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Interview with ACS President Brenda Aynsley

Friday, 06 Feb 2015

New ACS president Brenda Aynsley says the workforce is in on the brink of enormous change and urgent action is required.

What does it mean to be an ICT professional today? For the new ACS president, Brenda Aynsley, this question is a pressing one, and something she says will characterise the disruption technology will cause across every industry sector during her two-year term in office.

"To take a step back, there is a lack of clarity in the language around professionalism," she says. "This is not just semantics; professionalism is at the very centre of the disruption ICT will cause in the next couple of years as we transition increasingly from old ways of doing things to the information-driven economy. My mission is to get people understanding the same thing when we say ‘professionalism in ICT’.”

Aynsley says that up until recently, ICT-enabled projects have been managed with an inaccurate and inadequate understanding of ICT. “ICT is a professional discipline in itself, not an add-on stream competency to project teams alongside HR, finance and communications,” she says.

“This is a particularly important issue as ICT-enabled projects become more complex and the risks of project failure increase.

"Professionalism can mean all sorts of things to different people. The ACS and ACS members need to steer discussions so that the definition of professionalism includes the essentials that define it, things like ethical behaviour and continuing professional development, a willingness to take personal accountability for the work undertaken and a commitment to act in the public interest. As we've seen in so many recent ICT project failures, the cost of unprofessional behaviour and poor ICT decision-making is just too high."

New trends and products in the technology pipeline will only exacerbate the issue of professionalism, Aynsley believes. "You just need to look at autonomous vehicles to see how important it is to get things right."

Big data is another area where professionalism is critical, she says. "We need to be fearless in how we talk about these subjects. There is a balance between looking at the potential benefits of technology and our responsibility as a profession, to point out possible consequences and identify the risk profiles.

“In the case of big data, for instance, there is enormous benefit for businesses, governments and the community in providing better and more effective services but also a growing risk that people will find methods too intrusive."

Drawing together the strands

As chair of the IFIP International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3) for the past three years, Aynsley is in a prime position to lead discussion on professionalism. IP3's mission includes promoting professionalism in ICT by helping member societies create and administer professional certification schemes. Through this process, the aim is to give the ICT profession the kind of recognition and prestige other professions like law, accountancy and medicine enjoy.

Of course, many ACS members have already taken the judgement that professionalism is critical by achieving Certified Professional status. Aynsley points to the ACS Employment Survey, which found that those holding Certified Professional status earned on average 11.4 per cent more than those holding vendor certifications alone, and 15.2 per cent more than those without any certifications. (Ed note: see our story in this edition on the ACS ICT Skills Whitepaper.)

"Certified Professionals are starting to reap the benefits of this increased focus on professionalism," Aynsley says. "They now have a way to show potential employers that they are different to those who haven't had their skills, experience and competence verified. The days when companies would take on anyone that promised to solve their problems without having those claims validated are numbered."

As well as the IP3 role, Aynsley has experience with the smaller end of town: for 18 years she has operated a strategic consultancy in Adelaide supporting small businesses.

And then there is the background in South Australia and how that will help speak for ICT professionals wherever they are, rather than the traditional focus of the eastern states. South Australia has been at the forefront of change facilitated by ICT for almost two decades, which provides valuable insights into the future for the rest of the world.

"I plan to have a very broad engagement across the entire ICT ecosystem," she says. "Whether it is government, academia or industry, I want to hear all views on how we can improve professionalism in ICT to enhance outcomes."

Aynsley is also the first woman to hold the office of ACS president. "I do hope I can be a role model and show more women that working in ICT is not just for men or for geeks! I will certainly be involved in encouraging more women to join the profession and take their place in industry and we'll be setting up a program to focus on this goal through our ACS Women’s board."

Enormous transition

Aynsley told Information Age she is excited to take on the role as many of these challenging questions jostle for answers. "Australia is on the cusp of a huge disruptive wave," she says.

Research by analysts at Gartner suggests that many CIOs are also concerned by the rate of change caused by 'digitalisation'. Gartner's annual survey results, released in January, found that 42 per cent of CIOs worldwide believe they don't have the talent in their organisation to deal with these trends.

The results in Australia were worse, with 59 per cent ticking yes to the statement, ''My business and its organisation are being engulfed by a torrent of digital opportunities. We cannot respond in a timely fashion, and this threatens the success of the business and the credibility of the IT organisation.'

According to Aynsley, now is the time for a period of serious reflection.

"New job designations like data scientist are being created but we're not sure who will use them or how. The ACS has a critical role in understanding how these changes are affecting the profession and how these job roles and skill sets will change, what it means for members for those in the profession and those who educate them.

"It is exciting and a bit daunting, too! But we urgently need to grapple with it. These challenges are a kind of ‘Y2K’ for ICT skills and should provoke serious discussion and planning for our future.”

The President has set up a member’s blog where you can ask Brenda a question and share your ideas. You can access it here http://www.acs.org.au/news-and-media/blog

Deanne McIntosh is the editor of Information Age.