BCS EGM: Which way to vote?

The BCS is currently ” in crisis” or being ” transformed“, depending on who you listen to. I’ve spent much time of late trawling through opinion and comment on the EGM that was announced in a bid to modify the somewhat arrogant management mindset, an arrogance that is often required to drive forward change in an organisation. I’m not about to give you any insightful thoughts on which way you should vote, as I have no idea myself at this point. But, I have some concerns.

The rebrand was all a bit of a shock, with some very attractive brochures being sent to me on my membership renewal. Sort of felt like I was buying a toothpaste, rather than a membership to a professional organisation. However, the old-skool “BCS-key” was getting quite dated and the organisation was lacking relevance.

My personal view on IT practitioners is that to operate in IT, some degree of professional qualification or endorsement is required. It is hard to find a job within IT which you do not come into contact with private or sensitive data, which should be treated with as much respect as a doctor with medical notes. This is a multi-disciplined requirement, ranging from physical infrastructure to secure programming. There are too many amateurs in the profession, and it is seen to be too easy for people to gain access to the industry and present themselves as experts. While membership of the society goes some way to endorsing you as a professional, it hardly qualifies you. The CITP membership level, however, does go some way and seemed to be the most appropriate option for me.

The Chartered IT Professional qualification (CITP) that I obtained is now of the “older order”. This is one that required me to meet the BCS’ SFIAPlus Level 5 criteria, be endorsed by 2 peers and to have worked as a professional in IT. I feel that this is the closest I can come to indicate my belief and subscription to the view that IT professionals must operate under. However, it seems that this qualification is being seen by some quarters as a lower qualification. The BCS has traditionally been an academic and science-focussed, who put a lot of value in the CEng and CSci qualifications. Some of that membership are resisting the change from “Computer” to “IT”-focus. If you are working with computers, you are working in IT – be it computers, internet, or policy. Computers are only one medium through which IT is delivered. The CITP is therefore regarded by these people as being irrelevant.

So I am on-board with the change in focus towards “IT”, rather than simply “computers”. If the BCS is to be seen as an industry professional body, it needs to span the industry, not just the machines it uses. What disturbs me is the BCS lack of understanding of how it should engage with its membership. Of the management, David Clarke and Elizabeth Sparrow recently conducted a road-show around the UK to meet the membership, but they seem to have missed out on the Isle of Man – a shame as the Isle of Man is a very engaging and open branch. Their understanding of the web seems to be below that of the general industry they claim to represent, too. The new web-site was riddled with bugs at launch, undermining any sense of quality assurance an IT professional should claim to practise. The society is spending some time reaching out to members and non-members via social media, which is very welcome, and the Savvy Citizens campaign is a welcome “entry-level” point at which non-IT professionals can interact with members. But why spend the money and effort on developing its own social network, under the banner of “BCS Members’ Network”? Such networks already exist. I keep up to date with the various BCS-related groups on LinkedIn, which has ably met my social media requirements – because they are already in the business and know how to do it.

The dilemma I find myself in is: do I vote for the transformation and overlook the arrogance of the management and possibly undemocratic removal of members’ rights to object in the future, or do I vote for the EGM and at least contribute to a “kicking”; hopefully sending a message to the management that while not all members agree with the principles behind the EGM, there is some unhappiness at ground level. For me, the wrong questions are being asked and the society is using the budget of the BCS to market the anti-EGM agenda quite aggressively, which is somewhat unfair as the EGM-agenda do not have access to the membership to provide their argument – even if the required money was available. Instead, the management seem to be counting on the members submitting their vote to the chairman, resulting in a landslide.

That said, although against an undemocratic process, I feel obliged to vote with the transformation – and the long-term agenda. It is up to the society’s members to drive change for the IT industry as a whole and use the BCS as a vehicle for that. So I reluctantly find myself on-board.