Professionalism in ICT – Why is it so Important?

Information Communication Technology (ICT) is a vital part of doing business today and tomorrow. Our globalisation in markets, qualifications and in work practices that ‘follow the sun’ means that we can no longer know our workers and contractors in the same way we used to. Our world is not as small as it used to be, where the line of sight management was a commonly practiced technique for both management and quality control.

“Today to be an ICT professional in the business environment means that business and clients must rely on the intrinsic professionalism and ethical behaviour of each individual practicing in the industry.  This, in turn, means that we must educate our professionals to exhibit these qualities.  Our education courses need to ensure our graduates understand their responsibility for professional conduct. They must not just practice their craft, but also ensure their colleagues do likewise to avoid the terrible consequences of unprofessional behaviour,” says Brenda Aynsley, OAM, Chairperson IFIP IP3.

There is an abundance of examples of this. Most recently there is ‘dieselgate’ where VW, one of the world’s most respected companies, admitted to the software they created misleading customers and regulatory agencies about the emissions of their engines.  It has cost the company both its reputation and $US14.7 billion in compensation. “Imagine what would have happened if their software programmers had behaved professionally and convinced the company not to proceed down that path? Such examples remind us that being competent at your craft does not equate to being professional!” she says.

ICT professionals are unlike other older professions, such as health and law. Most graduates do not set up a practice on graduation, but rather go into employment like any blue or white collar employee. This undermines their understanding of the personal responsibility to their clients (patients in terms of the health profession) as a practicing professional in ICT. This tends to be reinforced by the employee relationship they have with the company that pays their salary, which sets up the responsibility between the client and the company.  “A natural consequence of this is the freelancing movement which is commoditising ICT and in doing so is not serving the profession well in my view.  Why do I say that?  It’s a perfect market, where buyer and seller meet virtually and contract to do work that seems to satisfy each party. There are few controls applied other than price and apparent quality. If the buyer likes the work, payment follows.  The professional has a responsibility to educate the client as part of the service he or she provides, yet freelancing does not impose that obligation upon the transaction,” says Aynsley.

Disruptive technologies also have an impact on professionalism. “Are these disruptors considering the consequences to business models, the increasingly fast pace of technology development and its impact on societies actors and their ability to cope with it, in other words, the social consequences?  Can society cope with such rapid changes? Are they sustainable?” she asks.

Aynsley believes that professionalism must be encouraged among everyone in the workplace, not just ICT professionals and that if the business cannot achieve that, there must be forms of regulation, either self-imposed or imposed by others.

She says professional societies must take a leading role in promoting the professionalism of practitioners. “Professional societies like IITPSA and its sister societies of IFIP must stand up and promote the benefits of the professional practice.  Imagine our other older professions operating without some form of professional practice guidelines or regulation? Would we be happy to see an unregulated medical profession? What about our accounting profession?”

Today it is not just people who are producing software and interpreting data, but algorithms and ‘bots’ are more often being relied on to predict behaviour and outcomes.  With new technology, comes new responsibilities and risks. “IITPSA and other professional societies understand the risks to society of practicing in the ICT profession and so must take on the role of educating governments and citizens about both the benefits and the risks of technology in our society which is so pervasive.”

Aynsley will be the international keynote speaker at the upcoming IITPSA President’s Awards where the 2016 IT Personality and Visionary CIO of the Year will be announced.