ICT Systems and their uses

What is an ICT system?

Various uses for ICT systems in different working sectors such as aircrafts, factories and ships
An ICT system is a set-up consisting of hardware, software, data and the people who use them. It commonly includes communications technology, such as the internet.

ICT and computers are not the same thing.

Computers are the hardware that is often part of an ICT system.

This is why it’s important not just to learn about computers but about how, why and when people use them. It is the power of computers and communications that has allowed ICT systems to become so important. Like any piece of equipment, the important thing about it is what it lets us do.

ICT systems are used in a number of environments, such as:

  • offices
  • shops
  • factories
  • aircraft
  • ships

They’re also used in fields such as:

  • communications
  • medicine
  • farming

ICT systems are everyday and ordinary, yet extraordinary in how they can add extra power to what we do and want to do.

The importance of ICT systems

By using ICT systems we are:

  • more productive – we can complete a greater number of tasks in the same time at reduced cost by using computers than we could prior to their invention
  • able to deal with vast amounts of information and process it quickly
  • able to transmit and receive information rapidly

    Types of ICT system

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    Chocolate makers use ICT in the development of new products

    The three main types of ICT systems to consider are:

    Information systems

    This type of ICT system is focused on managing data and information. Examples of these are a sports club membership system or a supermarket stock system.

    Control systems

    These ICT systems mainly control machines. They use input, process and output, but the output may be moving a robot arm to weld a car chassis rather than information.

    Communications systems

    The output of these ICT systems is the successful transport of data from one place to another.

    Input, output and system diagrams

    What comes out of an ICT system is largely dependant on what you put into the system to begin with.

    ICT systems work by taking inputs (instructions and data), processing them and producing outputs that are stored or communicated in some way. The higher the quality and better thought-out the inputs, the more useful the outputs.

    Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO)

    ICT systems cannot function properly if the inputs are inaccurate or faulty; they will either not be able to process the data at all, or will output data which is erroneous or useless.

    GIGO is a useful term to remember – it can help explain many issues such as why validation is needed and why accurate data is valuable.

    GIGO stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out

    An ICT system diagram

    A system is an assembly of parts that together make a whole. ICT systems are made up of some or all of the parts shown in the diagram. Various devices are used for input, processing, output, and communication.

    An ICT system diagram


    It is sometimes good to have feedback in an ICT system. This is when the output from a system feeds back to influence the input and the process repeats itself.

    A good example is a system set-up to control water temperature in a tropical fish tank. The temperature of the water is taken as an input from sensors. Processing takes place and the temperature of the water is compared against the pre-programmed parameters, eg maximum/minimum temperature. The outputs include the automatic decision to either turn on or off the heater to warm or let the water cool. The output, ie the change in the water’s temperature, is then fed back by the sensors as an input and the process repeats itself.

    Demonstration of how heating sensors work in a fish tank

    Feedback can occur in information-based systems as well. Often an output will have a result on further inputs. For example, the output of accepting an online booking for an air ticket will be to reduce the number of tickets available.

    The measurement and control section has more information about the feedback cycle.

    Multi-purpose devices

    Methods used for input to and output from ICT systems vary a lot.

    Input and output formats are the different kinds of media that are used to either gather up and collect data and instructions or to display, present or issue the outputs of processing.

    Up until recently most media formats required dedicated devices – for example, digital cameras to take digital photographs, scanners to digitise images for use on a computer, or DVD players for video playback – so you needed the correct device in order to work with each media format.

    Demonstration of how computer technologies are used in mobile phones

    There is now a growing tendency for multi-purpose ICT devices, which is known as convergence. The driving force is the communication power of the internet, and the increasing availability of small high-powered electronic technology. This means that you can now get an all-in-one box that can do the same thing as several different ones did before it. Here are some examples:

    • Combined printers, scanners and photocopiers.
    • Televisions with built-in internet connections and web browsers.
    • Mobile phones that can take photos, record video, access the internet and play back music.
    • Applications that allow phones to do even more things beyond taking photos, videos or running browsers. For example, the phone all-in-one with a camera allows you to take pictures, but an app will allow you to edit it, add a filter and send it overseas for free.

    Find out more about the power of the internet in the networks and communications section.


    Integration of information services

    Alongside the joining together of technologies, there is also a tendency toward the integration of common public information services.

    Digital television by satellite, cable or terrestrial aerial now gives access to many channels that have interactive content, which can be used in a similar way to the web. DAB digital radio provides large amounts of text data to be transmitted along with the signal. The internet enables broadcasts from radio and TV stations to be ‘time-shifted’ by the user, who watches or listens to the programme whenever they want to.

    A person consuming iplayer media through a tablet device

    News services and the mass media such as newspapers, radio, and television are making themselves available so that people can access them when they want and wherever they are. Two of the key reasons for this are:

    1. the growth of broadband internet access that allows lots of information to be viewed quickly and effectively
    2. the success of digital broadcasting, the signals of which can carry very much more content than old style analogue TV and radio