CIPS looks beyond I.S.P. Week to global credibility

The Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) is celebrating Information Systems Professional (I.S.P.) week in an effort to gain wider adoption and exposure for their IT designation program.

Much like the P.Eng. accreditation for professional engineers, CIPS created the I.S.P. designation in an effort to create standards, professionalism, and best practices for the IT industry. CIPS said I.S.P week is aimed at boosting awareness for the program with events scheduled across Canada highlighting its potential impact on IT professionals, the experiences of existing I.S.P. designation holders, and the future international IT professional accreditations.

“Especially this year, there’s been a tremendous amount of support and encouragement in the work that we’re doing, not only in this country, but also internationally,” Stephen Ibaraki, president at CIPS, said. “There has to be assurances of the kind of work that’s being done in IT, there has to be a recognition of the value and rewards for the practitioner, and there has to be a common body of knowledge and a stand means of measurement for those skills.”

Ibaraki also expressed the need for the 1,500 current I.S.P. holders to take their accreditation abroad and have “mobility with other countries.” Recently, the International Federation of Information Processing (IFIP), a United Nations founded organization, have begun work on a plan to create an international IT professional designation. The plan is set to allow IT pros receive the International Information Technology Professional (IITP) accreditation sometime in early 2009. Even Microsoft has recently shown support for CIPS’s efforts and indicated that it would share research and other resources to help create the global accreditation.

CIPS, along with the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Australian Computer Society (ACS), is working on the IFIP task force which will be governed by the International Professional Practice Programme (I3P). The I3P will establish the criteria by which any country’s certification will be judged. Ibaraki said CIPS’s ultimate goal through its involvement with this global designation is for I.S.P. holders to be recognized on the world stage.

“Canada and CIPS have been world leaders with brining professionalism to IT and this is acknowledged by the world general assembly,” Ibaraki said. “We hope it will bring the same level of professionalism in IT that we take for granted in other professions. And we anticipate its 2009 and recognition worldwide will provide an opportunity for our I.S.P. holders to be recognized on the world stage in many countries.”

But according to some industry experts, more work may need to be done for this to become a reality.

According to Robert Fabian, a Toronto-based IT management and systems consultant, CIPS’s I.S.P. designation will most likely be accepted as a qualifier for IITP designation, however, it may occur with a few “provisos.” Fabian said that despite CIPS’s strong intentions to improve IT professionalism in Canada, its practice isn’t without its imperfections.

“We need I.S.P. to say something about the individual that employers will respect,” Fabian said. “Is it that the individual has actively and aggressively worked to maintain their standing in the profession or is it that the individual has made a commitment to ethics and demonstrated an understanding of it? Plus, the certification means different things to different points of an individual’s career. Right now, what gets said is too vague and it doesn’t have enough oomph to convince employers right now.”

Mark Stevenson, director of national resourcing at IT staffing firm CNC Global, agreed with Fabian and said that the I.S.P. designation does not effectively communicate to potential employers what they can expect from the IT pro.

“Many of our customers are interested in other designations such as their Project Management Profession (PMP) designation and we rarely see them say they absolutely need someone that has I.S.P.,” Stevenson said.

The designation, according to Stevenson, while very ambitious and impressive on paper, has failed to catch on with employers because of an overall lack of awareness.

“Usually, there’s a strong sort of lobby effort on behalf of the company who is designing the designation,” Stevenson said. “They raise and heighten awareness, not only to the potential membership community, but also to the consumers of those services. If you look to Microsoft, Cisco and the Project Management Institute with the PMP designation as an example, they’ve done a wonderful job in raising brand recognition to their particular accreditation.”

Fabian said that the currently I.S.P. movement has faced many challenges and could be deemed unsuccessful at this point. He compared the current number of I.S.P. accredited professionals versus the number of Canadians working in the IT industry as a whole and indicated the number was off by “a factor of 200 or 300.” The IT consultant, who is currently working with CIPS on developing an online ethics exam for CIPS members, said that while he hopes that I.S.P. will become a success, drastic changes might have to be made for that to occur.

“Bottom line is that I.S.P. started with bright promise about trying to establish a profession, but it will need to evolve significantly,” Fabian said. “What needs to be attested to is the idea that individual has a certain kind of valued knowledge. I believe that I.S.P. needs to take the next step and move from individuals committed to IT professionalism to individuals who have demonstrated they have knowledge, skills and experiences.”

Fabian said he is hopeful that CIPS will address these changes over the next couple of years so that I.S.P. can be valued and recognized both in Canada and abroad.

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