The IT profession remains in a state of immaturity and is probably in the same state today that civil engineering was at the time of the Tay Bridge disaster, according to a BCS Thought Leadership Debate at London's Royal Society.
The debate heard that the IT profession has too much empiricism and too little rigorous analysis.
Too often technology drives the direction of a business and not the other way around. The gap between business and technical feasibility is often huge and seldom recognised.
The debate heard that chief executives and CIOs need to become leaders of change. Problems can be attributed to organisations having overlapping attempts at change, where change management is brought in as an afterthought. IT change often involves several directors, with their own aims, pulling in different directions. Directors need to promote a culture of shared judgement, and need to know when to intervene.
Chief executives should endeavour to upgrade the skills of all members of the board. All should be IT literate. Equally, it would be advisable to hire a "hybrid professional" as the CIO, who should be at least as skilled and experienced in management and driving business change as they are in IT.
Chief executives should also set up an office of change management to co-ordinate activities across the organisation, programme managing all the various threads of business process change. Additionally, they need to demonstrate positive support toward their IT section and see them as an essential partner in business change.
Most organisations are pulled apart from within over conflicts of objectives, the debate heard. The business triangle of time-cost-quality focuses too much on input, not output. Companies rarely know how to produce large, complex projects that work regularly. Improved professionalism would see this tendency reversed.
Successful IT involves the co-ordinated participation of a wide range of users, only a few of which could, realistically, be defined as IT professionals.
One solution to this conundrum may be in the development of a body of knowledge by a core professional group, with the acceptance of the professional responsibility to promote best practice to the wider community through voluntary standards.
Professionalism and good practice work best when moved across from system to system, generation to generation. This is not happening. The debate concluded that this has to change to prevent the stagnation of the IT industry.
Action needed for future recruitment
The BCS Thought Leadership Debate discussed evidence that few young people are considering IT as a field of study. It heard that the industry needs to change this perception and attract young people otherwise the future of the profession looks bleak.
The IT profession needs to be more visible, with strong role models, to attain a higher standing in society and consequentially become a more attractive option to potential students.
Unfortunately, once IT has recruited someone, it often treats them poorly. The so-called feedstock, represented by IT technicians, are seldom consulted and rarely respected, the debate heard. There is an overwhelming lack of trust within business for IT workers resulting in a culture of blame.
Who attends the debates?
The BCS Thought Leadership Debates invite up to 40 influential people who are relevant to the particular subject under discussion, and aim to have a mixture of delegates from different backgrounds and organisations.