Microsoft UK's National Technology Officer Jerry Fishenden has called for a single professional body with powers to strike off IT professionals in the same way the General Medical Council can discipline doctors.
Both public- and private-sector organisations experience a high failure rate for IT projects. Fishenden told ZDNet UK that a professional body with powers of imposing sanctions for failure or incompetence, such as the General Medical Council (GMC) being able to strike off doctors, could improve the standing of the IT profession.
"If you look at what you regard as the traditional professions — doctors, teachers, lawyers — their professional bodies can fire people, can investigate complaints, can impose penalties, and the ultimate sanction is to remove them from the profession, so you can't practice any more," Fishenden said. "It would be good, if we want to be respected as a profession, for there to be some method of ensuring the industry as a whole maintains professional standards, otherwise it just seems to be hollow words."
The UK body that charters IT professionals is the British Computer Society (BCS), which currently has no powers of censure equivalent to the GMC's. Fishenden said that giving bodies such as the BCS more power would be "sensible".
"There are bodies like the BCS, which charters IT professionals, and other standards. It would be sensible to build on these rather than start again, otherwise it will take even longer to get something into place," said Fishenden.
David Clarke, chief executive of the BCS, agreed with Fishenden, in principle, that there should be a body that could strike off incompetent IT practitioners, but said that, in practice, that would be difficult to achieve.
Although the BCS can revoke the Chartered IT Professional (CITP) qualification, this makes little difference to employers, who prefer more specific IT qualifications, such as database management, said Clarke.
"If we chuck someone out and revoke their CITP it makes little difference to their getting a job, because employers mostly go for people whose certification is job specific, say, in Oracle databases," said Clarke. "The battle we have is to get employers convinced that they must look for general qualifications of professional competency."
There is little appetite in government for an Act of Parliament to license IT professionals in the way doctors are licensed, as there would currently not be enough CITPs to satisfy demand, Clarke added. The usual driver for an Act of Parliament to license professionals is a disaster, such as people dying, in the case of doctors' malpractice. Although IT projects can be financial disasters, people rarely die as a direct result, said Clarke.
The relative youth of the IT industry compared with other professions would make it hard to set up a professional body with "clout" similar to the GMC, conceded Fishenden.
"It's quite a hard challenge for what's a pretty junior industry really. We're still learning as we go," he said.