CIPS wins public sector support for I.S.P. certification

The Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) made some progress during its fifth annual I.S.P. Week by announcing that the Ontario Association of School Board Officials (OASBO) Information Technology committee will promote CIPS’s professional designation to its members.

The agreement with OASBO reflects a recent shift in CIPS’ strategy for promoting the 16-year-old Information Systems Professional (I.S.P.) certification program. CIPS is putting more emphasis on selling the value of professional certification to employers, rather than trying to sell IT professionals themselves on the value of being able to put the three letters after their names.

CIPS launched the I.S.P. designation in 1989. John Boufford, national vice-president of CIPS, said it differs from the assortment of technical certifications in the IT industry because it emphasizes a broad set of skills, a code of ethics and the professional’s responsibility to keep developing and updating his or her skills.

But response to the I.S.P. program has been lukewarm. About 1,500 Canadian IT workers hold the designation today, Boufford said. 

Chris Drummond, vice-president of marketing at IT recruiting firm CNC Global in Toronto, said his firm has found the I.S.P. designation to be relatively rare, and in fact sees it less often today than in the past.

“It’s been a little bit of a tough sell, in that it hasn’t been something that employers are asking for,” Boufford acknowledged, “and we’re changing that by going to the employers now and telling them how the I.S.P. certification helps manage business risk.”

Part of CIPS’ pitch is the growth in compliance and reporting requirements that businesses face, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that requires chief executives of companies doing business in the U.S. to attest to their financial reporting. Chief information officers are often asked to sign off on the reliability of systems as part of this process, Boufford said, and CIPS contends the I.S.P. designation gives employers some assurance of their IT people’s ability to handle such requirements.

Drummond said the designation is not a key factor in most hiring decisions. “To be honest, it’s rarely a formal requirement that we receive,” he said. “But it does serve as a differentiator in situations where candidates with similar capabilities are vying for the same position.”

Andrew Dillane, CNC Global’s chief information officer, said the I.S.P. and various technical certifications are both good credentials for IT workers to have, but “there’s are lot of good people that don’t have designations.”

The deal with OASBO is one step in CIPS’ efforts to sell certification to employers. Ontario has 72 school boards, and Sean Heuchert, vice-chair of OASBO’s IT committee, said they employ about 1,600 IT workers altogether. Few of those workers hold the I.S.P. designation today – Heuchert said he had no figures on the number of I.S.P. holders working for Ontario school boards, but he said only seven or eight of the roughly 70 members of OASBO’s IT committee hold the designation.

Besides promoting the I.S.P. designation to member school boards, OASBO’s IT committee is working with the University of Guelph to create professional development program that will be based in part on the I.S.P. program. The program will likely be a three- to five-day course for school boards’ IT employees, and while it will not be entirely based on the I.S.P., CIPS will be involved, said Heuchert. Several other OASBO committees have co-operated with University of Guelph on similar programs but this will be a first for the IT committee, he said.

Boufford said CIPS has an agreement similar to the newly announced deal with OASBO with the Public Sector IT Professional Organization, a federal IT workers’ group, as well as an alliance that allows the Fédération de l’informatique du Québec (FIP), its Quebec partner, to offer the I.S.P. designation.

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