There is a famous quote from Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman which says that in Hollywood: “No one knows anything.” Goldman was referring to the fact that no one could predict with any accuracy which movie would be a hit and which would flop.
The way forward: becoming chartered
According to the BCS the way to address IT’s ravaged reputation is by becoming chartered. Those gaining its CITP credential demonstrate both competence and a commitment to keep pace with advancing knowledge and the increasing expectations and requirements of the profession.
“What we did is set out to help ensure that people understand that for IT to work the key role in future is that of the CIO,” says BCS chief executive David Clarke. “If this is going to work it is about getting the right people with the right qualifications into the right roles, to deliver the correct application of IT into business. It is incredibly important.
Employers are seeking a real partnership between IT and the business and for that we need to add to the skills of the IT professional. We have a whole series of training capabilities at a technical level which also help to make people more rounded professionals,” says Clarke.
Technology, says Clarke, rarely fails. Projects might fail but that is usually due to some misunderstandings in the requirements. And the more complex the project the easier it is for misunderstanding to arise.
In the political satire Bullworth, a disillusioned politician on a campaign fund raiser in Hollywood, shocks the Beverley Hills’ elite by confronting them with the truth: “How come an industry that attracts all of these intelligent, talented people produces rubbish most of the time?”
Of course, what happens in la la land is not the concern of the CIO, but this is the question that should concern those responsible for making sure IT delivers. In IT terms it is no longer sustainable to fail and succeed in equal measure. It is time for CIOs to ask the question: “What qualifies you for this position?”
His quip could easily be applied to today’s IT industry. By most estimates large IT project success rates barely hit 50% in total and only touch 30% in the public sector. So at least half the time, no one knows anything, and the other half of the time any success may be just down to luck.
Dealing with these failings may be an uphill struggle, since many people think that IT is populated by the socially-challenged decked out in knitted jumpers, socks and sandals, elbow patches on shirts and with enough facial hair to cover Scotland.
But the BCS (formerly the British Computer Society) is a charity that is challenging these ingrained beliefs by creating a professional standard for the industry. It believes that even where professionalism does exist it is impossible to prove due to the absence of credentials. BCS chief executive David Clarke says: “The essential requirement for professional competence coupled with appropriate professional standards lies at the heart of almost all BCS activity and the services that it provides.”
Both sides of the story
Clarke himself has seen both sides of the fence. He’s been a vendor running marketing at Compaq before it was swallowed up by HP and knows what it is like on the user side having run Virgin’s web businesses.
All his experience has unfortunately taught him that emerging from a career with a good reputation means staying away from IT.
“IT never had a level of credibility,” he explains. “The IT beard and sandals brigade were almost disconnected. It would take a year to deliver something and by then the business has moved on. There is nothing there that is peculiarly British.
Percentage success rates for IT projects that are delivered to budget, on time and to a happy customer are comparable across the world.”