IT does not know ethics

Sometimes the best way to define something is to say what it is NOT.  In a study, the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics found that business people have a number of misconceptions about ethics.

They told the researchers:

  • “Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong.”
  • “Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs.”
  • “Being ethical is doing what the law requires.”
  • “Ethics consists of the standards of behavior our society accepts.”

Ethics is NOT any of those things. This was a surprise to many of the IT folks attending the Sask 3.0 Summit. I presented this anti-definition at the conference as part of the technology stream,  and  at two different CIPS meetings (Regina and Saskatoon). One was as recent as this spring.

In every case, there seemed to be at least one of these statements that the attendees thought should be right.

This is not surprising since experienced IT professionals would not necessarily have had ethics training as part of their education.These days, CIPS accreditation for schools requires that there be some components of the program to address ethics. For those of us already practising our profession, we need to learn the basics so we can understand the issues.


It is important that IT professionals put more focus on ethics because the business world is finally understanding how much trust and power they give us to run their IT infrastructure.

The visibility of Business Ethics is increasing with online magazines by that title becoming popular as Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility continue to get focused attention.

And, of course, there are all the horror stories about ethics. As Canadians, we should at least know about Bre-X.

There are certain topics every professional should think about.The University of Manitoba has a Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.They say the discipline of Applied Ethics is only about 50 years old, and modern technologies have been the catalyst for the current “ethics boom”.

In a recent ITWorld blog about “The Ethics of IT” Fawn Annan describes how CIPS is discussing Ethics. I am part of that initiative and am learning so much!

A key part of being a professional is to think about the implications of the area where you are an expert. That same link above from Markkula  does eventually give a two part definition. The second part says:

“Ethics refers to the study and development of one’s ethical standards. As mentioned above, feelings, laws, and social norms can deviate from what is ethical. So it is necessary to constantly examine one’s standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded. Ethics also means, then, the continuous effort of studying our own moral beliefs and our moral conduct, and striving to ensure that we, and the institutions we help to shape, live up to standards that are reasonable and solidly-based.”

As part of our ongoing blog, I will make a continuous effort to bring you issues to consider.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog is an Information Systems Professional (retired) and has her Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Regina. She has worked in the IT industry since 1978. Most of those years were at SaskTel where she progressed from Programmer, to Business Analyst, to Manager. At one point she had over 48 IT positions reporting to her and she has experience outside of IT managing Engineers. As a Relationship Manager, Donna worked with executive to define the IT Principles so departmental roles were defined. As the Resource Manager in the Corporate Program/Project Management Office, she introduced processes to get resources for corporate priorities. In 2003 she was given the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Technology.

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