Interview: We can't expect the government to fix all our problems

Paul Matthews, CEO of the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP), discusses the changing nature of the industry and the role of the various IT organisations in the country

Paul Matthews, CEO of the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP), has a candid chat with ComputerWorld New Zealand on the changing nature of the industry, the challenges that are yet to come and the role of the various IT organisations in the country.

Q: Can you talk a bit about the changing role of IITP and its future evolution?

Paul Matthews: The Institute has undergone significant change over the last few years, with a clear focus on building our profession and delivering value and relevance to our industry.

In IT, if you stay still you’re going backwards and while we’ve been agile and flexible for much of our history, there have certainly been times we’ve stood still and the profession has suffered as a consequence.

The changes we’ve undergone in recent times have not just been for today, but about changing the culture of the organisation to continue to evolve and adapt into the future, which is essential.

No organisation has the right to exist – we only exist because we’re doing something worthwhile that people want to be a part of.

Cloud computing and its subsequent evolutions are changing the shape of our industry. Through initiatives such as the Cloud Computing Code of Practice, or CloudCode, we’re responding and dealing with the most appropriate issue for us – confidence, transparency and professionalism for those who deliver cloud computing services.

Paul Matthews, CEO of IITP
Paul Matthews, CEO of IITP

Q: How do you perceive the fragmentation in the market with regard to ICT associations? How does that affect IT professionals working in the country?

PM: There’s a lot of talk about this but to be honest, it’s not as fragmented as people think.

First and foremost, no truly representative organisation can exist without a constituency whose needs they are meeting. So it follows that if there is too much duplication, or associations are no longer relevant, the issue will take care of itself over time.

In the IT space we really see three “broad-based” organisations that regularly engage with government. One is us (on behalf of the IT Profession, with branches across the country), NZRise (on behalf of New Zealand IT companies, primarily Wellington-based) and TIANZ (previously NZICT, on behalf of a broad group of multinational and local interests, primarily Auckland-based).

There are also groups focused on specific areas such as TUANZ (telecommunications users), InternetNZ (stakeholders of the Internet) and Health IT Cluster (health IT companies). There is a very important reason for each to exist and they each meet the needs of a large constituency.

We then have a broad range of different groups who focus on professionals in specific areas such as Health Informatics NZ, Project Management Institute, Testing Professionals, Web Meetups and many others.

We work very closely with most of these and help take their messages to government, but they each meet a very specific niche need. Many are networking groups, and some such as HINZ are following a closely aligned professional pathway, which is exciting.

Then there are clusters of companies based geographically (eg CSI in Christchurch and Auckland ICT and NZSA in Auckland) who also meet an important local need.

There are always opportunities for different groups to work together and sometimes discussions on how this might work at both a practical and structural level. We’re always open to these discussions, but it’s also clear that progress is being made in the current structures. We enjoy very strong relationships with almost every other IT group or association and practical cooperation is great for everyone.

In terms of IT practitioners, if they’re serious about progressing their professional career then we would say it’s important they engage with the sector’s professional body, which is IITP.

We’re the group that offers professional certification, ongoing professional development opportunities, mentoring, broad events and training across the sector and country, facilitates engagement in schools, industry, academia and government, represent their voice to government and other stakeholders, and much more.

But they should also seek out the niche group in their area and actively engage with that. It is not an either-or situation. Both serve different purposes.

However, I should be clear – while we do provide low-cost introductory training, we’re not an educational institution in our own right and don’t intend to be.

Q: In terms of skills, what do you believe will be in demand in the next couple of years? How is IITP enabling training around these areas specifically?

PM: There is a significant transformation in the sector around mobile and cloud computing and the skills that are in growing need are often, but not always, found in the software space.

It’s important to note that the underlying skills in a mobile and cloud world are the same as with traditional software – even if the tools and context are different. We explored this in great detail during the recent IT Qualifications Review, where we created a new suite of IT-related diploma and certificate qualifications which will replace all of those on the NZ Qualifications Framework.

In reality, the underlying skills needed to develop software for mobile apps aren’t that dissimilar to desktop apps and that’s not going to change any time soon.

The skills that continue to be in great need are around professional areas such as business analysis and architecture. We partially addressed this in the Qualifications Review by creating an information systems pathway focused on these types of areas rather than “technical” IT, and the Institute’s own training initiatives also focus on these areas.

However I should be clear – while we do provide low-cost introductory training, we’re not an educational institution in our own right and don’t intend to be. Every university and most significant polytechnics and PTEs are part of our educational program and we work with both the secondary and tertiary sector to identify future trends and help them meet the needs that arise as a result.

All in all, what the industry is missing is a broad and widely adopted professional skills and competency framework that helps IT folks plan out career progression and development.

We’ve been working on this in relation to the SFIA Framework and it’s great to see the adoption of this in NZ is growing.

Q: What are the challenges you see ahead for the ICT market and professionals in the country?

PM: Numbers and mindset.

Firstly, we need to get more people into IT and those that are in our field focused on the right areas. There is a huge skills shortage. Frankly, it’s not across the board in every area, but we are short by more than 10,000 people.

We have a number of initiatives underway to address this, such as ICT-Connect in schools, which is all about getting IT professionals into schools to talk about a future in our field. This project is funded by industry, with more than 40 companies such as Datacom, Orion Health and Potentia contributing. In 2013 we got in front of over 30,000 school students nationwide – so it’s making a huge difference.

From a mindset perspective, we have thousands of really smart software and IT companies throughout New Zealand, but far too many of them see New Zealand as their market, or worse, their local town as their market. As an industry we need to be thinking globally and it’s great to see things like the tech trade missions facilitated by NZTE and NZTIA over the last year or two helping to explore global opportunities.

If we can catch up on the numbers we need in the industry, and continue along the road towards a global mindset, nothing will hold us back. Our sector has the potential to easily overtake dairy as the country’s largest export.

Frankly, high paid, high-skill knowledge-based jobs are the future for New Zealand rather than more cows and polluted rivers.

Government has a core role to play, but we can’t just expect them to fix all our problems for us either – it’s a partnership.

Q: How can government and policy aid in alleviating these challenges going forward?

PM: Credit where credit’s due: the government is becoming more and more active in this space and is contributing significantly. There are still some issues to work through, such as some structural problems around where IT is positioned in schools, but we’re getting an increasingly warm reception – and results – from right across government on these issues and more.

What’s also interesting is that government is starting to work more with government. Previously departments and ministries seemed to work in silos and didn’t always like working across government, but the changes that created MBIE seem to finally be yielding good results in this; fewer empires and more cooperation across government. That’s a really good thing.

Read more: TUANZ's new CEO, Craig Young, to start in October

However, it has to be said: Government has a core role to play, but we can’t just expect them to fix all our problems for us either – it’s a partnership.

Q: What are the larger trends you see affecting the country and ICT professionals in the next couple of years?

PM: As mentioned above, if we get the numbers and mindset right, we’ll see a major move towards scale and global success. We have some great companies doing excellent things from New Zealand and that’s only going to grow.

We’re in an unprecedented time where distance and scale are no longer barriers and we have opportunities from New Zealand we’ve never had before.

The same trends will continue for another couple of years yet. We need more people in IT and we need a culture and mindset change towards professionalism and global outlook.

And we’re very excited to be a part of that.

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