It is a common misconception that work in the public sector lacks the dynamism, innovation and pace of its private sector counterpart – and in the area of IT, nothing could be further from the truth.
The challenges of moving from private to public sector, particularly where education is concerned, are much greater than people think.
But if you are ambitious, keen to innovate and eager to work on some of the largest IT projects in the country, then the education sector could be right up your street.
The detailed procurement processes that schools and universities go through when reviewing an IT implementation can help to fuel innovation, by opening the door to new firms that might be seen as too bleeding-edge for private business. As a result, IT managers and directors are often ahead of their private sector colleagues when it comes to the latest technological advances.
With the drive into electronic government, for example, public sector organisations of all shapes and sizes have developed some of the most proactive and responsive web sites in the UK.
The response mechanisms to online information provide citizens with a channel of communication that many private sector companies struggle to achieve. Such processes are mirrored in the education sector, with even the smallest village schools having their own web sites for prospective parents to access information.
The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme is providing many opportunities for innovation in the education sector. The project is receiving major investment, which will have a considerable effect on the technology available in secondary schools across the country.
While innovation is not a word commonly associated with the public sector, the government can lead the way in IT skills and standards.
Some of the world-class standards, such as Prince2 for project management and the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) – see Key skills for public sector IT workers, below – have become core to not-for-profit working.
Prince2 was developed in 1989 by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency as a government standard for IT project management.
Undertaking large-scale projects enabled the public sector to spot a gap in the market, and to propose standards of project management that could help implementations run smoothly and to budget.
As personnel transferred out of government into business, they took these skills with them into the private sector.
Prince2 is now used in more than 50 countries worldwide for all types of projects, not just those in the IT sector. The approach will prove invaluable to schools going through BSF projects to ensure they are properly managed and cause as little disruption to pupils as possible.
But if you are looking for a smooth and an unchallenging role, do not assume the education sector is for you. Just because there are no financial shareholders reviewing performance on a daily basis does not mean there is a lack of accountability.
In fact, you could argue that the education sector has a much tougher audience – the general public. When mistakes happen they will reach the public domain – something that may not always happen in the private sector.
But if you want to get involved in some of the largest IT implementations in the UK, then the public sector offers a wealth of opportunities.
The scale of projects in the major government departments such as the Department for Children, Schools and Families, or the Department for Work and Pensions, provides an ideal career opportunity for IT professionals looking to build their skills set.
There are few such opportunities in the private sector where you can expect to be involved with so many users or as many customer records. Add the joined-up government initiative and you can see why any IT professional should be getting excited about public sector projects that will look to push the boundaries of technology in the future.
The public sector offers an innovative environment, without the financial pressures of shareholders, and the added incentive to educate children and young adults to help make a difference.
Robert Chapman is chief executive of IT training specialist Firebrand Training
Key skills for public sector IT workers
Prince2 – Projects in Controlled Environments – is a project management method covering the organisation, management and control of projects. Since its introduction, Prince2 has become widely used in both the public and private sectors and is now the UK’s de facto standard for project management. Although Prince2 was originally developed for the needs of IT projects, the method has also been used on many non-IT projects. The latest version is designed to incorporate the requirements of existing users and to enhance the method towards a generic, best-practice approach for the management of all types of projects.
The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of concepts and techniques for managing IT infrastructure, development and operations. ITIL is the only consistent and comprehensive documentation of best practice for IT service management. Used by many organisations around the world, an entire ITIL philosophy has grown up around the guidance.