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Exploring SFIA (2 of 3): What is SFIA?

Don Robertson, Senior Consultant. 18 November 2011, 2:39 pm
Exploring SFIA (2 of 3): What is SFIA?

SFIA, or Skills Framework for the Information Age, is becoming the standard ICT skills and competency framework in use across the world, yet New Zealand is only just starting to understand its potential.

In this three-part series we'll take a closer look at SFIA: What is it and how does it work? And how is it applied to assess skills? Last week we looked at how SFIA is used at Hudson, a leading recruitment firm, and this week NZCS past President and newly minted Fellow Don Robertson outlines SFIA in more detail.


What is SFIA (Skills Framework for the Information Age)?

As we all know, ICT knowledge and skills cover an extremely wide range of topics. This causes difficulty for everyone including ICT practitioners, clients, employers and employment agencies, not to mention the public at large.

ICT Employees & Practitioners want to understand potential career paths and job roles that can guide their future study and education programmes.  As a trainee starting out I need to know what knowledge and skill I need and how this makes up a professional skill profile that will get me my first role.

Once they're established they need to know what new skills and experience to acquire that will lead to the next job and so on.

Employers on the other hand must firstly determine what their organisation needs in the way of ICT employees and the mix of skills and competency to support the business.  How do you define the ICT organisation, skills and competency needed and define the job roles and skills ensuring optimum coverage and capacity?

Add to this the difficulty in finding and assessing employees to match the identified requirement.  This needs job descriptions to be defined and sized and advertisements created to both attract and match prospective candidates for consideration.  Given that there have been no standardisation of skills and competencies or role definitions matching the candidates to jobs and verifying the skill and competency is very difficult and often a hit and miss process.


The Key drivers of IT in business


1. Business effectiveness

Understand your skills and capability; deploy capability where it gives best business value. SFIA is at the heart of any company's ability to do this, providing the base language and structure to assess skills, develop capability and align work with appropriate individuals.

2. Productivity

Optimise resources: putting the right skills in the right place at the right time enhances effectiveness; better skills mean faster work and fewer mistakes.

3. Resource planning

SFIA provides a structured common language for planning, business, HR and IT - to state needs, recognise skills, identify gaps and determine how the gaps will be filled.

4. Outsourcing/off-shoring

SFIA helps you know your own capability - the essential platform for quality decisions about exploiting external resources.

5. Mergers and acquisitions

Enable a common view among managers and HR, to enable the new organisation to be built rapidly.

Responding to these forces means having a clear knowledge of the workforce's capabilities, ideally by classifying people by professional profiles.


Know the capabilities: Professional Profiles

Professional profiles can either be used as the prime role profile in resource management, or they can provide the 'person specification' section for traditional job descriptions.  Either way, these definitions are the currency of the organisation's capability. They are the units of measurement of that capability - or of the gaps in it.


How SFIA Helps


Clarity and objectivity

Any description of the skills and capability of an individual or category of individuals must be clear about the skills required, and objective about the level at which the skills should be exhibited. SFIA provides the most widely accepted description of IT skills, with succinct definitions positioned across seven levels of attainment.

Include corporate competencies

A professional profile will need to state other requirements of the role such as the organisation's preferred behavioural competencies, knowledge, qualifications, etc.

The clear definitions of SFIA's seven levels help ensure that this information is included at the right level.

The completed profiles are then reference points to give coherence and consistency to all stages of the capability management cycle.


How SFIA works

Do it your way

Defined by IT professionals and employers, SFIA contains definitions of recognisable IT skills: not jobs, not roles, but skills.  These are incorporated in the job descriptions or role profiles used by an organisation.

The Definition

SFIA is a simple two-dimensional matrix. The skills are mapped across seven standard responsibility levels. Each level has a full generic definition and a memory-jogging tag.


Each skill has an overall definition, then a more specific definition at each of the levels at which the skill is recognised (individual skills are not generally recognisable at all seven levels).


The definitions answer the practical need to determine what level of skill a role needs, or an individual possesses. They are succinct, containing enough information to satisfy this diagnostic purpose.

For the ICT industry to evolve into a true profession we need to establish a common skills and competency framework - Enter SFIA, the Skills Framework for the Information Age.


SFIA License

The licence to use the framework is free of charge, though the SFIA Foundation requires a royalty from those using it to support a commercial offering.



SFIA provides a common reference model for the identification of the skills needed to develop effective Information Systems.  It is a simple and logical two-dimensional framework consisting of areas of work on one axis and levels of responsibility on the other.

It uses a common language and a sensible, logical structure that can be adapted to the training and development needs of a very wide range of businesses - or simply used 'off the shelf'.

SFIA is owned and maintained by The SFIA Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation whose members are BCS (British Computer Society), e-Skills UK, IMIS (Institute for the Management of Information Systems, itSMF (IT Service Management Forum) and The IET (The Institution for Engineering and Technology).

Regular updates keep the framework relevant.


Find out more: NZCS Workshop: Introduction to ICT Skills Mapping

NZCS holds a regular workshop in the main centres looking at ICT Skills Mapping using SFIA.

The workshop brings attendees to a common level of knowledge in the use of skills frameworks such as SFIA, the Skills Framework for the Information Age then shows the value of using such a framework to construct job descriptions and role profiles to allow more focused and effective resource allocation and development of career pathways.

These workshops will be held throughout 2012. The final Wellington workshop for 2011 can be found here


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