NZCS gears up professionalism effort

Local chapter investigates how overseas ICT bodies are dealing with the professionalism challenge

Efforts by the NZ Computer Society to professionalise ICT practice are moving up a gear, following president Don Robertson’s investigation of how overseas ICT bodies are dealing with the challenge.

Robertson recently visited the British and Australian computer societies, and also spoke to several ICT professionals from around the world at the biennial conference of the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP).

As ICT now pervades society, and is closely tied to globalisation trends, it is becoming ever more pressing that practitioners adhere to recognised professional standards, says Robertson.

Technology is also often an essential element in “transformational change programmes” in business and public service. Jim Markowsky, in the book Organisation Dynamics, says the reason such projects often fail, or are poorly implemented, is mainly because of leadership failure, and because an appropriate organisational structure and culture isn’t always installed. It is this, not the failure of the technology itself, that is the issue. It must form part of what it means to be an ICT professional, says Robertson.

This also provides the professional developer with a competitive advantage against the growing body of amateurs and semi-professionals, he points out. And the growing attention to the good governance of ICT projects — and the need to guarantee important requirements such as security — means semi-professional and amateur practitioners will be less tolerated.

Although formal qualifications will probably form part of this move, Robertson emphasises the drive to professionalism, not certification, should be an end in itself.

Robertson has mapped these needs onto the Carnegie Mellon University Capability Maturity Model to show that worldwide the ICT profession has mostly only reached the lowest of five possible levels. It is organised to some degree and is recognised as having a discrete set of occupations, he says.

A set of formal qualifications marks the second level, and the third adds governance, by a framework of professional institutions. The NZCS already employs one major governance element in its code of conduct. However, there is no apparatus for enforcing decisions or for dealing formally with complaints. This is necessary if it’s to be seen as effective by those outside the NZCS.

Robertson says he would like to see our ICT profession aspire to reach at least level four, satisfying the nine tests of public obligation for a profession devised by a British House of Lords’ committee. These include appropriate qualifications and a professional society which exhibits integrity — this is demonstrated by the provision for disciplinary action and assurances as to independence.

ICT incorporates a wide variety of specialist fields, but a common body of knowledge can be defined that all professionals should be across.

Robertson has gathered information about the models of essential and specialist knowledge put forward by various bodies around the world concerned with ICT professionalism. He presented some of these — such as the multi-dimensional SFIA model — to an NZCS meeting held in Wellington late last month.

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