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What is ICT?

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John Giles

The acronym ICT is often used in many different contexts. For example, people refer to the ICT industry, ICT sector, ICT companies, ICT law, the ICT BEE Charter, ICT governance and ICT legislation. But what is the acronym ICT actually short for?   With the acronym you lose the “and” and commas – this creates ambiguity.

There are two options of what the acronym ICT could stand for:

  1. information and communication technology
  2. information, communication and technology

[M]en’s lives may depend upon a comma” Johnson, J

These might appear to be subtle distinctions, but there is a significant difference in meaning – the second is much broader than the first.






Option 1

Most people will tell you that ICT is a shortening for “information and communications technology” – option number one above.  Let’s unpack that phrase.  So it is “information technology” or “communications technology”.  It is not “information” or “communication” standing on its own.  “Information” or “communication” has to go with technology – they cannot exist independently.  You could shorten information and communications technology to just technology.

Option 2

In my view, it should be “information, communication and technology” – option number two above.  Each aspect of the acronym can stand on its own.  So it includes “information” or “communication”.  It also includes technology or “information and communications technology”.  This interpretation is wider.  Another way of looking at it is that ICT stands for:

  1. Information – (or data) in paper or electronic format
  2. Communication – in person or electronically (electronic communications), in writing or voice, telecommunications, and broadcasting
  3. Information technology (IT) – including software, hardware and electronics
  4. Communications technology – including protocols, software and hardware

A plumbing analogy

A plumbing system is made up of storage tanks and pipes.  Water is stored in the storage tanks and flows through the pipes.  ICT is made up of information technology (storage tanks) and communications technology (pipes).  Information (stored water) is stored using information technology (storage tanks) and a communication (flowing water) reaches the recipient through communications technology (pipes).


In my view, ICT should be a shortening for “information, communication and technology” so that it is broad enough to include all the different aspects of what the acronym stands for.  Some people focus on the “technology” whilst others focus on the “information” or “communication”. For example, ICT governance is not only about the governance of “technology” (the storage tanks and pipes), but also about the governance of “information” (the water).


Recent uses of acronym ICT

Let us look at some recent uses of the acronym ICT.

Wikipedia defines ICT as “information and communication technology“.  They also say that their explanation may require clean-up to meet their quality standards – I might give it a go.

The latest text book on ICT law says that is a shortening for and the book is entitled “Information and Communications Technology Law“.  In the book itself the authors do not go into details as to why they believe ICT is a shortening of information and communications technology. I don’t agree with their shortening because their book deals with information law and communications law – and not just information technology law or communications technology law.  The title is narrower than the content.  For example, data protection is not just about information technology.

There are various relevant sections in the black economic empowerment charter for the ICT sector, which I have quoted below for ease of reference. The ICT BEE Charter is unfortunately poorly drafted and contradicts itself.  Have a look at the sections below.

For example, the drafters have defined ICT in different ways.  Initially, ICT is a shortening for “Information, Communication and Technology”, but then in the definition of ICT it is defined as “Information and Communication Technology”.  As illustrated above, there is a difference in meaning between these two and therefore the ICT BEE Charter contradicts itself.  In my view, they got it right initially.

An example of poor drafting is the definition of “Information & Communications Technologies Sector”.  It is not clear what it means – I’m not even going to try to interpret.

Recognising the cross cutting nature of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), and its role in the social and economic development of our country.

ICT” means Information and Communication Technology and refers to the combination of manufacturing and services industries that capture, transmit and display data and information electronically (OECD 2002: 18; SAITIS 2000: 3)”

The “Information & Communications Technologies Sector” shall without in any way limiting the ordinary meaning of the terms, mean the sector in which employers and employees are associated for the carrying on of any one or more of the following activities:

marketing, manufacturing, assembling, servicing, installing, maintaining and/or repairing systems, software, equipment, machines, devices and apparatus, whether utilising manual, photographic, optical mechanical, electrical, electrostatic or electronic principles or any combination of such principles, that are primarily intended for the recording and/or processing and/or monitoring and/or transmission of voice and /or data and/or image and/or text or any combination thereof for use in any one or more of the following activities:

accounting, calculating, data processing, data transmission, duplicating, text processing, document reproduction, document transmission, record keeping and record retrieval, broadcasting or transmission for entertainment or information purposes of voice and/or image and/or text or any combination thereof and/or; the provision of services relating to the above.

ICT Enterprise” means an enterprise that conducts business at any stage of the value chain of the ICT sector.

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