The heads of four major IT organisations last week signed a formal pact to co-ordinate a single programme to put IT on a more professional footing.

The initiative, involving the British Computer Society, the National Computing Centre, IT suppliers association Intellect, and sector skills council E-Skills UK, has been three years in the making. Called the Professionalism in IT Alliance, the programme's remit extends beyond technology.

"IT must be seen and see itself as an integral part of business, which involves business and leadership competence," Charles Hughes, president of the BCS, told the Alliance's inaugural conference in London. He added that the IT profession had to measure itself in terms of business contribution rather than technical elegance.

Key elements in the programme include skills competency, good practice, qualifications, continued professional development, ethical integrity, commitment to standards, regard for the public good, and social responsibility. These qualities apply to all IT professionals, whether users or suppliers, the conference heard.

New York-based Maggie Miller, CIO of Warner Music and formerly CIO of Sainsbury's, said, "Developments such as Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in the US have focused minds on the need for professionalism and standards.

"If we cannot make it happen now, then shame on us."

Also at the conference, Michael Gough, group chief executive of the NCC, said, "I cannot think of another topic that has galvanised the whole industry as this one."

What is meant by 'professionalism'?

The four participants in the Professionalism in IT Alliance – the BCS, NCC, Intellect and E-Skills UK – agree a common definition of a professional as "a practitioner who has specific skills rooted in a broad base, has appropriate qualifications from a recognised body, undergoes continuous development and operates to a code of conduct".

For each party, professionalism is an aspirational standard, rather than a set of minimum requirements, with the essential elements being competence, integrity and service.

Competence involves having up to date skills, experience, knowledge and understanding of standards and good practice, supported by relevant qualifications and continued professional development.

Integrity means a commitment to abide by a code of ethics and responsibilities that can transcend the contractual obligation to an employer, and a commitment to follow relevant standards and established principles of good practice.

Service is manifest through regard for the public good, social responsibility and commitment and contribution to the profession.

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