Why Chartered ICT Professionals won’t help New Zealand’s ICT Industry

eyeA lively debate has sprung up on Computerworld New Zealand under an article titled “Move to create chartered IT professionals” with a mix of views that support the idea, question whether it would work, wonder if it is a rort, or even if it did work, whether it would fix the issues that we see in poor ICT decision making.

The arguments for highlighted in the article are unfortunately not good ones.

“Project failures such as Novopay teachers’ payroll system and the Work and Income kiosk security breach have increased the need for more accountability in the IT profession.”

This implies that a Chartered ICT Professional would have made a different decision, or, if involved in the process, had the power to avert the Novopay catastrophe, the MSD security breach, and by extension other similar failures.

My argument would be that these aren’t ICT failures. That the systems are operating exactly how it was designed, including with known, and accepted by the business, defects. That the failure is in the decision making process, which is almost always at a senior business layer not an ICT one. For example, with the recent EQC and ACC mail outs, the process was not a failure of ICT, it was human failure. The system worked how it was meant to. It emailed a file to the person that the sender entered into the “To” box.

These catastrophes don’t occur because of a poor ICT decision or a bad design, the occur because of inherent human failure. It would be more valuable for all decision makers, whether ICT or business focussed, to spend a day reading “Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents” by James Reason. Understanding and adopting the Swiss Cheese Model would have arguably prevented these incidents we are currently seeing.

Paul Matthews goes on in the article to say:

“When you look at a chartered engineer, if they’re not comfortable with a building, or a bridge or whatever they won’t sign off on it and nobody can make them because they have those obligations. They’re accountable; they’ve got an ethical basis for their practice.”

Again, its not a great analogy.

The consequences of an business failure (remember, its not an ICT failure) that does not cause injury or death, like a bridge falling down, are … none. Someone might lose their job for a bad decision in a private company, but how many of us can name the person’s responsible for recent bad decisions, like Novopay, and the consequences of their decisions? The answer is, officially anyway, that no one was responsible and there have been no consequences.

So Paul is right on one account. There needs to be better accountability, but I would suggest that is across multiple layers within a business or government agency, not just the CIO. A Chartered ICT Professional wouldn’t have saved them.

The UK version of this states various benefits of membership in different ways. I use this as an example as it would be likely any NZ certification would be based on the same:

Becoming a Chartered IT Professional will give you the recognition and career opportunities you deserve.

The right to use the post-nominal letters ‘CITP’ after your name and the Chartered IT Professional logo on your personal stationery and business cards will reinforce your professional standing.

With your agreement, your name will be included on a public register, which is available through this website to potential clients and employers as a resource for finding current leading IT practitioners.

As a member of BCS, you will have full access to our extensive branch network as well as over 50 specialist groups.You will have access to the BCS Best Practice Portal, where you can view best practice insight and practical thinking on a broad range of IT topics in association with the Corporate IT Forum.

As a BCS member you will also have access to over 9000 IT and business journals available in our online library.

BCS will also help you to keep up to speed with the latest industry developments by sending you our own ‘ITNOW’ magazine.

However, the best reason for becoming a Chartered IT Professional is simply to experience the industry recognition, enhanced professional standing and exciting new career opportunities.

Now, the cynic in me sees this as a paid up version of an ICT secret society. It’s more about a few cocktail evenings with paid up ICT “Professionals” handing out business cards with “CITP” after their names. As far as a credentials that allow exciting career opportunities, you’d probably be better off with a degree or a good long and experienced career.

But I am being harsh.

The IITP has at least opened the debate. Putting up a straw man is a good way to start people thinking, it does have a tendency to polarise people of course. Having that debate on Computerworld, the anonymous gossip centre of the Wellington ICT scene, is, unfortunate.

My personal view is that there are some serious issues that face ICT within New Zealand and we may be better off debating those rather than worrying about establishing Chartered ICT Professionals.

Issues such as the fact that Cloud is not only disruptive to the environments that we maintain, manage, change, and develop, requiring new architecture  skill sets, and disciplines but that it is also has the potential to decimate the 40,000 plus New Zealand ICT worker community, particularly if local New Zealand ICT companies cannot compete with overseas monsters like Amazon.

Issues such as under investment in ICT, particularly in Government. Agencies and even private companies have been under a sinking budget lid for years now (recession plus Labour plus National) and that the supporting infrastructure down at the bottom layer is creaking. There will be a point in the next two years where something has to be done to replace or move off that infrastructure. ICT use is increasing, becoming more critical, but ICT organisations are cutting costs still. It can’t last.

Issues like the fact that ICT in New Zealand doesn’t need regulation, it needs to adopt standards. We’re immature in our management of ICT compared to most of the rest of the developed world. The number 8 wire mentality causes a massive overhead of recreating the wheel again and again and again when we could adopt a number of standards to allow our money and energy to be focussed on more productive activities.

Issues including the fact that ICT isn’t in charge any more and hasn’t been for some time. The business has lost faith in us and our user community pretty much brings their own tools to work with them because we couldn’t provide them with what they needed. If we don’t adapt, we’ll find that we are irrelevant, both at a board and user level.

The breadth of ICT disciplines today, coupled with the extreme pace of disruptive technologies, in an immature environment, over which we have diminishing control, won’t be fixed by having a professional membership.

Having said that, New Zealand ICT worker’s need to remember a few things about the Institute of IT Professionals;

  • It’s all we have.
  • It’s ours to shape and engage with.
  • It represents a place where the sector should be able to engage.
  • It’s our only lobby group.

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