Making the ICT grade

ICTTech brings long-overdue independent certification to IT and telecoms professionals, explains E&T.

The question of independent, standardised certification for IT practitioners is one that has been debated within the profession since the advent of heterogeneous client/server computing environments gave rise to the enterprise IT function. For years, vendor-specific accreditations have been the proficiency badges that have underpinned career aspirations in IT; but unlike other professions, professionals working in this sector do not have to be 'officially' licenced or registered to publicly practice.

However, with the elevation of IT managers to the highest levels of enterprise management, and the government's stress on IT efficiency as a key to adding value to public sector agencies, the fact that the IT profession has very little in the way of professional certification has become a conspicuous anomaly.

Engineers can't build bridges, nor doctors cut you open, before they have proved their abilities. Many employers would not recruit financial or legal staff who do not have the requisite letters after their names; but no such demands are made of IT personnel who have just as much influence over an organisation's operational well being.

It is, of course, misleading to make a link between IT failures and the absence of technical certification; however, it is reasonable to suggest that, in many cases, certification would have added an extra level of assurance for IT personnel.

Technological developments like convergence mean that many traditional specialisations are changing radically, or becoming redundant. Technologies that combine datacommunications and telecommunications mean that IT and telecoms specialisms are merging into the catch-all designation of ICT - information and communications technology.

The introduction of ICTTech registration is a landmark development in the evolution of a properly-certified IT profession. It has been introduced by the Engineering Council to address the need for an IT qualification that is fully independent in its administration and examination, and also defines a consensually-agreed set of competences necessary to the effective practice of IT and telecoms management. The fact that ICTTech candidates are assessed by peer review is a further feature that distinguishes it from vendor-specific qualifications. On 30 January 2009 the IET became the only professional membership body that is licensed to confer ICTTech.

ICT technicians' roles vary from basic support to profound input into enterprise information systems and communications infrastructures. This equates to providing systems management and business support to increasingly diverse environments. ICTTech's remit covers networking, operations, servicing, database administration, testing and analysis, software development, telecommunication engineering, and security.

"In terms of qualifications, there has been little for IT people performing more technologically-oriented jobs," says Chris Nott, IBM software IT architect, and member of the ICTTech working group. "Now ICTTech meets that need."

Most specifically, ICTTech candidates have to demonstrate competence in the application of IT principles. ICTTech also addresses interpersonal and communications skills, which will go far to abolishing IT professionals' public reputation for sometimes being remote.

"The key element of ICTTech is its emphasis on the application of IT skills, and the way the innovative deployment of IT can make a quantifiable difference to an organisation's performance," Nott adds. "It's widely acknowledged that aligning IT to business requirements brings benefits, and ICTTech proves a holder's ability to understand and apply this quality."

In its scope, ICTTech draws partly on Level 3 of the Skills Framework for the Information Age model, which is rapidly becoming a de facto standard for gauging the gamut of IT expertise: this provides indicative descriptions of typical responsibility levels and working relationships that reflect the degree of competence required. 

"This qualification provides recognition to the technicians who support the users and back-end information and communications infrastructure on which most business processes rely," says the IET's ICTTech project manager Nicki Risi. "It's based on the EngTech [engineering technician] standard that the IET has been registering for many years."

Risi believes that there are also "significant numbers" of mainstream electrical and electronic engineers who have worked as ICT technicians previously who will see ICTTech as a relevant qualification.

"Successful ICTTech registrants may use the letters 'ICTTech' after their name as proof of professional competence, and this will naturally be an asset, and a positive factor, in bettering career prospects."

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