Help is at hand for IT directors to move to non-IT board roles

The National Computing Centre's merger with user group Certus stems from a new vision to give IT directors a leg up to the board

It is a turbulent time for most IT user groups as they rethink their roles and their positioning. The 37-year-old, Manchester-based National Computing Centre, with about 800 corporate members, is no exception. It has recently decided to pitch for the ground between IT and the board. Its vision is to educate the IT director to move upwards to the role of a non-IT operational director on the board.

As part of that strategy, last month the NCC merged with Certus, the smaller user group formed in the late 1990s by motivational specialist David Taylor.

The new NCC-Certus user group aims to educate IT decision makers for a board-level non-IT role through knowledge sharing, networking, events, workshops and seminars.

NCC-Certus activities are part of the same coin as the joint Impact/NCC Leadership Academy programme, run by Taylor to equip IT managers and directors to operate at board level.

"This is about building a new generation of operations directors, not a new generation of IT directors," said Michael Gough, chief executive of the NCC.

Last October, the NCC, with the Dynamic Systems Development Method Consortium, launched its Advanced Dynamic Programme Management initiative to help members gain experience in programme (as opposed to project) management. The core principle is that programmes should not just be business-led but that the chief executive or a board member should take responsibility for ensuring success from an IT perspective.

Underlying the strategic direction of getting IT user members to look towards the board, the NCC, through its 30 staff, pursues a range of themes including open source, security, risk management, skills, legal issues, grid computing and training.

The NCC plays a national role in the development of standards. In particular it has been involved in the assessment of compliance with e-gif (e-government interoperability framework).

A few years ago, the NCC split off its consultancy, escrow and testing activities, which now trades as NCC Group. However, the NCC retained the royalties to Filetab, its 30-year-old mainframe protocol conversion software. The 200 licences for Filetab are worth £1.75m a year. Filetab and an open source version provide a link to the government gateway to breathe extended life into, for example, ICL VME applications.

For the NCC, the revenue from Filetab secures the necessary independence for it to be effective in today's business climate.

In many ways, said Gough, the NCC is going back to the basic aims it had when it was founded in 1966 of helping organisations perform to their best abilities with the aid of IT.

National Computing Centre:

British Computer Society:



What is the NCC?   

The National Computer Centre, which has 800 corporate members, aims to give IT directors the tools they need to become board directors.  

Most members are from user organisations, but about 10% are from supplier companies. Supplier members are allowed to present their products, particularly at a technical level, but they must do this without any sales hype.  

The NCC is a not-for-profit organisation but enjoys a turnover of £2.5m, largely through royalties on its legacy Filetab software. 

Chief executive Michael Gough sees the NCC as one of three main industry intermediary bodies. "The NCC represents the corporate user; Intellect represents the supplier; and the British Computer Society represents the professional development of individuals," he said. Each is complementary.


The NCC's view of IT suppliers    

 The NCC does not take an adversarial view of suppliers, said Gough. Users need access to suppliers to make their buying decisions. The NCC facilitates discussions with technical staff without any hype to cut through to the truth. 

At the same time, as a user organisation, he sees a role in coercing suppliers to plug gaps in their own products, particularly when it comes to security. 

The NCC has a strong relationship with the Office of the E-Envoy, and has been heavily involved in the formulation of the government's recent open source policy and work on compliance assessment. 

However, Gough said, "The user voice needs to be more prominent and focused. There are too many talking shops and a lot of government/industry forums are dominated by suppliers."

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