Information Systems vs. Information Technology (IS vs. IT)

Written by Jessica Schulze • Updated on

Compare and contrast definitions, industries, degrees, and career paths in information systems and information technology with this guide.

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Information systems vs. information technology

Information systems (IS) and information technology (IT) are closely related disciplines that are often mistaken for one another. IS focuses more closely on information handling processes while IT tends to center the technologies that support those processes. Despite some overlap in concepts and practices, each field of study is unique. If you’re considering a career in either one, learning about their differences can help guide your decision-making process. 

What are information systems (IS)? 

An information system or computer information system (CIS) is a set of interconnected people, processes, software, hardware, and networks. Its primary goal is to manage data as it flows through the following five stages:

  1. Input

  2. Processing

  3. Storage

  4. Output

  5. Feedback 

What is information technology (IT)?

Information technology refers to the use of computer systems to manage, process, protect, and exchange information. The IT industry is a vast field of expertise that includes a variety of subfields and specializations. Overall, the goal of IT is to use technology systems to solve problems and handle information.

IS vs. IT industry comparison

One of the key differences between IS and IT is the involvement of business concepts. Information systems professionals are well-versed in business concepts and applications. Information technology professionals tend to focus more on the technology that supports those business initiatives. Nearly every industry requires both IT and IS professionals. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupations in the computer and technology industry are expected to grow 15 percent between 2021 and 2031 [1]. Subcategories of IT include:

  • Health information technology

  • Cybersecurity

  • Business information technology (BIT) 

Read more: What is Information Technology? Industry Overview

Like IT, information systems is a vast field. Areas of expertise that fall under the umbrella of IS include:

  • Hospital information systems (HIS)

  • Financial technology (fintech)

  • Manufacturing

Information technology vs. information science

Information science is the study of how information is generated, organized, stored, shared, managed, and used. IT focuses on the technical implementation and management of information system technology.


CIS vs IT degree

Computer information systems (CIS) degrees and information technology degrees cover many of the same areas of expertise. Here are a few subjects both degrees have in common:

  • Programming

  • Cybersecurity

  • Computer networking

  • AI and machine learning

  • Computer organization and architecture

  • Database design and administration

Some courses CIS students may take that IT students may not include:

  • Business systems analysis

  • Business law

  • Systems analysis and design

Coursework that may be unique to IT students includes:

  • Program design

  • Communication for engineers

  • Application maintenance and debugging

CIS career path

Due to the similarities between these two fields, IT and CIS career paths can overlap. In the sections below, we’ll outline an example career path for someone who wants to work in CIS and then compare it to an example career path in IT. 

*Note: The salary information below was sourced from Glassdoor in June 2023. Figures include base salary and reported average additional pay. Additional pay insights include commissions, bonuses, and profit sharing. 

Many CIS professionals begin their career in an entry-level IT or CIS role, such as:

  • Help desk technician. Help desk technicians are specialized customer service representatives who use their software and hardware expertise to troubleshoot technical problems with users. In the US, help desk technicians earn an average yearly pay of $47,002

  • Information systems technician. Information systems technicians plan, design, build, and maintain the devices and networks that make up information systems. They are responsible for ensuring computer systems operate at maximum efficiency. On average, information systems technicians earn $47,673 per year. 

Mid-level information systems jobs can involve more specialized expertise and require years of field experience. Examples of these positions include:

  • Network security support engineer. Network security support engineers are responsible for the safety of the data in a network. They mitigate security threats by coordinating technical specifications with business goals and requirements. In the US, network security support engineers earn an average yearly wage of $109,150.  

  • Information systems security officer. An information systems security officer (ISSO) is responsible for maintaining operational security measures for a specific program or information system. They also may be called cybersecurity officers. In the US, they earn an average wage of $99,465 per year. 

  • Information systems specialist. Information systems specialists identify and analyze system requirements to plan the policies and procedures that keep them operating. They often design databases and define security measures to protect that data. Information systems specialists earn an average of $70,028 in annual pay. 

Senior-level information systems positions may require a security clearance and several years of experience. 

  • Senior systems engineer. Senior-level systems engineering roles may require more leadership and management responsibilities. Senior systems engineers ensure system architecture and processes are compliant with industry standards and manage projects by facilitating cross-department collaboration. The average yearly pay for senior systems engineers in the US is $160,871

  • Operating system engineers. OS engineers design and test operating systems, software, and other systems management tools. They are responsible for technical planning, management, and the integration of new technologies. In the US, operating system engineers earn $171,960 a year on average. 

IT career path

Recent graduates and those transitioning into IT from another career are likely to begin in an entry-level IT job, such as:

  • IT technician. IT technicians are similar to help desk technicians. Sometimes, the job titles are used interchangeably. However, help desk technicians tend to focus on assisting customers or users outside of their organization. The primary goal of an IT technician is to help members of an organization with software and hardware troubleshooting. IT technicians in the US earn $46,432 per year on average. 

  • Web developer. Web developers build websites that organizations and businesses use to operate and interact with their customers. On average, web developers earn $64,346 in the US. 

Mid-level IT jobs may require specific certifications, qualifications, or years of experience. Examples include:

  • Security engineer. Security engineers are IT professionals who specialize in cybersecurity. They protect an organization’s data by implementing and monitoring security systems, planning upgrades, and responding to threats and incidents. In the US, they earn $135,991 a year on average. 

  • Cloud DevOps engineer. Cloud DevOps engineers specialize in the development and operation of cloud-based applications and services. They work closely with developers, operations managers, and IT departments to manage cloud infrastructure and deliverables. The average annual pay for cloud DevOps engineers in the US is $140,106

Senior-level IT roles can also involve security clearances, certifications, or several years of field experience. Here are a couple examples of advanced-level IT roles:

  • IT project manager. IT project managers help organizations achieve business goals by planning and executing projects related to software development and IT infrastructure. They earn an average yearly pay of $108,827 in the US. 

  • InfoSec specialist. InfoSec specialists are IT specialists with concentrated expertise in information security (InfoSec). In the US, InfoSec specialists earn an average yearly wage of $101,953

How to choose a career path: IT vs. IS

Both degrees and career paths can be excellent options for someone who wants to work with computers and apply their problem-solving abilities. If you’re interested in the business aspect of IT infrastructure, you may find information systems to be better suited to your interests. IS roles can be more involved with business strategy and law. Conversely, someone who enjoys communicating with customers, troubleshooting technical issues, or is interested in project management may prefer IT. Consider taking an online course in one or both of these fields to get a better understanding of the differences in subject matter. 

Learn more about information systems and technology with Coursera 

Ready to keep building your IT expertise with an industry leader? Consider earning the Google IT Support Professional Certificate. This beginner-friendly, 100-percent online course covers fundamental IT disciplines like cybersecurity, computer networks, and customer support with hands-on exercises. You can learn more about information systems and earn a career certificate from the University of Michigan in the beginner-friendly Information Systems Specialization.

Article sources

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer and Information Technology Occupations,” Accessed June 28, 2023.

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Jessica is a technical writer who specializes in computer science and information technology. Equipp...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.