Do we need to certify business savvy?

IT professionals have demonstrated a willingness to pile up IT certifications. In an increasingly competitive job market, they see them as a way to separate themselves from the pack. But no IT certification currently available can gauge whether a professional understands how IT supports and complements the overall business.

If there were such a certification, hiring managers would find it to be a boon.

Skeptics have critiqued certifications as long as they have existed. They say the only worthwhile measure of IT competency is experience. A room full of technical certifications says little about a candidate’s ability to see the bigger picture and integrate those technical skills into business goals.

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The industry would benefit from professional credentials that demonstrate what hiring managers really need: employees who “get it.”

We need a new type of certification, one that measures a person’s understanding of how computing integrates into, and drives, today’s business. A certification that weighs understanding of business computing concepts, business processes, communications skills and technical acumen would better reflect the package of skills needed in today’s IT workforce.

IT professionals have to be jacks of all trades. They have to think and work like general practitioners. The certifications from Microsoft , Cisco and others are comparable to the very specialized skills of heart and back surgeons.

These are incredibly important skills that, if applied in the right circumstances, can be critical to problem-solving. But, in today’s workplace, IT professionals are more often asked to use general knowledge and work across many fields, rather than use highly specialized skills on isolated tasks.

IT professionals need to be capable of understanding the business they support, its products and services, in order to recognize the benefits their work can enable.

The recession has changed the role of many IT professionals. Staffs are leaner, and more is asked from everyone. While IT professionals were at one time relegated to behind-the-scenes work, today they are frequently asked to interact with clients and communicate their proposals in the boardroom. Technical certifications don’t measure such abilities. In addition, few computer science programs have updated their curricula to meet the needs of today’s workplace.

The business computing community must articulate the needs of today’s businesses to IT education programs. A certification that helps prepare IT professionals to succeed when they enter the workforce will be a boon not only to students and IT professionals with little experience, but also to the myriad businesses that rely on their skills. This kind of general certification can guide curricula at technical colleges and four-year universities, and provide graduates with the expertise they need to hit the ground running.

The IT certifications available today have done a fantastic job at identifying specialized talent. But it’s time we address a glaring hole and provide a certification that marries technical know-how with an understanding of business needs. Students, educators, young professionals and business owners would all be better off for it.

Randy Dufault is the chair of the Commonuser group’s Certification Steering Committee. Common is the world’s largest user group of midrange IBM and IBM-compatible technology.

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