working life is made easier, quicker, and more efficient, saving time and money.
Microsoft 365 is a comprehensive solution that combines the top-notch productivity features of Microsoft 365 Business Standard (previously known as Office 365) with advanced security and device management functionalities. An illustration of this integration is Microsoft Teams within 365, which empowers your team to communicate and collaborate seamlessly in real-time, regardless of location or device, offering unparalleled flexibility.
Hosted telephony, sometimes referred to as cloud telephony, is a telephone service that uses the internet instead of traditional landlines. This steps away from conventional telephone systems that rely on hardwired phone lines which can come with high maintenance costs and poor call quality. Hosted telephony solutions function similarly but with all call traffic hosted in the cloud and involves transmitting calls via digital phone lines, ensuring secure connections between callers and receivers over the internet.
The Impact of IT Transformation
The original computers demanded entire teams of individuals to operate them simultaneously, rendering them expensive and entirely stationary. However, today's IT has undergone a remarkable evolution and has seen a dramatic reduction in device size and the capacity for single-person operation. This revolution has significantly bolstered productivity, granting employees the freedom to work from virtually anywhere, far from the distractions of the office environment. This newfound mobility not only reduces travel expenses but also serves as a compelling incentive for potential employees to join a company.
Beyond the advantages of mobility for staff, businesses themselves can directly reap the benefits of IT-enabled mobility. An organisation can swiftly establish a global presence at a fraction of the traditional cost by setting up small offices in multiple countries and connecting them through Cloud-based data storage. Modern features like video conferencing further enable seamless communication among teams, regardless of their physical location. Information technology thus becomes a catalyst for rapid growth and expansion, ushering in a host of additional advantages.
IT has the power to significantly enhance a company's culture. When companies leverage file-sharing technology, employees can engage in collaborative work, create deeper connections, and contribute to an overall positive atmosphere within the business, regardless of their geographic locations. The adoption of modern IT systems enables instantaneous sharing of work, eliminating the need for employees to wait for colleagues to send tasks their way. This not only eliminates inter-staff tensions but also reduces inefficiencies and frustrations, creating a more harmonious and productive work environment.
Since the arrival of digital tools, the pace of work and daily life has undergone a profound and irreversible transformation. When computers were first introduced, numerous futurists held the belief that the human workforce would dwindle to just 2%. They envisioned a future reminiscent of the Ancient Greek Hellenic concept of leisure, wherein machines would assume the laborious tasks, allowing humans to focus on intellectual challenges.
Some scientists speculated that the turn of the millennium in 2000 would bring about a monumental shift in everyone's lives. The belief was that the computers upon which people had grown increasingly reliant, would malfunction, plunging humanity into a state reminiscent of an electricity-free era. These predictions contributed to the "computerphobia" that emerged in the 1980s when personal computers became ubiquitous household items. Many feared being replaced by machines or inadvertently damaging a computer's delicate internal mechanisms through mere touch.
The Evolution of Computer Systems: From Bulky to Modern
The pace of technological advancement in recent years is staggering. Gordon Moore, a businessman and co-founder of Intel Corporation, formulated a theory known as "Moore's Law," which postulated the rapid growth of internal computer components' capabilities. According to this law, the number of transistors within a computer circuit would double every two years, implying that the technology of tomorrow could render current technology obsolete in a mere two years.
Modern devices surpass their predecessors in every conceivable way, encompassing improvements in size, weight, portability, input and output options, storage capacity, and overall functionality. In 2016 mobile browsing overtook desktop browsing for the first time in history. Personal machines in the past had little charge time, so required hefty battery packs to be carried around with them, just to keep them running. Today’s computers are capable of being charged for an hour by a small and easily transportable charger and can sustain function for an entire day. This increase in mobility has allowed such devices to be used anywhere in the world, whereas previous devices tied the user to a single location.
Previously, computing devices occupied entire rooms, necessitating sizable teams for their operation due to their sheer size. Even the initial personal computers were unwieldy, typically consuming entire desks and leaving minimal space for other items. In contrast, contemporary machines have undergone a dramatic transformation, becoming significantly more compact and lightweight. Devices such as tablets and smartphones are now small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, enhancing their portability. While their physical dimensions shrink, the storage capacities of these devices continue to expand, rendering them exceedingly valuable in both professional and personal contexts.
Early personal computers were constructed from heavy metals and dense plastics like Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), leaving them susceptible to damage and awkward to transport. However, driven by the growing imperative to employ recyclable materials to combat climate change, modern computing devices are crafted from lightweight yet durable materials, making them far more portable.
The functionality of computers has also undergone a transformation. Initially limited to basic computational tasks such as typing text and data storage, personal computers from the late 20th century offered more capabilities but lacked the conveniences of today's devices. Modern computers have evolved into versatile tools with an extensive array of applications, enabled by the seamless interconnectivity of devices—a convenience not enjoyed by earlier computer users.
Whilst devices have gotten smaller, their storage capacity has gotten much bigger. In the past 20 years, hard drives have been continuously innovated, transforming them from disks that measured 52 feet and held 5MB of data, to 3.5 inches in size and capable of storing 1TB of information.
Modern computing systems are no longer confined by limitations; instead, they are seen as innovative and immensely efficient productivity aids. Consider Microsoft Office 365 as an example — an integrated solution that combines the premier productivity features of Microsoft 365 Business Standard with advanced security and device management capabilities.
Cloud services are another example of the development of computing systems. With extra layers of security, flexibility to allow users to work from anywhere and saving costs on maintaining often large on-site servers, businesses gain numerous advantages by migrating their systems, software, and applications to the cloud. Cloud based platform, Microsoft Azure comprises more than 200 cloud-based offerings tailored to assist organisation in data management and strengthening security measures. Its services include virtual machines and server virtualisation, virtual desktop, AI and app hosting.
In the early days of personal computing, there were limited or no input/output ports. These early computers were primarily compatible with basic peripherals such as floppy disks, keyboards, and printers. However, contemporary machines can seamlessly integrate with a wide array of diverse equipment, including:
• Graphics Tablets
• Video Capture Hardware
• Barcode Readers
• MIDI keyboards
• Universal Serial Bus (USB)
The performance and computational speed of computers are often gauged using the metric known as Million Instructions per Second (MIPS). To put this into perspective, consider that the first personal computer in the United States, the UNIVAC I, which debuted in 1951, could execute tasks at a rate of 0.002 MIPS. In contrast, a contemporary prototype processor like the Intel Polaris boasts an astounding capability of 1,800,000 MIPS, highlighting the staggering advancement in computational power over the years.
The early computers were limited to tasks directly input by human operators. Today's devices, in stark contrast, are fully programmable and store vast repositories of instructions on their hard drives, affording them the flexibility to perform a wide spectrum of diverse functions.
Looking back at the development journey of IT, it shows a testament to the capacity for innovation and adaption. The history of IT serves as a reminder of the relentless pursuit of knowledge and that the ability to harness technology is boundless.
The story of IT is far from over. As we face an even more technologically driven future, we are reminded that the possibilities are endless, and the next chapter in this remarkable tale promises to be just as exciting, transformative, and awe-inspiring as those that have come before.