ICT (information and communications technology or technologies)

What is ICT (information and communications technology or technologies)?

ICT, or information and communications technology (or technologies), is the infrastructure and components that enable modern computing. Among the goals of IC technologies, tools and systems is to improve the way humans create, process and share data or information with each other. Another is to help them improve their abilities in numerous areas, including business; education; medicine; real-world problem-solving; and even leisure activities related to sports, music, and movies.

There is no single, universal definition of ICT because the technologies, devices and even ideas related to ICT are constantly evolving. However, the term is generally accepted to mean all devices, networking components and applications. When combined, these help people and organizations interact in the digital world.

Here, organizations also has a broad definition since it encompasses businesses and nonprofit agencies, governments and even criminal enterprises. Anyone can benefit from the proper application and use of ICT technologies, devices and innovations.

What technologies are included in ICT?

ICT encompasses the internet-enabled sphere and the mobile one powered by wireless networks. It includes antiquated technologies, such as landline telephones, radio and television broadcast -- all of which remain widely used alongside today's cutting-edge ICT pieces, such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

The internet, internet of things, metaverse, virtual reality and social media are also part of ICT, as are cloud computing services, video conferencing and collaboration tools, unified communications systems and mobile communication networks. Emerging, work-in-progress or still-nascent technologies like 5G/6G, Web3, and quantum computing are also in the ICT universe.

Any technology, infrastructure, component, or device that enables communications, data sharing, and global connectivity between humans and between humans and machines is included in the umbrella term ICT.

A chart identifying key components of ICT.
This chart identifies several key categories that are components of information and communications technology.

ICT vs. IT

The acronym ICT is sometimes used synonymously with IT. However, ICT is generally used to represent a more comprehensive list of all components related to computer and digital technologies.

IT is more about managing the technologies related to information, and its various technical aspects, including software, hardware, and networking. IT management does not include considerations of telecommunications devices and technologies while ICT does. IT can be considered a subset of ICT.

What are the components of ICT?

The list of ICT components is exhaustive and continues to grow. Some components, such as computers and telephones, have existed for decades. Others, such as smartphones, digital TVs and robots, are more recent entries.

ICT components include the following:

  • Devices (hardware).
  • Software.
  • Middleware.
  • Data.
  • Wired networks.
  • Wireless networks.
  • Communication technologies.
  • The cloud.
  • Communications protocols and interfaces.
  • Information security and governance policies.

ICT means more than its list of components. It encompasses the application of all those various components. It's here that the real potential, power and danger of ICT emerges -- for economic, societal, and interpersonal transactions and interactions.

Why ICT is important for businesses

For businesses, advances within ICT have brought a slew of cost savings, opportunities and conveniences. They include the following:

  • Highly automated businesses processes that have cut costs.
  • The big data revolution, where organizations are turning the vast trove of data generated by ICT into insights that drive new products and services.
  • ICT-enabled transactions such as internet shopping and telemedicine and social media that give customers more choices in how they shop, communicate and interact.

Challenges ICT creates

Its many benefits notwithstanding, ICT has also created problems and challenges for organizations, individuals and society. The digitization of data, the expanding use of the high-speed internet and the growing global network together have created new opportunities for crime. Increasingly, bad actors leverage these opportunities to hatch new schemes to gain unauthorized access to enterprise or government systems. They do so to steal money, intellectual property or private information. Many cybercrimes are also aimed at disrupting systems that control critical infrastructure and, ultimately, creating widespread chaos and panic.

Developments in ICT have also brought new automation technologies and robots that sometimes displace workers, especially workers involved in repetitive, low-value tasks. In some cases, ICT has let more people limit their face-to-face interactions with others, creating or exacerbating social issues such as trolling, cyberbullying, isolation, loneliness and depression.

ICT, the digital age and digital divide

ICT has changed drastically how people work, communicate, learn and live. It continues to revolutionize all parts of the human experience as first computers and now robots do many tasks humans once handled.

ICT's importance to economic development and business growth has been so monumental that it's often credited with ushering in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. ICT also underpins broad shifts in society, as individuals en masse are moving from personal, face-to-face interactions to ones in the digital space. This new era is frequently termed the digital age.

A comparison of the several industrial revolutions.
This chart compares each of the industrial revolutions.

For all its revolutionary aspects, ICT capabilities aren't evenly distributed, with richer countries and richer individuals getting to enjoy more access to ICT technologies. These entities are better able to seize the advantages offered by and the opportunities powered by ICT. This discrepancy in access to ICT has created what is now known as the digital divide.

Numerous governmental authorities and non-government organizations advocate policies and programs that aim to bridge the digital divide by providing greater access to ICT among those individuals and populations struggling to afford it.

Explore how IT leaders drive evolution of digital transformation, and explore digital transformation benefits for business. See how satellite connectivity can combat the digital divide and how we can futureproof our economy by closing our growing digital divide.

This was last updated in November 2023

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