Globalisation and the IT Professional

J. Barrie Thompson


The call for papers for ETHICOMP 2007 highlights the need to bridge the global nature of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the local nature of human beings. There is no doubt that, with regard to ICT, we now exist in a global market place where, for example, software can be specified in the USA, developed in India, and then used by individuals globally on the Internet. However, there is also a downside. The failure of many software projects to meet their objectives, or indeed the termination of partially completed projects, is an all too often occurrence. The ongoing problem of poor quality software has been repeatedly highlighted in published studies [e.g. 1] and by high profile software-related failures. For the individual, or society, to have confidence in the ICT systems, which now impinge so significantly on their lives, there is a clear requirement for greater professionalism throughout the ICT sector.

Over the last decade, interest in professionalism within the ICT sector has waxed and waned. For example, during the 1990s the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), following encouragement from the World Trade Organisation, initiated activities related to defining international standards for professionals in the field of Information Technology. These activities finally led in 1999 to the release of a document entitled “Harmonization of Professional Standards” [2]. However, despite very positive evaluations regarding its proposals in the early years of this decade [3] there appears to have been little will, until this year, to advance its acceptance and address some particular deficiencies.

The ongoing problems associated with poor quality software and high profile failures have recently acted as catalysts for particular national computing bodies to address professionalism in proactive manner. In particular, the British Computer Society has undertaken since 2005 an ambitiously managed programme [4] with two key objectives:

By increasing professionalism, to improve the ability of business and other organisations to exploit the potential of information technology effectively and consistently.

To build an IT profession that is respected and valued by its stakeholders- Government, business leaders, IT employers, IT users and customers – for the contribution that it makes to a more professional approach to the exploitation and application of IT.

The ETHICOMP paper will chart the recent global and national developments relating to professionalism in the ICT sector and will provide a critical appraisal of the likely effectiveness of initiatives such as that currently being undertaken by the British Computer Society. It will also cover new international work that IFIP has initiated following a highly successful workshop “Improving IT Practitioner Skills”, which was held immediately after this year’s World Computer Conference in Chile on 25th August. Finally an evaluation will be presented to assesses whether we are approaching a situation where IFIP’s definition for professionals, viz.

  • Publicly ascribe a code of ethics published within the standard.
  • Be aware of and have access to a well-documented current body of knowledge relevant to the domain of practice.
  • Have a mastery of the body of knowledge at the baccalaureate level.
  • Have a minimum of the equivalent of two years supervised experience before the practitioner operates unsupervised.
  • Be familiar with current best practice and relevant proven methodologies.
  • Be able to provide evidence of their maintenance of competence.

is acceptable to a global audience.


[1] BCS, The Challenges of Complex IT Projects. The report of a working group from The Royal Academy of Engineering and The British Computer Society. Available online:, 2004.

IEEE Computer, Vol. 33, No. 5, pp 44-50, May 2000.

[2] Mitchell I., Juliff P., and Turner J., Harmonization of Professional Standards, International Federation of Information Processing, 1998, at:

[3] Thompson, J. B. Evaluations of IFIP’s Proposed Standards for Professionals. In Proceedings of the 8th IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education, (WCCE 2005), Session P10.3. University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa, July 4-7, 2005.

[4] BCS Professionalism in IT Programme, covered in a series of articles in the May 2006 issue of IT NOW, British Computer Society, Swindon, UK.