The Open Group: Testing Your IT Street Smarts

As business operations become more geographically dispersed, organizations around the world are faced with numerous IT challenges as they evolve to remain competitive, particularly in the current economic downturn. These pressures are in turn placed on IT professionals, also forcing them to evolve their skills in order to remain competitive in the job market. Today, organizations need experienced and business-aware IT professionals who can plan, design and implement IT solutions in relation to recognized quality standards. Professionals who prove they have the necessary skills and experience to meet these requirements can immediately differentiate themselves from the competition — a crucial factor in the current economic climate.

According to the TechServe Alliance (formerly the National Association of Computer Consultants), which analyzes federal labor data on IT-related occupations, technology employment has been shrinking from December 2008 to May 2009 at a rate of about 4.63 percent. Since hiring freezes and layoffs are likely to continue through the end of this year, IT professionals must reinforce their skill sets and certifications to distinguish themselves to the few organizations that are still hiring in the downturn.

IT Street Smarts Over Book Smarts

There are a tremendous number of IT certifications available on the market for individuals to prove their knowledge of a specific product or process. How do IT professionals choose a certification program that will help distinguish them and demonstrate their experience and skills? In most programs, to achieve a certification, you usually need to attend a training course or read the appropriate self-study materials before passing an industry-recognized examination. However, passing a test does not necessarily mean that you can perform the tasks that you are qualified to do. Book smarts and street smarts can be different things, especially when a newly qualified IT professional is confronted with a real-world IT challenge. As any seasoned IT professional knows, reality rarely conforms to a book.

The Open Group has developed two certification programs that focus on the skills and experience that an IT professional has developed while working on relevant IT projects rather than on proving book knowledge through examinations. Both the IT Architecture Certification (ITAC) and IT Specialist Certification (ITSC) programs are based on assessments of an individual’s technical skills and capabilities and also on his or her IT people skills — in other words, communication skills and business savvy.

Both the ITAC and ITSC programs have been designed to validate the qualities and skills in a professional that enable the effective practice of IT architecture or the development, implementation and operation of IT solutions. In short, these are the types of skills and experience professionals can only gain by practicing their craft. These are different from the traditional training course and examination method many vendor-based, product-orientated certifications use due to the following requirements and procedures:

  • Peer reviewed: A board of certified IT architects or specialists ensures the skills and experience of each candidate meet the qualification standards.
  • Vendor neutral: The programs are administered by The Open Group, a vendor-neutral organization.
  • Global: The programs adhere to a worldwide set of standards that are internationally recognized.
  • Portable: Certification applies to the IT professional, not the organization, and is therefore fully transferable.

The Open Group IT Architecture Certification

The Open Group’s ITAC program was designed to certify those characteristics and abilities in a professional that enable the effective practice of IT architecture. Launched in 2005, there are now more than 2,500 practitioners certified worldwide, a statistic that has contributed to the program’s recognition as one of the premier skills- and experienced-based certifications for IT architects. The program is split into three levels of certification, where the third level applies only to lead architects, enterprise architects and IT architect professional leaders:

  • Level 1: Certified IT Architect.
  • Level 2: Master Certified IT Architect.
  • Level 3: Distinguished Certified IT Architect.

Within those three levels, the program is made up of four parts:

  1. Core foundation skills.
  2. Experience.
  3. Professional development.
  4. Contributions to the architect community.

The Open Group IT Specialist Certification

The Open Group’s ITSC program provides IT professionals with a set of globally recognized standards that allow organizations to benchmark against skills, knowledge and experience and thereby select the most suited IT professional for a particular position.

The ITSC program was designed to provide certification for individuals who enable the effective development, implementation and operation of IT solutions as experienced in live deployment scenarios. Similar to the ITAC, the ITSC program is made up of four parts:

  1. Core foundation skills.
  2. Client focus areas.
  3. Technical focus areas.
  4. Experience.

The Certification Process

The Open Group supports two different routes to certification — direct certification with The Open Group itself or certification via an Accredited Certification Program (ACP). The criteria are the same for both routes.

  • Direct certification: Applications are made directly to The Open Group. The direct route is available to individual practitioners and IT professionals working in organizations that do not have an ACP.
  • Certification via an ACP: Candidates applying for certification via an ACP must be employees of the accredited organization. Application is made through the ACP.

Many of the world’s largest organizations are already Open Group certification partners, including IBM, HP, Raytheon and Computer Associates, while several other internationally recognized organizations are investigating accreditation. In January 2008, IBM became the first company to become an ACP partner for the ITSC program. A year later, Capgemini also became an ACP partner and announced that more than 1,000 senior-level IT specialists from its global organization would initially be certified as IT specialists.

Additionally, both of The Open Group’s programs map to the relevant parts of the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which is developed by the SFIA Foundation and provides a common reference model for the identification of the skills needed to develop effective information systems by making use of information communications technologies. As such, ITAC and ITSC can both be incorporated into the learning and development platforms many organizations already use. This provides human resources departments with a free, ready-to-accredit IT certification program that can be used in the personnel development process. In turn, human resources departments and recruitment agencies around the world are becoming increasingly aware of ITAC. Organizations such as Shell, General Motors and many government agencies are now including the ITAC in requests for proposals (RFPs), and companies such as Logica, Shell, Direct Energy and Capgemini are using it in their recruitment advertising.

Benefits of the programs for vendors and solution providers include:

  • Help with staff recruitment and retention process.
  • Avoid the cost of developing and operating custom-made, in-house certification programs.
  • Set benchmarks for skills and capabilities that meet open, global standards.
  • Ensure employees can demonstrate an understanding of technology and can apply those skills for professional results.
  • Allow for the development of individuals toward a recognized industry standard.
  • Raise the brand value of an organization by demonstrating its commitment to quality standards and employee development.
  • Guarantee consistent and quality-assured service on project proposals, procurement specifications and service-level agreements.

In addition, companies that are looking to recruit full-time IT professionals or use third-party suppliers to complete IT projects can use The Open Group’s ITAC and ITSC programs as an industry benchmark to accurately measure an individual’s skills and capabilities. The Open Group’s intention is to create an environment where it becomes the norm for employers to request ITAC- or ITSC-qualified candidates in their recruitment process for open IT positions.

Regardless of global economic conditions, modern organizations rely on complex IT infrastructures that need to quickly evolve with industry trends to ensure efficiency and competitiveness. As such, both IT professionals and IT service suppliers need to prove that they have the necessary skills and know-how to manage an organization’s complex IT projects and deliver best-of-breed results. The experience-based ITAC and ITSC programs can provide evidence of this to both employers and clients alike. 

Steve Philp is marketing director of the ITAC and ITSC programs at The Open Group. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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