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IT Strategy: It’s time the IT professionals got qualified

The technology world has long been staffed by people who “are good with computers” or who have been “messing around with IT for ages”. And there is no doubt that some of these largely self-taught technology professionals know their business. But, sadly, there are some who most decidedly do not.

For some years, many IT professionals have laboured under the collective stereotype of being a strange and faintly frightening subspecies, the members of which could be readily identified by common characteristics, from a propensity to wear anoraks or sandals and an affinity for facial hair, to the ability to only speak in confusing acronyms. Almost all finance and senior business professionals will have wasted many hours in meetings where the latest and greatest – and almost invariably most expensive – technologies were enthusiastically and incomprehensibly endorsed by these individuals, without any reference to non-technical considerations such as return on investment, or what the shiny new systems could do to help meet business objectives.

It is even fair to say that there has traditionally been a widespread culture of disrespect, disdain and even outright hostility among some IT pros when dealing with business executives. It is no surprise that many of them refer to the non-technical staff who rely on their technology as ‘lusers’, not users. Equally, it is no surprise that the Bastard Operator From Hell – a fictitious system operator invented by a real-life one to play out fantasies of revenge on his employer by way of sustained, data-based punishment, enjoys cult status among the IT crowd. In these satirical writings the hero, a contractor in charge of the IT systems in a large corporate organisation, manages to regularly outwit the ‘evil’ beancounters with whom he works.

Given the standard of behaviour exhibited by this fictitious character, it seems unlikely that he would have a qualification to his name. But unfortunately in this respect he is far from alone. Currently the European Commission (EC) estimates that of the four million IT practitioners working in the eurozone, 50 percent do not have a degree or equivalent level of qualification in IT. Somewhat more worryingly, the EC also predicts that, though the number of IT practitioners across member countries doubled in the last 15 years, there will be a shortfall of at least 350,000 qualified IT professionals in the region by 2015.

There is a strong argument that generalists who have taken a non-technical degree can bring unique skills and perspectives to roles that their peers – who have opted for narrow and purely vocational IT qualifications – cannot. But there is an equally good argument that a generalist can only go so far in the highly complex world of IT.

A recent report, jointly produced by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and BCS – the chartered institute for IT – advises the public and private sectors to employ chartered professionals to lead and manage large-scale projects. It recommends, as you might expect, that chartered status should be a prerequisite for those leading the development of systems with implications for safety or national security.

It is inconceivable that a finance professional could reach director level and be given responsibility for multimillion-pound budgets without a professional qualification of some sort. ACCA, ACA, ACMA and Cibfa are all badges of honour that the finance professionals who run our businesses wear with pride (and a handful of equally esteemed FTSE-100 FDs carry MBAs instead).

So why should IT professionals who manage multimillion-pound budgets to provide the technology that keeps these businesses operating competitively be any different?

See our last survey of FTSE-100 FD qualifications at www.financialdirector.co.uk/2241177

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