New CIPS designation boosts academics, IT pros

The Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) is makingimprovements to its Information Systems Professional (ISP)designation program by creating a body of knowledge all ITpractitioners should attain.

The Mississauga, Ont.-based society is also updating its code ofethics to reflect changes in the compliance and privacy landscapein Canada, and extending the ISP designation to groups that havenot been eligible in the past such as academics and experienced ITprofessionals without computer science degrees.

Asking IT professionals to sign on to what they considered inthe past as a generalist’s certificate – is viewed by some as notprovding immediate dollar value, says John Bouffard, president ofCIPS.

That’s a perception that needs to change, he says.

The IT profession is about 50 years old, still relatively youngcompared with other professions, says Kerry Augustine, an ISP since1991 and a director at Great West Life in Winnipeg. Only about1,500 people have the ISP designation, out of a potential pool ofabout 300,000 IT workers Canada-wide. IT professionals typicallyseek technical and vendor certifications, but businesses areincreasingly dissatisfied with this narrow knowledge.

“Many people are getting these vendor designations who may knowthe product but can’t execute or apply it within organizations,”says Augustine.

Organizations are also getting increasingly impatient with IT’sdismal track record.

“Sad to say, success is gleaned from failure in other areas, andit’s raising awareness of the need for professional status in IT,”says Augustine, alluding to research by the Standish Group aboutthe high rate of IT project failures and the Hartwell Group aboutsoftware glitches, both resulting in losses of millions of dollarsto businesses.

The need for better management of IT risks is fuelling change inthe business world. “IT is like a spider’s web – touch one cornerand the whole thing can shake,” says Bouffard.

Broad knowledge of IT and its impact on an organization isneeded to improve decision-making and accountability in IT. “Webelieve, in order to apply a professional code of conduct, we mustfirst begin with assessing risk so an organization is fully awareof what it’s embarking,” says Augustine.

There are all manner of risks for CIOs, from regulatorycompliance to hiring the right people.

And the biggest risks are in unknown areas.

“We are finding when we talk to companies that their auditorsaren’t saying their systems and processes are robust,” saysBouffard. “What they’re saying is ‘what we looked at appears tocomply with commonly accepted practices.’ It’s negative assuranceand that’s troublesome.

Most companies have policies and procedures, but problems comein new unknown areas that aren’t covered off.

“We believe it’s important as certified professionals toimplement the IT practices that auditors will evaluate, as that’sour risk factor,” he says.

Compliance pressure is also affecting boards of directors andhow organizations handle reporting to customers, shareholders andstakeholders, says Augustine.

“IT has the opportunity to step up and demonstrate itscapabilities by injecting aspects of quality practice,” he says.”They can demonstrate they no longer have to be under the directthumb of the CFO – they can be accountable to the board bygoverning their practice discipline.”

Bouffard says an ISP designation embodies trusted competence andintentions, supported by a common body of IT knowledge, a code ofethics and a disciplinary body. By analogy, he compares it to thecapability maturity model (CMM), which embodies best practices insoftware development.

“When companies adopt CMM and codify software developmentpractices, their success is more reproducible. A person with an ISPis in a better position to provide reliable IT services,” hesays.

Globalization is also highlighting the need for aninternationally recognized professional IT designation. Manyimmigrants with IT backgrounds come to Canada’s shores, only tolearn their credentials are not recognized.

“Canada is currently negotiating a general agreement with otherWorld Trade Organization (WTO) countries on trade and services.Canada’s offer, for temp workers coming here to work on projects,is to recognize possession of an ISP or equivalent as determined bythe CIPS,” says Bouffard.

This also works in reverse as more and more Canadian companiesexpand overseas. Augustine points out that Great West Life recentlymade some acquisitions, and now has a new site in Ireland. “So howdo I know when I’m hiring someone in Dublin or Toronto if theirskills and competencies are the same?” he says.

Bouffard points out that the ISP designation is gaining ground,particularly in the public sector, as more and more organizationsadd “ISP preferred” to job postings. “At a recent presentation, JimAlexander [the acting CIO of Canada], mentioned the government islooking into professional certification for IT workers, and that’sencouraging,” he says.