As part of the Scale 21 initiative, backed by the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) and involving a string of professional bodies, more than 1,800 IT professionals completed more than 3,000 aptitude tests, in a project designed to build up a picture of the UK's IT workforce at the start of the 21st century.
The results of the massive survey, which Computer Weekly helped to conduct, are still being analysed in detail. But the findings already suggest a mis-match between the skills and attributes of today's business IT professionals and the needs of the UK businesses that employ them.
According to the Scale 21 research findings, the UK's IT community is lacking in leadership, lagging about 25% behind the UK average. IT professionals also fall well below the UK average when it comes to steadiness. But they rate much higher than their counterparts in other roles in their ability to influence. Overall, IT professionals include fewer finishers - people who see projects through to completion - than the UK average and more gung-ho optimists, the research says.
The initial report produced on the back of the findings suggests that the survey may reflect an industry in crisis, "with people rushing around like headless chickens, persuading others to support them but lacking goal-oriented leadership and the time to work at a consistent pace".
However accurate this dramatic picture of today's IT departments my be, the survey results suggest that UK organisations must take a hard look at the sort of people they need to develop and run their IT systems. IT is now at the heart of business strategy for most major organisations. Having the right IT people, with the right skills and attributes, is more important now than ever before. If, as the survey suggests, the current IT workforce has the wrong mix of capabilities and personality traits, this is a serious matter.
Specifically, firms need to take a fresh look at how they recruit IT staff and how they develop them once recruited. Processes that were set up a decade or more ago to find the right people could well be out of date in a world where business and communications skills are just as important as technical ones. And IT training, traditionally focusing on keeping the IT workforce up to date with the latest technical skills, needs to shift towards skills such as leadership and business acumen that are increasingly vital for today's business IT professionals.
The status of those responsible for developing Britain's IT workforce also needs to change. The news this week that IT training managers in UK firms are at the bottom of the IT pay table is a clear sign of the low value attached to developing the people who business leaders depend upon to build and innovate IT's contribution to the business.