Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Death of the IT Profession?

Last week, in my capacity as chair of its working group on IT futures, I had the privilege to participate in the British Computer Society’s thought leadership debate on ‘The death of the IT profession’ – the provocative title for a debate on the direction of IT professionalism.

This is a very timely debate of course. As information sharing becomes more central to the day to day of business and society, the professionalism of those providing the enabling products and services becomes more central too.

It was a productive evening, with 30 people or so in various leadership roles in the industry engaged in the debate. The evening was kicked off by Chris Yapp and Kate Silver, by providing a few minutes each on some serious thought provocation to get us going. And so with people sat at one of four tables the debate began. The fact that the food was good but hardly got a mention in edgeways is a good indicator of the level of intensity of debate that ensued.

One of the thought provoking inputs to the debate was, given the rise of the Web, are the IT professionals of the future going to be solely those that work for Google and the like, or, is everyone going to become an IT professional in some sense?

This debate is an important one not least because the usefulness and ubiquity of IT to each of us in our daily lives is being matched by the fall in the perception of the usefulness of the IT we have access to at work, and yet there remain many considerations in the corporate environment which require professional attention.

Or to put it simply, the IT we use at home seems better now than the IT we use at work - and it's a heck of a lot cheaper.

Of course, the question isn’t helped by the wide definition of ‘IT professional’ and perhaps here is the central point.

Chris Yapp provided a view that rather than a single IT profession, we are already seeing three professions emerging specialising around information, people, and software engineering. And David Flint, one of the table rapporteurs of the evening, to my mind summed up the feeling of the room neatly by articulating that many professions will contain a significant element of IT professionalism within them.

In embracing the issues, UK government is to be commended for its work here with its IT professionalism agenda - and Lesley Hume, recently appointed as Director of the Government IT Profession, was at the debate (and was a very significant contributor at our table!)

The consensus view is that the IT profession is evolving rapidly, and an executive remit to embrace the emergence head-on feels like a must do rather than a nice to have. And perhaps as a way to make a practical difference, organisations could do worse than take a leaf out of Cabinet Office’s book and create or boost a leadership role with responsibility specifically focused on IT professionalism – both on best practices and perhaps even more importantly, the next practices for the many IT related professions.

This is for sure a lively debate, and expect to see it develop on the BCS Futures blog too.

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