Monday, 27 December 2010

What does the wage data tell us about IT skills?

One of the underlying narratives of the last decade is the repositioning of the UK IT industry towards high-value IT work and off-shoring more routine, low-value work.

Advertised IT salaries as of 29 March 2010 (

As you can see wages for the mid-to-high end are in fact increasing (indicating increased demand). The low end is static and with a drop in advertised vacancies and increased moves to off-shoring indicates reduced demand. This is backed up by more detailed analysis in recent e-skills UK reports.

I put this up at careers events to impress on the audience (1) a realistic idea of the salary position and (2) that the low-end has been squeezed to the extent that mediocre simply doesn't cut it anymore. The story of an uncle who blagged a well-paid job in IT in the 80's-90's is moving into the realm of myth and legend.

The problem is the outside world thinks that the IT job market is help-desk and getting kit to work: not what IT professionals actually do. The irony is that the TV programme 'The IT crowd' should have been called 'The IT crowd who had their roles off-shored 10 years ago'.  

Even if some of the lower wage end is 'graduate trainee', there seems to be increasingly fewer positions for sub-degree entry (especially in a time of higher than usual graduate unemployment). So are we offering large numbers of IT 'vocational' qualifications in schools when there isn't a job market to absorb them? That is assuming that what is taught is relevant to even an IT, which isn't the case in reality (it teaches use of IT). Has the IT job market has effectively become a graduate entry market? Do we need to recognise this in policy, e.g. focus on intellectual development such as 'computational thinking', consider work-related focus largely as a motivator, assume that HE is the majority destination for post 16 learners in qualification design?

Or is the data hiding a different dynamic in SMEs, so we are are seeing the more visible behaviour of the corporate employers? Their recruitment behaviour for graduates differs in my experience.

The movement to a graduate discipline may be complete unless the next few years sees companies recruiting talented BTEC/A-level students from college directly and developing their IT trainees themselves (which used to be more common 30-40 years ago, say in accountancy and even in chemistry). Watch and see...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Reflections on MIL Induction, Friday 1/10/2010

It's perhaps providence that I was inducting the first Master of Information Leadership students exactly 12 years to the day after I joined City University London as a lecturer. This was the most enjoyable 'anniversary' I've had.

The teaching philosophy of the MIL is underpinned on group learning, so the approach taken was to start small and bring in a select group and then add groups later to build the cohort. It also allows scope for innovation as its easier to try ideas with a select group - as I will blog later we see the students as part of the course team that drives its design.

Anyway, the only weekday that MIL students have to attend is for induction, as then we have access to the full administrative service (in case of troubleshooting) and student registration systems. Also the course is academically administered by the School of Informatics' Programmes Office. So we held the induction at one of the well-appointed meeting rooms on the Northampton Square main site (the weekend classes take place at the Cass Business School, as they are geared up to support a weekend executive masters).

First, we got the students their ID cards, then brought them down for coffee and danish before I did the course director talk: philosophy of course, logistics, assessment, that kind of thing...

The use of electronic resources was covered including our new Moodle installation at City University (we also have a virtual common room using Abode Connect). And then last but not least a presentation on our information resources from the library, especially the online journal resources as MIL students are only on-site for the teaching weekends.

In the background I was setting up systems, getting student IDs registered with the catering payment systems, checking bookings for later in the day...

Then remembering the event organiser's mantra that you need to get the catering right, we put on a nice lunch (the chocolate cake was especially well received!). It was also a chance for the MIL students to meet members of the course team.

The afternoon was taken up with professional skills development. We had the pleasure of Judith Pearle from Management Advantage who led a three-hour session on networking skills. Their course was attractive from my point of course as it was a nice blend of the practical and tGiven the use of external speakers from the information leadership community in the MIL and the general usefulness of this skill, it was an obvious choice for induction.

An aside, if you will. In designing the MIL we sought advice from Cass Careers. The profile of our students, though not dissimilar from executive MBA students in terms of seniority, differs markedly in terms of professional background (due to the IT focus), so it was clear that we'd not be sure of career devel (in later years we'll have a much better idea and can hard-wire more in advance). This lead to our decision to treat the MIL as a combination of an executive masters and coaching (more in later posts), with a budget set aside for professional skills development as we identify student needs.

When the (well-received) networking session was over - we went to the hotel! The MIL weekends are not residential - except for two exceptions. The first is the induction weekend so the incoming student groups can form and get to know each other, David Chan and myself. The other is the September professional skills weekend; this year this is planned to be on negotiation given its central importance to the CIO role (or as David Chan put it when we was a CIO, he was negotiating from breakfast to supper!). More on that nearer the time!

The evening was spent on a team-working session thanks to the underground cookery school; where we were taught to cook our own dinners and then eat then (with drinks, naturally). As we invited members of our External Advisory Panel, it was also an opportunity to put in practice the networking session earlier on.

Overall, the induction went as well as a first instance ever could. There are some issues we'd develop next time. First, the students preferred their books to be delivered in advance (this was acted upon). Second, they'd like a bit more hand-on coverage on RefWorks - our reference; again easy to put in later inductions.

The residential nature of the first weekend was spot on: it allowed the students to gel as a group and with the course team. This paid off well during the group activities that weekend and has continued to pay back in later teaching weekends. An important part of the MIL is getting students to draw on each other's experiences and this definitely supported that aim.

Overall a great day - I love it when a plan comes together.

Bashing Bankers with Crypto...?

I don't go with all the recent 'banker bashing' that has been going on in the last year (it's intellectually lazy), however the industry does sometimes do things that make me despair.

I've just picked up that Prof. Ross Anderson has produced a robust reply to a request from the bankers trade association to take down a thesis that covers an exploit that is old news (disclosed in 2009).

Needless to say, I think Prof. Anderson's heart is definitely in the right place. If universities can't speak truth to power within the law then a very large part of what we are disappears. Without a moral function in civil society I'd say we would become little more than a teaching factory co-located with a research factory: hardly 'humane' places in which to work.

I'll close with the suggestion that this is more than academic freedom and that the role of professions in civil society should embrace a similar role in free debate. How we develop the IT profession to better take this role on is a challenge we need to consider and act on.

UPDATE: In response to Richard Veryard's amplify posting - the IT 'profession' is immature but it does show signs of early-stage development (I'll blog on this in future - but I deliberately used word 'develop' in the post). If we are to bring this along we need to start as a community modelling the behaviours we desire of a mature profession - that's the point I'm trying to make.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Xmas

In order to spread some festive cheer, I recommend two cartoons from the excellent xkcd.

Have a good one!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Press Update...

Despite the pause in blogging, I've been quite active in talking to the IT press on my interest in IT education and skills. See below (in no particular order)...

The Master of Information Leadership also gained coverage as a CIONet Magazine Article. My colleague David Chan as also been active - but that will doubtless come up later.

Why I launched the MIL

Obviously its been quiet here - launching and running an executive masters keeps one busy! It's been a great experience getting the Master of Information Leadership off the ground.

I've had some leave now and so feel able to write - its no longer painful to get out of bed and I've got my brain back in gear...:-)

I'm about to blog on the MIL over the Christmas and the New Year period. I'll be looking back and reflecting on how I have worked with others to deliver the MIL and the philosophy behind what I've been trying to achieve in developing our future information leaders - heavily influenced of course be colleagues within City and the wider information leadership community.

I'll also be having some comments (minor rants?) over more general IT skills and HE issues: e.g. Ofqual, student funding. So remember the blog disclaimer!..:-)

But first, it may be worth why I started the Centre for Information Leadership and the MIL with my colleague David Chan and others at City University London.

The germ of the idea stemmed from my involvement in the 2006 Developing the Future report. I was into my first half of MBA in Higher Education Management and increasingly feeling that there was something deeply misaligned between what higher education was doing and the direction of the II industry

A large part of the problem was that many computing academics were blissfully unaware of what a CIO is: our world (for a variety of reasons, some valid others bad) has become increasing disjoint with that in professional practice and has withdrawn from itself.  Sure some business schools were acting in the space, but its more than just business: the technology is important as the means to an end.

As I looked into it further, the underpinning intellectual issues became more manifest. There are debates around legal issues where the CIO community is unclear on how the law should be interpreted, or the forms of legal argument needed to have an informed opinion on making better law. The endless debate on whether the CIO should be business or tech focused was increasingly becoming a non-argument (put simply, if you don't understand why your skills will add value to on organisation on what else you need to learn to do provide better value, you won't get paid much). Our technologies are shaping the social dynamics in society, but the social science concepts and arguments that could allow the CIO community to take the lead in the debate to ensure that these are put to best use are not there.

We need information leaders (CIO, CTOs, or whatever the role) that have a rounded education that prepares then for the role (more on this in later posts). We also need universities to engage with the profession. These are areas where universities excel at when are are at our best.

On the upside, I was heartened to find we had a lot of relevant expertise in City across disciplines as wide as computing, law, information science, business, psychology and sociology that could be brought to bear. We also were geographically well-situated in the heart of Europe's IT capital and with close ties to the City of London.

So I was fortunate to get start-up funding to set up the Centre for Information Leadership and hire David Chan, one of the UK's first board-level CIOs, to help bring together the above and start one of the cornerstones of getting the future information leaders we need: the Master of Information Leadership, the UK's first open executive masters focused on the development of aspiring information leaders.

A year and a half later, course design/approval and first cohort being taught. And this is where we are now...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

It's Started: the Master of Information Leadership

Yesterday we took in the first cohort for the Master of Information Leadership. It's been a long journey for me from a realisation in the spring of 2007 that universities could do much more for the IT profession's leaders to now. We have real (really good) students in a room, we have a course design, courseworks set, visiting speakers lined up. It's great when a plan comes together...:-)

I'll be blogging on this over the teaching weekends. So if you want a real feel of what being on the MIL is like and my and David Chan's philosophy - read on and follow this blog!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Recent Press Coverage

I've been mentioned in a number of press articles following the recent announcement of a Royal Society investigation into IT teaching in schools.
I'll be writing more on the Royal Society investigation in later postings.

UCAS Clearing: Some Advice

Given the reports of an ever increasing shortage of undergraduate places this year, it is timely that I revisit the article 'Getting a computing course in clearing: Some advice' that I wrote for ComputerWorld UK last year. The key points of advice for students who find themselves in clearing were:
  1. Don't panic - decide in haste, repent at leisure. Keep in mind the reasons why you chose your original course.
  2. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Before the A-level grades come out, it's useful to have a list of target courses based on your previous research.
  3. First thing on getting the grades to do then is to finalise your list of target courses in clearing. The UCAS website and the Independent have official listings.
  4. Then start phoning universities. Clear thinking, with a systematic approach, will maximise your chances of success. Be polite and have your results ready as university switchboards will be busy.
Note that the UCAS Track website will not display decisions until the morning of the 19th August (usual practice), and this year not allow students to formally request clearing choices until the early evening (this is to give students time to make a considered choice, I presume). See the UCAS website for details of the process; I would read this before the results come out.

The article also has useful advice for parents:
"What can parents do? They can provide moral support and guidance in what may be a fraught few days. They can help find information on courses. What parents should avoid is phoning on behalf of applicants or acting as agents: admissions tutors will want to access the student, as it is the student who has to win the place on their merits."
I've worked in the admissions tutor role for a number of years so I know how much the A-level grades mean to people who wish to secure a place on the university course of their choice. All I'd like to say is good luck and I hope all goes well!

PS. All queries regarding courses at City University should be addressed to them directly, and not the comments of this blog (since this is my personal blog, as per comments policy and I'll be too busy to read them).

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Computing Drop-out: What's the Evidence?

This (rather long) blogpost is a response to a discussion on the Computing at Schools mail-group about student retention on computing degrees. I said I would come back with notes on some of the evidence base for members - this blog is a convenient place to put it as it is of potential interest to a wider audience.

This post should also be read in conjunction with an earlier blogpost, that I won't repeat here.

The focus is on framing issues around the Computing discipline so issues of retention that are not directly linked to discipline are not the subject of the discussion (though there is evidence of disciplinary differences on intake as regards social-economic circumstances).

I am looking at the evidence at a discipline level across the UK HE sector, so inferences should not be drawn about particular universities (they'll likely be wrong). What I'll say is known in the public domain - see the references list.

Student as Customer: Does it Matter?

The idea that students are customers (in the transactional sense) has of late been replaced in the HE management literature with a view that the interaction is on where both sides generate (co-produce) value by the interaction. The co-production metaphor helps resolve the ‘student as customer’ narrative, as it implies partnership in the learning process (Eagle and Brennan, 2007). However since the active engagement of students is required, there are limits to what extent the student experience can be managed. Rather attention needs to be turned to what factors enhance or inhibit a positive interaction.

Kotze and du Plessis (2003) consider the co-production of services in HE, and provide a model of how students socialise and participate with university services (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Model of Student Socialisation and Participation, from (Kotze and du Plessis, 2003).

Considering the model of student participation in Figure 1, we see that the student’s socialisation in the university appears to be the first stage. To this end, the alignment of student, discipline and institutional identity is key. Stensaker (2007) discusses the issue of identity in HE and how it impacts on wider strategic developments and how students see themselves. James (2001) notes that student expectations affect student satisfaction, where incoming student identity plays a major role. This will be explored later.

As we will see socialisation plays a part in retention, and issues of retention and the overall student experience are linked.

What Factors Affect Retention?

Much of the work on retention is based on Tinto (1975) that takes a longitudinal view of the student journey. In this model, the student’s initial commitment to the institution and to graduating affects their integration and thus retention. In many respects, this maps to the model of student socialisation given in Figure 1. The approach by Tinto (1975) is based on studies of full-time students in American universities.

The model is however complex with intermediate stages and so it is arguable that a simpler and more direct model may inform discussion more clearly. DeShields Jr, Kara and Kaynak (2005) use the case study of an American business school to validate empirically a simplified version of the ideas of Tinto (1975). This model, from Keaveney and Young (1997), focuses on aspects of the student experience that the university is responsible for providing (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Student Satisfaction and Retention Model (SSRM), from (Keaveney and Young, 1997)

The usefulness of this model is that empirical validation allows us to separate ‘hygiene’ factors that must be addressed, from factors that have a positive effect on satisfaction and retention. The study by DeShields Jr, Kara and Kaynak (2005) concludes the following.
  • The role of advising and central service staff is a hygiene factor. Thomas et al (2003) notes that it is difficult to directly relate services to retention which supports this finding; though Universities UK (2002) has some good practice guidelines to this end.
  • The effects of the faculty and classes have a key and positive effect on student satisfaction and retention.
This implies for Computer Science departments that their teaching and learning is important for retention and supports the findings from the National Student Survey that issues of student feedback and academic support require attention and investment.

The First Year Experience

The first year experience is a topic attracting some attention and is noted as a key factor in retention (Krause et al., 2005; Harvey, Drew and Smith, 2006). It is when undergraduate socialisation in the university takes place. This is arguably important in the case of universities where students typically commute into classes rather than live near campus.

Yorke and Longden (2008, p. 14) have examined the reasons why first year non-returners left their course. For computer science non-returners the main reasons were as follows.
  • Wrong choice of field of study.
  • Difficulty of the programme.
  • General quality of the teaching.
  • Class sizes being too large.
  • Poor provision of specialist equipment.
  • A lack of personal support from staff.
The first two issues can be related to some extent to student expectations prior to university. It is a common complaint of computer science departments that information technology teaching in schools bears little relation to what is taught in universities or used in industry (Bowkis, 2006). Careers advice is also in my experience outdated or inaccurate (I have rewritten careers guides in the past). It is therefore not surprising that students enter computer science courses with mismatched expectations. Though it is hard for a university to address this problem alone, an information-led recruitment approach that emphasises a realistic account of applicants’ career choices and what they will study may be useful (and is often done in my experience).

Furthermore, there is a tension between the discipline of computer science and the information technology profession. They have distinct identities that cause difficulties in linking research and teaching between the two in a way that aligns with student expectations for an education for an IT professional (Denning, 2000; Denning, 2001). The computer science discipline is heavily theoretical/technological in nature, whereas the IT profession has evolved to become a provider of business services underpinned by technological innovation (Bowkis, 2006). This tension needs to be actively managed at all (and so makes the problems above worse).

The third and fourth issues support the discussion so far regarding the role of teaching and assessment.

The final issue fits closely with the NSS scores around academic support. Hixenbaugh (2006) discusses the role personal tutoring in retention. In this context, attendance data can be used to improve retention (Bowen et al., 2005).


The above analysis highlights two sets of issues. The first is around provision of services and teaching, the second to do with a mismatch between what students think IT/computing is and the reality.

The first of these is in principle actionable by the university sector. The worry is that the second of these issue is not, and if we are to get the most from out talented students we need to align schools, universities and the wider IT profession and industry better than we do at the moment.

I close with noting that the culture in UK HE is still largely one of wanting students to progress if admitted to the course, for moral and professional rather than financial reasons. We have not yet reached the state in a number of overseas HE systems where the first year is used as a crude filter to sort those (un)able to do the degree (A-levels have traditionally been considered to play that role).


Bowen, E., Price, T., Lloyd, S. and Thomas, S. (2005), 'Improving the quantity and quality of attendance data to enhance student retention'. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 29 (4), 375-385.
Bowkis, M. (2006), Developing the Future: A report on the challenges and opportunities facing the UK Software Development Industry Reading: Microsoft UK.
Denning, P. J. (2000), 'Computer Science: The Discipline'. In A. Ralston and D. Hemmendinger (eds), Encyclopedia of Computer Science. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Denning, P. J. (2001), 'When IT becomes a profession'. In P. J. Denning (ed.), The Invisible Future. New York: McGraw Hill.
DeShields Jr, O. W., Kara, A. and Kaynak, E. (2005), 'Determinants of business student satisfaction and retention in higher education: applying Herzberg’s two-factor theory'. International Journal of Educational Management, 19 (2), 128-139.
Eagle, L. and Brennan, R. (2007), 'Are students customers? TQM and marketing perspectives'. Quality Assurance in Education, 15 (1), 44-60.
Harvey, L., Drew, S. and Smith, M. (2006), The first-year experience: a review of literature for the Higher Education Academy. York: The Higher Education Academy.
HEA. (2006), Academy Exchange: The student learning experience. York: The Higher Education Academy.
Hixenbaugh, P. (2006), 'Relationships and Retention'. Academy Exchange: The student learning experience, 22-24.
James, R. (2001), Students’ changing expectations of higher education and the consequences of mismatches with the reality Management responses to changing student expectations. Queensland University of Technology: OECD-IMHE.
Keaveney, S. M. and Young, C. E. (1997), The student satisfaction and retention model (SSRM), Working Paper. Denver, CO: University of Colorado.
Kotze, T. G. and du Plessis, P. J. (2003), 'Students as "co-producers" of education: a proposed model of student socialisation and participation at tertiary institutions'. Quality Assurance in Education, 11 (4), 186-201.
Krause, K.-L., Hartley, R., James, R. and McInnis, C. (2005), The First Year Experience In Australian Universities: Findings From A Decade Of National Studies. Canberra: Australian Government, Department of Education, Science and Training.
Lusch, R. F., Vargo, S. L. and O’Brien, M. (2007), 'Competing through service: Insights from service-dominant logic'. Journal of Retailing, 83 (1), 5-18.
Stensaker, B. (2007), 'The Relationship between Branding and Organisational Change'. Higher Education Management and Policy, 19 (1), 1-17.
Tinto, V. (1975), 'Dropout from higher education: a theoretical synthesis of recent research'. Journal of Higher Education, 53 (6), 687-700.
Universities UK. (2002), Student Services: Effective approaches to retaining students in higher education. London: Universities UK.
Yorke, M. and Longden, B. (2008), The first-year experience of higher education in the UK: Final Report. York: Higher Education Academy.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

An academic's view of the cloud?

I was recently interviewed by Computer Weekly during the Beyond the Cloud conference organised by BT and Computer WeeklyThe interview is available online.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Barcelona, Interdisciplinary Research and the REF

Blogging has been light - a combination of loads of work to do and then much needed leave to recover!

Right now I'm in Barcelona attending the WCCI 2010 conference where I'm presenting a rather nice algorithm for fuzzy-rough set reduct optimisation. I'll also be working on a journal paper with my collaborators.

What's this to do with information leadership? Well, first of all I like good science and I enjoy working with my co-authors from Aberystwyth University. I also like to get my geek on, once in a while...:-)

The other is more pragmatic. A large chunk of HEFCE income to UK universities (about 20% of a £7476m spend in 2008, see here), is allocated according to a periodic research evaluation process (the one coming up is called the Research Excellence Framework - REF). It also ends up acting as a (contested) measure of relative prestige and appears in some league tables.

Needless to say a >> £1Bn incentive will affect behaviour. Given that teaching is not funded (incentivised) by HEFCE on a 'quality' basis (in fact by student numbers and subject price group), some believe that teaching has suffered - the arguments are well-rehearsed in the HE management literature. The effect of the National Student Survey is at present on reputation (its also worth looking at recent press reports on student contact hours in some research intensive universities).

The problem for setting up a research programme to support information leaders is that something that doesn't neatly fit in a disciplinary silo can suffer. For example, the computer science panel naturally likes its logic, code and algorithms and possibly won't be cognizant of the (intellectual) challenges that information leaders and policy makers face. Other panels will have their own issues, no matter who much they try to be objective (and they do try).

Doubtless high quality mainstream work in business, law etc that the Centre for Information Leadership can stimulate will be recognised. But other core activity of the centre may not necessarily generate results (no matter how high the quality is) that there is a prestigious forum to publish in, or that any single REF panel will fully appreciate. This is a well-known problem for interdisciplinary research, especially those that attempt to look at something new and engage with professions, business and civil society. But such activity is IMHO necessary if universities are to re-energise their relationships with the outside world.

I expect the Centre for Information Leadership to be a game-changer on how universities work with the IT industry, but there's a natural annoyance that we are working in a system that actively incentivises the status quo. The rules of the REF game are fluid and subject to change as the details are argued over. But if you are happy to focus in a core discipline then the fora in which to get quality work recognised by any reasonable version of the REF rules are clear (i.e one knows what they need to do in this game, so a paper in Nature is always good!). Anything else, has to work harder and second guess. A case if one is needed as to how the state can construct unintended dysfunctional systems.

One thing we will do in the Centre for Information Leadership is to find a way of making the research that information leaders need get recognised and funded (its part of my mission - perhaps later blogposts?), but it is prudent to make sure I have good 'core-CS' publications portfolio for the time being. So I'll be publishing good papers on AI algorithms and attending conferences for a while yet.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Computer Science Unplugged - The Show

To start off a series of post on promoting computing in schools, this video shows an entertaining way to introduce computer science to school students. It's given me a few ideas.

For more details of the initiative that gave rise to this see CS Unplugged. Worth a look.

There will be more of these videos posted in the future. Some of them are quite good, others not.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Public Sector CIO Pay: Are we comparing like with like...?

There has been something of a moral panic regarding the pay of some senior civil servants, including some government CIOs getting paid more than the Prime Minister (who appears to have been given a pay cut). I'm not about to make moral or value judgements - this is not the place.

The real issue for me is whether we are comparing like for like. In executive recruitment, you need to consider the whole reward package: pay, perks, use of hotels/residences, memberships, pensions... For example, the PM gets the free use of two 'grace and favour' residences (No. 10 and Chequers) plus associated maintainence, cleaners, servants. I somehow doubt this is matched by the civil service CIOs.

The above applies to making comparisons with private sector peer CIOs too. We also then need to consider the benefits side, i.e. what they deliver. At that point we can start to look at costs and benefits somewhat more objectively, before discussing the value judgements.

All this reminds me of comparisons made routinely in the press about goods being cheaper in the US than in the UK (currently fluctuations aside). These claims don't always stand up to scruitiny as they invariably quote US prices excluding sales tax but UK prices including VAT and/or compare US out of town prices with central London prices. But hey, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story!..:-)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Recession != Dot-com Crash

Prior to this recession, the (informal) consensus has been that the IT job market is recovering from the dot-com crash whose effects of widespread IT job losses hit a nadir in 2003. Looking at Figure 1 below that looks at the rate of advertised IT positions, it would appear that the recent recession had the same effect.

 total demand for staff
Figure 1: Advertised IT vacancies as of 29 March 2010 (

This is not the case this time round. Unemployment has been felt across the wider economy, and it was the financial services sector that bore the public brunt (although public sector looks like being the vanguard of a second wave after the election). But is the IT profession shedding jobs in large numbers? There have been no high-profile press reports and official unemployment statistics lag behind a dynamic situation, especially when close analysis under the headline figure is needed.

Closer analysis of the available vacancies data paints an unexpectedly positive picture. Figure 2 looks at trends in advertised IT salaries. If widespread IT job losses were in the offing we would expected advertised salaries to fall in response to supply exceeding demand (as was the case in 2003). This has clearly not happened.

 Trends in the annual rates offered for all jobs
Figure 2: Advertised IT salaries as of 29 March 2010 (

Closer analysis of the available vacancies data paints an unexpectedly positive picture. Figure 2 looks at trends in advertised IT salaries. If widespread IT job losses were in the offing we would expected advertised salaries to fall in response to supply exceeding demand (as was the case in 2003). This has clearly not happened.

This is not to say that there have not been some job losses due to the recession (e.g. the IT staff at Woolworths), but loses have not been widespread and appear to have be consequential of business failure in other sectors of the economy. The drop in vacancies is most likely due to ‘churn’ being taken out of the job market: employees are not risking job moves, and employers are cautious about hiring. As noted above there are signs this is bottoming out.
The recession is therefore qualitatively different for IT professionals, than the dot-com crash. Could IT be seen by the wider world as a relatively safe bet? For sure, the credit bubble has more than wiped out the memory of the much smaller dot-com one! Given the widely-reported problems in recent years of some computing departments being unable to recruit the numbers of students they did at the turn of the millennium this must come as a relief.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Cutting Costs and Public Sector IT

My colleague David Chan, Director of the Centre for Information Leadership has written two challenging articles on cutting costs and public sector IT: Cut deeper - but spend more on ICT and City academic calls for IT cull. We now need to develop and support the transformational information leaders who can deliver.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

BP: When an IT failure really isn't one

A number of articles have arisen around the role of IT in the tragic BP oil spill (i.e. BP oil spill ‘slows’ but serious IT failures come to surface and BP oil spill slowing but IT failures revealed).

I have to say I'm rather concerned at these stories in IT publications that I hold in high regard. The reason is that when you read the story and look at the report, it does not back up the claims about IT failure in these articles. They claim that:
"...the US government released a summary of BP’s own early investigation into the problems. The document contains some damning facts about IT at the rig, ..."
Except that it doesn't: the Congressional memorandum makes no mention of IT, or for that matter the words 'information', 'computer' or 'software' (go on, click the above link and see for yourself). The memo does however make plenty of mention of procedural and (non-IT) equipment failures.

There were references to robots and supercomputers in the articles, but in the context of the clear-up (and so are not relevant). The only other part of the two articles that seemed to support their narrative was:
"BP has said the accident “was brought about by the failure of a number of processes, systems and equipment”..."
The problem with leaning on this (unattributed) quote is that it does not specifically apply to IT. In fact the above form of words is so generic that it could apply to anything. The plain English translation would be 'stuff went wrong, we don't know what, but we wish to sound like we do!'.

In short, the content and sources of these articles do not support their title or overall narrative of an IT failure: in fact they point to likely non-IT causes.

Why should this bother me? The reason is that ensuring that an informed public debate on issues as serious as the BP oil leak is important, as is the role of IT in society more generally. Given the blame that will doubt arise as a result of the tragedy, the easy route of blaming IT for the sake of expediency is not the responsible or moral one.

Ade McCormack on Visionary CIOs

Ade McCormack, a Honourary Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Information Leadership writes in CIO UK Magazine on the need for CIOs to be visionary. Two points in the article caught my attention.
"But isn’t it the CEO’s role to be visionary while everyone else focuses on strategy? Where does this leave the CIO? Surely he has insights into the fast-moving world of technology that will not only shape the vision but seed it?"
My first observation would be that if a CEO felt they were the only source of vision, the likelihood is that they would not be very good. That aside, to an extent wouldn't it depend on the dynamics, personalities and culture of the board, and the perceptions of the information leader within it? When I studied governance on my MBA I came away with the feeling that culture and personality drove much of the effectiveness of boards.

In any case, it's clear why the dynamics of boards and how to work with them is essential for any information leader to master (which is why we cover it in the Master of Information Leadership).
"But it’s simply not happening – a security nightmare, you say. So rather than being the hero of the hour you are known as the person who rains on other people’s parades. The Chief Visionary ‘Stiflement’ Officer."
The next point Ade raises implies a tension between the information leader as an enabler and their stewardship role around risk, security and compliance. In a litigious and risk averse culture it is perhaps not suprising that some information leaders feel that they cannot ever fail and so seek to lock systems down tight (leading to the complaints above). So If I may, I'd like to suggest the term 'stewardship trap': information leaders need to work in an environment where there is a mature understanding of stewardship, in order to allow them to manage risk and deliver vision, rather than just being managed by risk.

Of course, it may be argued that other members of the board (such as the CFO) also have a stewardship role. How do they balance the tension between vision and stewardship? Or are they not expected to major on both? There may be lessons to be learned here.

If there is a conclusion to draw from Ade's thought-provoking article it is that not only does it fall on the information leader to address the actions Ade suggests, it also falls to the organisation to have a culture that allows such efforts to grow and thrive.

Monday, 31 May 2010

UG Open Day at City University London

I will be presenting the computing undergraduate programme at City's next University Wide Open Day on Sat 26th June 2010. If you are interesting in what we can offer, such as City's sector leading IT placements, the Professional Pathway and excellent employment outcomes, I look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on

As this blog is to focus on Information Leadership, this TED video caught David Chan's and my attention. How many CxOs in fact really understand why they are there and what their role is about?

CW500 Club Interview on the MIL

This is my CW500 Club interview on the Master of Information Leadership last month. Enjoy.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

CW500 Club: David Chan on the Future Information Leader

This is my colleague David Chan's CW500 Interview on the future role of the information leader.

Blog Resumes

It's been a long while since I blogged. A combination of finishing an MBA, being Head of Department and various other demands on my time.

Now is the time to restart. Nine months ago I set up the Centre for Information Leadership, one of City University London's six interdisciplinary centres. I've become passionate about the need to have effective leadership in the IT profession. We need to use IT much more effectively then we have done so far, and we need to be able as a community to debate effectively how information and technology interacts with the legal, social, environmental and economic challenges we face.

As part of the centre's activity, I am the course director for the Master of Information Leadership: a new degree dedicated to educating our future information leaders (the term we use at City to cover roles such as CIO, CTO, Director of Information, etc). More on the MIL and why I think its central to developing the IT profession's role in society will follow in later postings.

This blog will resume the discussion of the links between the IT industry and higher education, albeit as part of a wider remit of the issues that information leaders face. It will reference work from City's Center for Information Leadership and elsewhere.