Some number crunchers will soon be getting an education in technology management thanks to an initiative launched by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

An arm of the CICA, known as the Alliance for Excellence in Information Technology, has accredited HEC, a Montréal-based business

school, to provide the education for becoming a CA designated IT specialist or CA-IT.

Many CAs end up practicing full-time in IT-related fields, says Deryck Williams, chair of the CICA’s IT Alliance for Excellence in IT, and it made sense to offer a formal designation for someone who can bridge the gap between technology and management.

“”As we work to make our profession more attractive and to cope with the changing world we’re in, specialization within accounting has become (more popular),”” he says. “”Once we created that structure, this was an obvious one to specialize in.””

The process of creating the CA-IT designation began almost seven years ago, says Williams, and now the organization is ready to offer it to the first crop of graduate students.

“”When you talk about a profession requiring the four E’s — ethics, entry process, education (ongoing) and experience — to really make it rock-solid, you have to have those.””

Students will take courses to help them better understand information technology’s impact on business. The six key competency areas covered include IT strategic planning, enterprise architecture, business process enablement, systems development acquisition implementation and project management, IS management and system reliability.

Williams says he was surprised to learn that CAs working in industry are showing the highest level of interest in attaining the designation (60 per cent), while those working as consultants or for government are further behind.

“”They were the dominant group. We thought it would be the consultants — the guys who are really grappling (with these issues) day to day,”” he says.

Models from around the world

When the CICA was building the framework for the program, it looked at various models from around world, including ones from England, Australia and the U.S. South of the border, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants elected to administer its own certification program, which is known as the Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) credential. But Williams says the U.S. program doesn’t have the quality standard the CICA was looking for.

“”One of the big questions in doing this is, ‘How you are going to ensure the competency requirements are going to be met? Our decision early on was we wanted educational institutes to do it. The U.S. chose not to do it and (their program) hasn’t done all that well.

But Williams says he hopes the CICA’s initiatives in this area may become the example other countries follow in years to come.

“”The Canadian CA profession has long been regarded as a place you go to to get good materials or good examples.””

But ensuring competency requirements are met is a question that concerns Greg Lane, a former president of the Canadian Information Processing Society, or CIPS. Lane says on the one hand, the CICA’s IT accreditation affirms the value of information technology in the business world.

“”In the overall scheme of things, it’s important that people will look at IT as being a critical component of not just the broader based IT infrastructure, but for accountants specifically, most large firms are using accounting packages, and if that’s influencing your ability to do your job, you better understand it,”” he says.

From an association perspective, Lane says CIPS’ challenge is it would prefer to work with various interest groups — accountants, engineers — to help define the “”IT body of knowledge.””

“”To the extent that we fragment all of this activity, it’s potentially disadvantageous to us over time because we don’t have the best and brightest minds around one table,”” he says.

Lane says CIPS has poured a lot of resources into developing its own accreditation process, and it would have made sense for CICA to consult CIPS prior to launching its designation program.

“”We should be acting as an industry for the benefit of all Canadians,”” he says.

Williams says while two other Canadian business schools are in the process of qualifying to run the program, Montréal’s HCE will roll out the first classes to about 20 chartered accountants in September.

“”It was a pretty elaborate process to get qualified on all of this and HCE worked harder than the other two candidates to get it done (early),”” he says.

Jean Talbot, MBA program director at HEC, says the school saw an opportunity when the CICA announced the CA-IT designation. IT is fundamental to every business, he says, and this program with offer an edge to chartered accountants who complete it.

“”We have a strong IT faculty. We’re probably the largest in Canada by far and we believe managers should have a good deep understanding of IT.”” Talbot says students will receive a managerial perspective, not a technical one, and that will better enable them to meet the challenges in today’s tech-dependent organizations.

There’s been a backlash toward technology lately, says Talbot, with events such as the dot-com bubble bursting and Nicholas Carr’s provocative book Does IT Matter? But the pendulum is beginning to swing back.

“”Have you ever seen a business that works without IT? IT is still strategic.””

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