Careers: Interviews
Mary Jean Kucerk, CAE: Executive Director, Canadian Information Processing Society

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Mary Jean Kucerak, Executive Director for the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS). The interview focus will be the INFORMATIC 2006 Conference.

Mary Jean Kucerak (CIPS)Mary Jean is the ex-officio Member of the Executive Committee, the National Board of Directors, the Council of Section Presidents, the Former Presidents Advisory Council and all standing committees. She is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the CIPS National Office and management of the Association. Her responsibilities include finances, long range planning, elections, and the Annual General Meeting. She also co-chairs the Finance Committee, the Advocacy Committee, and the National Constitution Committee. She serves as the National Registrar for the certified professional Information Systems Professional designation (otherwise known as the “I.S.P.”), and is the individual accountable for the association's privacy policies.

Mary Jean is also President of PDit Canada Inc., a subsidiary of CIPS that oversees the association's Professional Development offerings.

Discussion:

Q:  Mary Jean, you have made so many contributions to CIPS demonstrating sustained commitment to CIPS’ vision, mission, and goals. Thank you for your considerable history of service and for taking the time to do this interview.

A:  My pleasure Stephen. I have been proud to be associated with CIPS and I feel most fortunate to have the opportunity of working for a professional association that is truly providing leadership in Canada’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT). ICT is such a dynamic sector and the Information Technology (IT) profession is one that will continue to gain prominence. So I always look forward to an opportunity to say a few words about the many programs, initiatives and services CIPS has to offer.

Q:What are the vision, mission, objectives, and values behind your current roles at CIPS? What do you hope to accomplish and how will you bring this about?

A:  My vision, mission, objectives and such are really those of CIPS. My role is to work with the volunteer leadership of CIPS to achieve the overall association goals. In accomplishing this, I want to make sure that each member of the National staff is valued as a contributor to CIPS’ transition efforts.

CIPS is making a transition from its origins back in 1958 as a networking organization to a professional association, one where the majority of its members will hold the Information Systems Professional (I.S.P.) designation of Canada. CIPS is focused on establishing and creating recognition for the IT profession in Canada as well as supporting all IT practitioners who are committed to acting professionally.

Clearly, as CIPS moves through this transition period, it will become recognized as the leader in developing and implementing IT professional standards. It will demand high standards and ethical behaviour from IT practitioners and will be seen by the IT profession as providing innovative and valued products and services. CIPS will be an advocate for the IT profession.

I believe that the CIPS National office team has a very central role to play in helping CIPS achieve its priorities. While small in numbers, CIPS staff members are dedicated professionals in their own right. A number of staff members have been with CIPS for over 10 years and this is a core strength. I want to ensure that during this transition process, the staff continues to develop their own leadership roles, and continues to develop their own skills to meet the changing skill requirements of the association. As we continue to find volunteers hard pressed to devote countless hours of their personal time to CIPS, I believe that the staff members have to be positioned, empowered and skilled to move CIPS forward.

Q: Where do you see your work heading in five years?

A:  That is a difficult question to answer. As part of the transition process that CIPS is undertaking, I fully expect that the CIPS National office team will similarly go through a transition process. It is a natural outcome. So I do anticipate changes and I look forward to the new challenges that those changes will present.

Q: From your long career of sustained successes, which three events or achievements stand foremost in your mind and for what reasons?

A:  My association with CIPS over the past 26 years has truly provided so many memories. I think in looking back, the three achievements or events that stand out are:

1.  The introduction of the I.S.P. designation back in the late 1980’s. That laid the foundation for the transition that we are seeing taking place within CIPS today. It was an interesting time, as the association held a referendum in the mid-eighties to determine member interest in a professional designation. At that time, the members were truly split on the question.

2.  The CIPS National Board meeting in October 2000, which is often referred to as the “Halifax Meeting.” It was at this meeting that the National Board decided that the primary focus of the association would be professionalism. To me, this showed how the IT profession had matured since the referendum days. Coming out of the Halifax meeting was a new vision and mission for the association that formed the basis for our current strategic plan. CIPS’ products and services shifted. Today we talk about a body of knowledge, standards of practice, ethics, professional accountability, and safeguarding the public interest. These are all elements of a professional association and the core of CIPS’ future.

3.  The third event would be the introduction of our Women in IT (WIT) program. CIPS launched this program in 2001. For me this is a prime example where the staff, through the leadership of Mylene Sayo our Public Relations Manager, seized an opportunity for CIPS to provide leadership on an important issue for the IT sector. The staff members were also very much supported at the time by our President, Faye West, I.S.P., who naturally saw this issue as a perfect fit for her year as President. Over the years, the program saw more and more CIPS Sections organize their own local WIT events and WIT is currently seen as one of the cornerstone National events. I personally attended a number of these events myself and I always found them to be exhilarating. The program is directed towards Grade 9 girls and introduces them to the varied possibilities of an IT career. The issue of female participation in the IT sector of course remains today but as we all have seen, the issue has really grown much broader in scope with declining computer science enrolments all around. CIPS is currently looking at evolving this educational program to include both boys and girls.

Through its advocacy efforts, I believe that CIPS, as Canada’s association of IT professionals, will address more and more important issues such as these, and I know that the CIPS National office staff members will have a leading role to play in identifying and developing these opportunities.

Q: Describe the history of INFORMATICS and its current mandate.

A:  INFORMATICS really pre-dates CIPS. Although it was not called INFORMATICS at the time, CIPS’ forefathers organized an IT conference at the University of Toronto in 1958 and they made a bit of money. In their wisdom, they used that money to form a National association (known today as CIPS, pronounced “KIPS,” with a hard “C.”) to represent the interests of Canadian IT workers. 

Up until 2003, INFORMATICS was organized by CIPS Sections. In an effort to remove the significant burden of organizing such a major event each year from volunteers, CIPS created Professional Development for Information Technology Canada Inc (PDit).

PDit is currently responsible for organizing INFORMATICS and has removed most of the logistical work from the volunteers. CIPS members are still however very much at the heart of the program development. The INFORMATICS program is put together by and for IT professionals.

INFORMATICS is a forum for all IT professionals from across Canada to come together as a community to MEET, SHARE and LEARN. There are three primary mandates for INFORMATICS.

  • One is to provide appropriate training that IT professionals need,
  • the second is to provide a National stage for CIPS to share its professionalism vision, and
  • the third is to provide a venue whereby CIPS folks from across the country can share experiences and ideas through networking time at the conference. 

The whole learning experience is accomplished not only by providing specific training, but also by providing opportunities for IT professionals to meet colleagues and share best practices.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish at INFORMATICS 2006, to be held in Victoria, BC, May 28-30?

A:  I would like to see the IT community engaged. More specifically, I would like to know that our delegates leave having learnt new skills that they can apply in their careers and current jobs, that they have gained insights and have been challenged. I was recently in Vancouver and heard a CIPS member who attended INFORMATICS 2005 state that at the start of INFORMATICS 2005, their goal was to have learned at least one tangible thing that would benefit their clients. At the end of INFORMATICS, they had learnt three things that would have an immediate impact on their clients. We want to make sure our delegates get that training value.

I would also like to know that our partners and speakers leave Victoria, having felt that INFORMATICS provided them with an opportunity to gain new insights as a result of their participation. That INFORMATICS was truly a meeting place for IT practitioners.

Q:  What are the key highlights of this year’s conference and the most compelling topics?

A:  INFORMATICS 2006 will feature six thought-provoking keynote sessions, twenty-six workshop sessions focusing on topics related to management, technology, information security and human resources, ITIL Foundation certification, ICCP certification and a post INFORMATICS workshop on RFID.

Our opening keynote this year is Dr. Nick Bontis. Dr Bontis is a very dynamic presenter and always a favourite of INFORMATICS attendees. Dr Bontis will describe a ground breaking new methodology that measures the antecedents of effective knowledge management and the eventual drivers of business performance. 

Other topics that will be addressed include:

A panel discussion amongst CIOs and CEO on the best strategies for fostering better relationships between IT and the business;

Self Managing Dynamic Systems – a look at existing and future tools that enable IT to be as dynamic as the business, at the speed of business and for the business;

Open Standards – a look at the techniques organizations can use to get the most of open standards to minimize costs, maximize information accessibility and maintain compatibility with business partners.

The Top Ten IT Security Threats and How to Avoid Them – a look at the latest information about the scope and nature of cyber threats, and hands-on training to help best address security issues in your organization. 

Career Development for IT Professionals – what are the factors impacting the IT employment environment? Which businesses are hiring and why? Are you wondering if your skills match up against those of other people looking for work? What do you need in your toolbox to land the position you want?

There are workshops on international standards for security compliance, an online performance evaluation and learning support system, writing secure code, managing great teams.  There is just so much that I could mention. I encourage everyone to take a look at the full program available from our website, www.cipsinformatics.ca

I would be remiss if I did not mention some of the social events we have planned. INFORMATICS is also very much about networking with one’s peers. We will have networking events planned each evening. Details around these are in the process of being confirmed. But we are looking at a golf tournament and spousal tour packages as some of our activities.

Q:  Who should attend?

A:  Project Managers, analysts, IT leaders, consultants, anyone who considers themselves an IT professional and who wants to stay on the leading edge of technology issues, add value to their employers or clients and advance their IT careers.

The program and registration packages are designed in such a way to encourage IT practitioners at all levels to participate in some way, whether it is for the full event, one or two particular workshops, or just to hear our thought provoking keynotes.

Q:  Why should IT professionals attend this year’s conference? What value will they receive?

A:  IT professionals should attend INFORMATICS 2006 because they understand the importance of an effective, efficient information technology department – a department that contributes to the overall business goals of their organization. They know both the demands of and the potential business rewards with staying on top of the rapid changes in technology. They understand the need for quality professional development, the importance of networking with their peers, and the importance of understanding what lies ahead.

By attending INFORMATICS, they will learn practical skills and concepts that they can take back for the benefit of their organizations and or clients.

I would like to point out that the opening day of INFORMATICS, Sunday, we are featuring sessions which would also be of specific interest to self-employed independent contractors and consultants. Since these workshops are on Sunday, there is less impact on billable time.

I would also like to remind I.S.P. holders that by attending INFORMATICS for the full three days you will earn one quarter of your annual re-certification education credits.

Q: How can IT Pros use this conference to stay ahead of their customers, clients, and constituency?

A:  To answer this, I would really like to return to the theme of INFORMATICS: MEET, SHARE, and LEARN.

What better way to stay ahead than to:

Meet:  IT colleagues, industry experts, and IT suppliers from across the country, from both industry and government;

Share:  Your experiences, problems, challenges and solutions;

Learn: From the some of the IT sector’s leading experts who will address what is not only hot and current, but what’s coming in the future.

Q: Can you describe a few real-world experiences, specific scenarios, and solutions that will be addressed?

A:  What a good question Stephen. There are a number of examples that I could provide.

Let’s take e-mail. We are heavily dependent on e-mail as a means of communication with our internal and external clients. While this is a mission critical tool, many of us find that e-mail can make our workday simply out of control. Peter Turner, “the E-Mail Shrink” will lead us through a workshop designed to help us write more effective e-mail messages, manage and store our messages more effectively, and motivate us to adopt e-mail best practices.

How about attacks against web applications. We have heard how such attacks can give hackers full control over an organization’s network. While most developers can write excellent code, they are often not aware of how a hacker can exploit their web applications. Dan Sellars from Microsoft will provide solid and real world examples of how web applications have been attacked in the past and how to reduce the risk.

How many of the folks out there feel that their organization’s security practices look like an Alphabet Soup recipe? Organizations can or in some cases are forced to adopt standards such as ISO 17799, ISO 13335, and the ISF Standard of Good Practices to name a few. Robert Martin will help lead IT practitioners through this soup mix and provide practical steps on how you can successfully adopt important international standards in your organization.

Q: Who are your partners in this conference?

A:  We are fortunate to have a number of partners who have been with us since PDit assumed responsibility for INFORMATICS. These include the Software Human Resources Council (SHRC), Computing Canada, and the Alberta Research Council. A number of other organizations have also partnered with us for multiple years such as Robert Half Technologies and HDF Insurance & Financial Group. We are just in the process of confirming our partners for INFORMATICS 2006 and many more will be added to this list.

We are particularly pleased that the SHRC will hold their annual HR Forum in conjunction with INFORMATICS 2006. The HR forum will bring the Deans of IT from Canada’s Community Colleges and Universities to Victoria. We will integrate the two groups for some of the sessions and facilitate a dialogue between industry and the academic community on topics such as the decline in IT enrollments and employment skills required by businesses.

Our INFORMATICS partners are an integral part of the success of INFORMATICS. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge on many important new trends and products that all IT professionals need to know about. Many of our partners will showcase these on Monday May 29, 2006 during our partner display exhibit.

Q:  Do you have any closing comments to make about INFORMATICS 2006?

A:  Mark May 28 to 31, 2006 down in your calendars, take a look at the program and plan to be in Victoria to MEET, SHARE and LEARN with your colleagues from across the country. Oh, and one last thing. Book early and come early. The Swiftsure International Yacht Race begins in Victoria on May 26. I am told downtown Victoria becomes a big party on the 26th and the yachts set their sails on the morning of the 27th. Our motto is to come to Victoria for INFORMATICS but plan to stay for a week!

Q: Mary Jean, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.

A: Stephen thank you for the opportunity. I would also like to personally thank you for your efforts in co-hosting this blog directed at Canadian IT managers.  I hope that the blog also provides a virtual forum for IT practitioners to MEET, SHARE and LEARN. Your ongoing work on behalf of the IT profession is considerable and I hope you know is well appreciated.

The latest blog on the interview can be found on January 13, 2006 in the CIPS/Microsoft Canadian IT Managers forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue. And you can share them with Mary Jean and us too.
http://blogs.technet.com/cdnitmanagers/

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