Your shout: IT figureheads, cowboy agents, backward education

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Figurehead IT directors may lack technical skills

Having read Ben Booth's article concerning CIOs' pay (Computer Weekly, 28 June), I wanted to pick up on a couple of points.

Firstly I believe the posts of director of IT and CIO are increasingly becoming figurehead positions, with an alarming number of so-called IT experts lacking fundamental technical knowledge.

All too often these senior positions are meted out by corporations to those who are effectively project managers, with little or no IT background. Such managers are relying increasingly on analysts who report to them but carry out the highly skilled aspects of communications engineering and business intelligence.

Rather than talk about six and seven-figure salaries, it's time IT professionals got back to basics and companies insisted that anyone with the title of CIO or IT director is actually qualified to degree/masters level in computer science or communications engineering.

Increasingly we read about large government IT projects failing to live up to expectations, often because of poor understanding of technology or planning by the CIOs and their providing companies.

A good CIO needs to have understanding of technology, business acumen and leadership skills. Unfortunately many techies often lack the latter two skills while today's CIOs are increasingly lacking the first skill.

It is a mistake to rank senior IT professionals alongside CEOs or COOs because they tend not to be strategists, change managers or entrepreneurs by nature.

If anything, thanks to intelligent software and technology gains, the deployment of ERP, business intelligence and large IT projects has become less complex, so outsourcing of this entire industry is continuing at an ever increasing pace, classing IT almost as a commodity item.

Cliff Price

Not just contractors who may wear 10-gallon hats

With regard to Arif Mohamed's article on "cowboy" contractors (Computer Weekly, 12 July), speak to any contractor or agent and they will tell you stories about rogue agents or contractors.

For example, it's almost impossible to have been a contractor in IT for any length of time without coming across agents who alter CVs to add skills clients want, put candidates forward for roles without their knowledge and harass referees for sales leads (to the extent that most contractors now flatly refuse references to anyone other than end clients).

This kind of behaviour damages all of us. Happily, most agencies, like most contractors, do not stoop to the kinds of measures being discussed.

The UK's freelance contractors make up a uniquely flexible, skilled and mobile workforce. Many of the UK's most experienced knowledge-based workers operate as freelancers and there are clear benefits to companies who make use of them.

Dr Simon Juden, chairman, Professional Contractors Group

New educational policy means fewer girls in IT

I read with interest the recent letters about encouraging more girls into IT (Computer Weekly, 28 June and 5 July).

As an IT teaching professional working in further and higher education I have noticed a sharp decline in applicants for next year's level 2 and level 3 IT courses (GCSE and A-Level equivalent). The feedback I'm hearing is that the new Applied GCSE is actually putting learners off IT, as they are having a bad experience of IT in school.

For the last five years we have been running the AVCE or Vocational A-Level in ICT and we've had excellent results, with 90 to 100% pass rates. The cohort that have just completed were almost 50% girls, who were attracted to the course by the mix of multimedia, graphics and other such creative topics amongst the drier IT topics.

However, the exam board is retiring this qualification, presumably responding to the government's somewhat abortive review of education.

As a result we are going back to teaching two strands of the BTEC National Diploma. Although it is a very good course, it is very dry and, in my colleagues' experience, it attracts very few girls.

The current strand of the National Diploma (that was running alongside the AVCE) had a cohort of about 30 (all male) and a current cohort of about 25, with one girl.

I find it very frustrating that a qualification with such excellent rates of achievement that is clearly succeeding in attracting girls into IT at level 3, often resulting in them progressing to level 4 (Foundation Degree/ HND/Degree), is being retired because the exam board claims it is not working.

My worry is that just as IT courses were starting to break out of the "male geek" image, the changes in educational policy look like they are going to undo all the good work that has happened over the last five years.

Richard Hind, Tutor of IT and computing

Government must listen  to IDcard criticism

To add to the ID card debate, I will say from the outset that I am not a fan of the proposed ID card scheme as currently laid out by the government.

The reasons for my objection are firstly financial - the cost is too much for very little (if any) gain - and secondly, the sponsors of the bill, who have tried to push it forward with the grace of a charging rhino.

Both home secretaries have ignored any criticisms, constructive or otherwise, and ploughed ahead, assuring us that everything will be OK.

The LSE report laid out some valid points but they were ignored or rubbished by those who should have listened. Surely the Whitehall mandarins cannot believe they will get everything right on the first draft of the bill.

They should at least appear to be open for suggestions in order to give the illusion of government for the people. Maybe it was because the advice was offered free. If we had an inquiry that cost a few million and took a year to complete perhaps the government would take some of the recommendations on board.

Kenny Brown, analyst programmer

Failing public sector IT projects

With regard to Phil Reed's article on public sector IT projects (Computer Weekly, 5 July), I was head of IT in a medium-sized Acute NHS Trust for nearly 20 years. During that time I worked with many departmental procurement teams to specify and procure systems at a local level. The focus was always on "does it do this?" and rarely "how does the user make it do this?".

User representation on the procurement teams was invariably at the level of managers and supervisors, who knew what they wanted the system to do. The real users - who had to use the keyboard and mouse - rarely got a look in until they started training in the run-up to implementation.

IT procedures, which took longer than the original manual ones and required data items that had not been collected previously, were foisted on to the end-users.

I know of at least one Trust-wide system that was so difficult and time consuming to use that it was allowed to quietly die, despite having been "a national requirement". Other systems struggled on, with parts unused.

So, do I think Reed is correct? I certainly do! The realistic requirements of end-users must be considered, not just the vague perceptions of their managers.

Neil Kenyon, Aston

More on failing public sector IT projects

Phil Reed is almost on the button with his comments on why public sector IT projects fail, but his solutions still miss the most taxing and fundamental issues.

To fix this problem we should ask why government schemes try to serve so many people and objectives simultaneously, setting themselves up for failure from the beginning?

Reed's solution starts with, "The public sector should be putting each project's aims ahead of how they are going to be achieved: IT as the enabler, not the objective."

However the first step, in any change management programme, is to have a clear strategy. So why is government strategy setting so poor? One word: ego. Our politicians have taken upon themselves, in recent decades, the role of most senior managers.

Ministers are no longer responsible simply for policy and holding the executive to account. As the most senior managers they are now directly responsible for programmes, even projects, and the strategies for these are built on the shifting sands of political horse trading and public relations - a reality only made essential by their insistence that they are the ones who 'must be in charge'. If we were to judge them on this new-ish job description how would they fare?

Judged purely as managers, I would suggest we mark them as, "could do better". A good manager knows how to delegate: a great manager delegates authority with responsibility and confidence. Fix this, and we fix the twin problems of ministers' objective inflation and fluffy, butterfly strategies.

Stephen Wheeler, programme manager

Basel 2 regulations in the financial sector

In response to the article "Basel 2 set to change the face of financial IT" (

Andrew Rigby's article on Basel 2 (Computer Weekly, 5 July) offers an excellent explanation of its impact on banks and the areas IT directors need to be reviewing. But the area of data quality deserves much greater attention. Data is fundamental to Basel 2 and data quality issues pose a significant risk to compliance.

Rigby suggests IT directors should "audit operational risk and assess whether systems are capable of capturing the data in ways that meet the integrity and quality requirements imposed by Basel 2". But this is like locking the door after the horse has bolted. What of the previously captured existing data, stored across multiple systems and divisions of the institution?

Even if it supports operational applications adequately, when viewed at an institutional level this data, not subject to stringent quality checks, will be riddled with inconsistencies. It needs to be integrated to build risk profiles. If data quality is inadequate, such integration will simply deliver inconsistent, unreliable and invalid risk data.

Thus as they develop systems for Basel 2 compliance, banks need to audit and validate the quality, integrity and consistency of source data and determine its fitness for purpose against the reporting requirements of the Accord. IT directors would be best advised to assess data quality prior to attempting data integration; this in addition to Rigby's sound advice to review data capture systems.

Ed Wrazen, Trillium Software

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