Thanks to the work which BCS has been leading over the past few years, that vision is now much more widely shared within the IT and business communities and we are much closer to turning it into reality - and we have a plan to do just that.
In recent years there has been a rapidly developing understanding of the need to improve the quality of product and service in the IT field if we are to secure, for business organisations and the wider community, the full benefits of IT. That understanding has been given added weight by pressure from government.
For the BCS, it has led to a significant increase in professional membership - over 8,000 new professional members were recruited in the year to the end of April 2005. It has also led to new relationships with government and a significant number of major employers of IT staff.
Within the UK government sector, the creation of the post of the Director for IT Professionalism within the eGovernment Unit of the Cabinet Office is a further pointer towards a changing world.
This increasing interest in professionalism provides the best opportunity the IT community has ever had to establish a recognised IT profession. The BCS is committed to leading that development and in February 2005 approved a major programme designed to deliver that leadership.
The Professionalism in IT programme, which will be the key strategic initiative for the BCS over the next two years and the key theme for my own period as President, has as its stated objective:
……increasing professionalism, to improve the ability of business and other organisations to exploit the potential of information technology effectively and consistently.
This underlines the fact that professionalism is not an end in itself. The purpose is to improve capability and exploit the benefits IT has to offer.
The statement does of course beg one important question - what do we mean by professionalism? If we look to definitions established in other areas such as the law it is clear that professionalism has three key elements - competence, integrity and service.
The first of these elements comprises relevant, up to date skills and capabilities appropriate to a particular task. That competence must be built upon to develop a broader foundation of relevant experience, knowledge and understanding, which must be supported by appropriate qualifications and maintained through continuous professional development and learning.
Integrity implies a commitment to a recognised code of professional conduct and practice, together with clear personal responsibility for the outcomes of one's actions. It is one of the distinguishing features of a profession that individual practitioners have personal responsibilities which sit alongside, and may in certain circumstances take precedence over, their contractual obligation to an employer.
The third element, service, widens responsibility still further: to have regard for, and contribute to, the public good - a requirement reflected in the BCS royal charter.
It is of course also important to have a clear understanding of what we mean by 'the IT profession'. In the past this was seen as being about the technical and engineering aspects of designing and delivering IT systems to meet the need specified by the customer or user.
The problem with that view is that, where the customer's requirement is defective or deficient, the end result is unlikely to meet the real need, no matter how professionally the delivery is handled. The objective for the professionalism in IT programme is a much more business-focused position where the test of IT professionalism is related to business impact rather than technical excellence.
None of this is intended to deny the importance of the technical and engineering aspects of IT or the requirement for professionalism on the part of those involved. But any excellence that we offer in those areas will be wasted if the end result does not deliver maximum benefit to the customer and the business.
Our vision for the future of the profession is therefore one with a much wider scope than before, one which has a much greater role in business change and transformation.
In essence we believe that if we are to achieve a more professional approach to the use of IT, we will need an IT profession which:
- Is defined in terms of its ability to play a full part in all stages of IT exploitation
- Is seen as - and sees itself as - an integral part of the business
- Has appropriate non-technical skills, including management, business and leadership skills as core competences in their own right, in addition to the more traditional technical and engineering competences
- Lays greater emphasis on the accreditation of current capability and competence rather than relying on a single historic snapshot
- Demands greater personal responsibility on the part of the practitioner
- Is seen as an attractive and exciting occupation and, as a result, is more attractive to a wider group of entrants than before - including those groups alienated by the current image of the profession
- Is proud of its capabilities and achievements.
I mentioned earlier that we now have the best opportunity ever to establish a recognised IT profession and all the reaction we have had to this vision supports that view. However we should not conclude from this that the task will be an easy one.
It represents a major change in culture for our industry and for everyone associated with it - and major cultural change never comes easily.
One of the essential requirements for the programme is to ensure that the profession is seen as adding real value by those who employ and work with IT practitioners. Although we may believe that the case for the profession is unarguable, the reality is that those who employ IT practitioners will only include a requirement for professional qualifications in their recruitment process if they are convinced that it adds real value to their business.
To ensure that this value requirement is retained as a key driver, the programme is being led by a steering board made up of senior representatives of major employer and user organisations - typical of those whose support will be vital to the success of the programme.
John Leighfield, the chairman of Research Machines Plc has agreed to take the chair and he will be supported by a board comprising representatives, generally at chief executive and chief information officer level, drawn from major companies including IBM, Fujitsu Services, Intel, Microsoft and Lastminute.com.
Government will also be represented on the board, including crucially the director of professionalism at the cabinet office eGovernment unit.
One other requirement which is high on the list of critical success factors for the programme is the need to harness and coordinate the support and commitment of all sections of the professional and business communities.
To this end the steering board will be supported by an executive board with representatives drawn from the key stakeholder communities, including other professional bodies in the IT field and representatives of academia and the IT training sector.
This executive board will be the engine room for the programme, with responsibility for a research and consultation programme to flesh out the vision for the IT profession and to identify the required roles, relationships, competences and qualifications required by the future IT professional. It will also identify the changes in the support those professionals will need from their professional bodies, academic institutions and from the training sector.
We see the programme outlined here as of critical importance, not just to the BCS itself, but also to the professional, business and wider communities which we serve. In a little over two years BCS will be celebrating its 50th birthday. I believe that we have a very real chance of being able to celebrate, at the same time, that the IT profession has come of age.
Charles Hughes, President of the BCS