Skills shortage may mean IT qualifications don't count

Institute of IT Professionals debates merits of chartered qualification

The crippling shortage of ICT staff may work against the chance of raising the overall competence, reputation and accountability of ICT professionals, a meeting of the Institute of IT Professionals has heard.

The gathering, before the annual general meeting of the Institute's Wellington branch, looked at recent well publicised failures of ICT projects and the relevance of the suggested Chartered IT Professional (CITP) qualification to stemming the failures and increasing public respect for the profession.

The basic reason for the failure of the Novopay teachers' payroll system was that is was scaled too quickly to 100 percent of the teaching sector, IITP CEO Paul Matthews told the meeting of the Institute.

If Novopay had had its first runs with a small sample -- about three percent -- of teachers, including a reasonable spread of different roles and conditions of employment, many mistakes would have been uncovered and set right with minimal damage and negative impact, Matthews says.

Another key cause was the assumption that 90 percent of teachers would submit their payroll information for the first month online, when in fact only 70 percent did so, creating a backlog of conversion.

The failures of Novopay were minor and predictable, Matthews says -- though the downstream effect of those failures was unquestionably far-reaching. Considering Novopay and other attention-getting controversies like the penetration of Ministry of Social Development files through its kiosks, it is clear, he says, that human factors -- people issues, organisation, culture and leadership -- far outweighed technical problems as a cause of non-performance of ICT systems.

"Accountability of people is the only way to address project failure," Matthews said. The meeting moved to consider the impact of the suggested CITP qualification. Unlike the current IT Certified Professional (ITCP) qualification, it could only be gained after formal examinations, bringing its status closer to that of qualifications in professional fields such as lawyers, doctors and engineers.

Such a formal qualification, Matthews suggests, would mean we could stipulate that a CITP was needed to work on a certain stage of a particular project, or that a CITP should have to formally sign off a project or stage before it could be put into production.

If a professional signed off a project that subsequently failed, sanctions could be applied, culminating in removal of their licence to practice.

Victoria University's John Hine, however, asks "would anyone care if a professional was expelled?" The endemic shortage of skilled staff of any kind in the ICT sector, he suggests, would mean those stripped of their qualification would still find employment.

IITP President Ray Delany and others raised the question of a "perceived elitism" in an environment where a growing proportion of people think they know how to program a computer, or at least construct a spreadsheet. The consensus is that the public will still be able to distinguish true professional skills from those of the general population, as they can with, for example, the ability to do accounts.

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