ICT Professionalism


David Gleason (USA)


I. Introduction

ICT development and implementation continues to be extremely problematic, and many observers have recommended a professionalization, even licensing of its practitioners. This paper argues that a move to professionalism is needed, but that careful attention must be paid to the risks involved.

The paper will review the challenges to ICT development and implementation, explain how a “profession” of ICT might mitigate against these risks, and describe a possible conjunction of business motives that could lead to professionalization of ICT in industry.

The paper will use the evolution of professionalism in architecture and engineering to elucidate some of the advantages and disadvantages of professionalization.

II. Challenges to ICT Professionalism

A. Customization
More and more companies are implementing customized off-the-shelf applications, rather than developing applications from scratch. Nevertheless, customization itself can cost millions of dollars, requiring clear specifications and experienced, attentive developers.

B. Complexity
Within leading organizations, current ICT projects attempt to integrate Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), e-mail (integrated with addresses, date book & to-dos), voice communications & voice mail, document management, supply chain management, sales, partner integration, web sites tied to real-time data, transportation, human resources, marketing, surveillance, security, collateral production, streaming video, and so on.
While such integration makes sense intellectually, in practice it is all but impossible. Some of the reasons it is so difficult include:

  1. Simple mathematical complexity: the more components there are in a system, and the more people involved in its development, the more likely the project and the system will produce unpredictable results.
  2. Diverse software applications running on many platforms and under varying standards
  3. Variability in the competence, reliability and maturity of systems workers
  4. Lack of established professional standards for both behavior and production
  5. Lack of tools and too many competing development methodologies
  6. The following, well known ICT project risks:
    • Subsumed faults: accumulated errors in complex IT systems
    • Risks of failure, including business failure
    • Risks of loss due to overruns or unreliable systems
    • Lack of effective communications standards
    • Unexpected system behavior

C. Obsolescence of equipment, software and knowledge
The knowledge base for developers changes substantially every 36 months. While companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Sun and many others offer certification, incentives are usually based on selling software licenses and upgrades. Sales and the evolution of the industry is exciting and leads to ever more-powerful systems, however, organizations are often pressed to apply cutting-edge technology where more established systems would work better for less money.

D. Operational Change
Organizations undergo major operational changes with the implementation of ICT systems. Processes that have been in place for years are altered. There is no easy way to minimize the impact on staff, other than to plan thoroughly, identify stakeholders broadly and evaluate project impacts, work through problems as they arise and to vigorously communicate on open issues until they are resolved. It is the nature of information systems that adoption is difficult for the people who have to use them. In an analogy, how would factory workers respond if they were told that the machines they had been working on for years were going to be replaced with new ones that worked completely differently?

The ICT adoption issues that organizations must work through are in part technical, but adoption also requires changing operating processes without disrupting the flow of business. It is like surgery: the patient must be kept alive and healthy during the operation. Often, companies do not pay enough attention to how much disruption IT implementations might cause. Professionals need to figure out how to mitigate the negative impact as much as possible throughout systems development and implementation.