IP3 global partnership to define international standards of professionalism in ICT



Welcome to the one hundred and fifty fifth (155th) edition of the regular weekly column "The Catalyst".

Getting Involved

I always had this interest to get involved in things outside work. Media, writing, speaking and industry bodies come into picture this way.

When I went to Australia many years ago, I wanted to be involved there too, especially in the ICT (Information & Communications Technology) industry activities. Initially I was in Adelaide, South Australia. Australian Computer Society (ACS) is the body for this industry. I had taken membership before landing in Australia, and on the very first few days, I wrote an email to ACS South Australia branch indicating my interest to join with them actively.

I wasn’t expecting a serious reply, as I was new in the country, young and virtually unknown. But unexpectedly, I got a reply. From a lady called Brenda Aynsley and her title read as ‘Chair, ACS South Australia’.That sounded big and I was surprised that she came forward with a couple of options as to how I could get involved. One suggestion she had was to join the branch executive committee (or the state board). Usually people get elected with member support but she had offered to get me on board (co-opt) by getting everyone agreed on the move.

She probably saw something in me, probably passion, I don’t know.

Anyway, this was extraordinary. Quite unexpected. I Agreed and grabbed the opportunity. And that was the beginning of a long journey. To cut a long story short, from there, I continued to be on various ACS boards, and eventually became the Director for its Young IT Professionals Board, and also represented ACS Congress, the highest advisory forum.

Not many people know this story but it is the truth. This lady Brenda, a past Chair of ACS in South Australia, a former Vice President of ACSanda very senior as an ICT professional gave me the baton, which to date has helped me when it comes to industry activities.

She is in town in Colombo these days, and this The Catalyst Catch-Up is with her.

Please tell us about the early part of your career and how did you transition into ICT?

I have had five different careers over my working life and ICT was my last one which I came to in1982. I transitioned from project manager into ICT project manager working in the Australian public service. I had already joined the Australian Computer Society as an affiliate member because the projects I was managing were all related to data collections and statistical reporting, it seemed appropriate that I switch from the Institute of Public Administration Australia into the computing society. In these early days, most data collections were managed within a bureau environment, ie dumb terminals connected to end to end networks where processing occurred in these large computers. I was fascinated by both the technology and the techniques and wanted to get more enmeshed in the whole ‘computing thing’. I have been learning ever since, about computers, about analysis, about contracting, about business, about people and professionalism.

What were the experiences like when internet got introduced, especially in Australia and in your home state?

I saw a job advert in 1993 for the position in Canberra for a customer service manager with AARNet, the Australian Academic and Research Network. I liked the words that spoke of widespread communications that would allow the user to speak to anyone else using the Internet. It was exciting to learn about it from the best of the best, Geoff Huston early evangelist of the Internet in Australia, to interact with KRE, Robert Elz in Melbourne amongst others in intellectual and technical leadership. I loved it! So much so when my contract finished two years later I came back to Adelaide and opened the first Internet café so I could share my excitement with ordinary Australians. By this time there was a browser, Mosaic, the precursor to Netscape, which through HTML made content available. To use tools like IRC (Internet Relay Chat) to speak to anyone in the world via the keyboard. Wow it was exhilarating. When customers came in to the café to dip their toe in the water of the Internet it was always to explore the vast repositories of information available via the directories of yahoo or the Alta Vista search engine (Number 1 of the day). The social aspects like chatting using the Internet got popular a little later and the likes of Facebook came along and found new ways to facilitate socialising using the Internet.

Business was not far behind the amateurs in understanding the business benefits of Internet adoption to their bottom line. Interestingly much e-commerce innovation came from an unlikely source, the adult entertainment industry. In those early days in order to conduct business, these suppliers needed to both prove the age/identity of the buyer/viewer but also needed to get payment in a routine fashion. This industry was followed into widespread Internet use by the financial services sector one suspects in response to the likely occurrence of fraudulent use of credit cards!

Unlike many professionals, you have got involved and spent a lot of time for professional society in your field. Why?

My answer is why not? I am sorry if what I say sounds harsh but unless a practitioner who wants to be considered a professional takes responsibility for the work that they do by being ethical and trustworthy and making a contribution to the profession, they cannot be seen to be a professional practitioner. They may be extremely good at what they do, they may even excel in their field but they are not a professional by any acceptable definition of professional and nor do they belong to a profession. I use the following definition of a profession :

"A profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others. It is inherent in the definition of a profession that a code of ethics governs the activities of each profession. Such codes require behaviour and practice beyond the personal moral obligations of an individual. They define and demand high standards of behaviour in respect to the services provided to the public and in dealing with professional colleagues. Further, these codes are enforced by the profession and are acknowledged and accepted by the community."

So for me, as does the BCS , a professional is a practitioner who has specific skills rooted in a broad base, has appropriate qualifications from a recognized body, undergoes continuous development and operates to a code of conduct. There is a strong emphasis in professional bodies for longer standing professions that the primary obligation of the profession is to serve the public.

Now, you champion the IP3. Please tell us about it and its objectives.

IP3 is a global partnership that will define international standards of professionalism in ICT; create an infrastructure that will encourage and support the development of both ICT practitioners and employer organizations; and give recognition to those who meet and maintain the required standards for knowledge, experience, competence and integrity.

We work to expand the partnership to include not only professional societies but also education providers, industry, employers and government agencies.

We provide a framework and a standard that individuals and organisations can use to set the benchmarks for professional practice.

How does it become important for businesses?

Companies are in the business of minimising risk and maximising outcomes to the benefit of the business. In hiring professional staff, in the terms I have described, and operating their business in a professional manner they will attract the potential benefits like minimising the risks of failure by professionals being employed, maximising the quality of their outputs through the professionalism of their staff and improving their ability to attract new clients by promoting the quality of their products and services that are demonstrably better.

As a new industry, how does this area compare with other industries?E specially with the so called more matured industries.

I don’t speak of the ICT industry, because that is only referencing a very small part of the whole domain of ICT professionals. ICT is used within all sectors of the economy, health, government, retail, finance, administration, education, manufacturing and the like. All of these rely on ICT professionals to provide technology and innovation within their respective industries. It is its strength and ironically its weakness. Because of its ubiquity and pervasiveness, it is hard to identify a specific discipline. ICT is software engineering, its ICT education, its project management, its procurement, its control systems, its information management, its tools and programs to support diagnostic medicine and a thousand other things. It’s easy to relate to the medical profession, or the legal profession, to the nursing profession and the education profession. But it’s much harder to pin down the ICT profession. Is it the clerk who uses a computer? Is it the teenager who develops an app for his iphone or android?

I like to see the ICT profession as similar to the health profession. Everyone has an understanding of what the health profession is, it’s the doctors, the specialists, the nurses, the pharmacists, the physiotherapists, the psychologists, the paramedics etc. In the same way the ICT profession is the sum of the information managers, change managers, business innovation professionals, information security specialists, enterprise architects, project managers, software engineers, procurement officers and the operations staff to name a few. The world is on the way to this understanding but it’s not there yet.

What brings you to Sri Lanka this time?

I am back in Sri Lanka for the first time in 5 decades. As a child I emigrated from the UK to Australia with my parents and the ship we came on called into Colombo for a short visit. My recollection of Colombo from that visit is that it was very hot and drinking a beer to quench the thirst.

I am thrilled to be asked to come and talk to the SEARCC conference that is held in Sri Lanka, starting today. My topic is entitled "Innovation in ICT Practice, working together to achieve global professionalism". I am also representing Leon Strous, the President of IFIP, the International Federation for Information Processing at this conference. Unfortunately Leon is not able to be here himself to participate and demonstrate support directly for SEARCC and its members who like IFIP and IP3 share in the belief in professionalism in ICT practice.

See you next week!

The Columnist

Yasas V. Abeywickrama is an entrepreneur, trainer, writer and speaker.In 2011 he was recognised as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) in Sri Lanka. He co-founded Lanka BPO Academy (www.lankabpoacademy.lk). Yasas is an Executive Council Member of the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL – www.cssl.lk).

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