☞ BCS EGM

  • The British Computer Society is in the process of being transformed into The Chartered Institute of IT. This is the wrong direction – it’s becoming a club for the Pointy Haired Boss instead of an association to support Dilbert and Alice. The consequence? It’s full of talk of outsourcing real computer jobs abroad and wants to serve the people who are doing it. It failed to take any public leadership position over the Digital Economy Bill and rejects attempts to embrace open source. It has no connection to the interests of actual computer professionals any more. For me (a Fellow, for now) it has come to symbolise all that’s worst in British IT.

    The last-ditch battle to wrest the BCS away from the budget-and-management apparatchiks is coming, because an Emergency General Meeting has been called for July 1st. I just hope there are enough real computer professionals still involved to rescue it; my experience of the current leadership suggests it’s too late.

[Also in this thread: this post, BCS Faces No-Confidence Vote Crisis, BCS Leadership Targets Member Rights, BCS Rebels Finally Get A Voice]

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17 Responses

  1. I resigned my associate membership after a couple of years back in 2005. It didn’t seem possible to get my experience recognised and completing the BCS diploma to achieve member status involved studying topics irrelevant to my current and future needs.

    Overall, if I was starting out a career in corporate IT there would have seemed some point, but as an experienced practitioner working in SMEs I just couldn’t find the value.

  2. Hi there. I personally don’t recognise the picture you paint, but I am really sorry to hear you say that. BCS should be home to everyone in this sector, not just the bosses. If there are things we can do to make the place better, then do let us know.

    On the DEB – DEA as it now is – we did communicate our views to the Government repeatedly, responded to consultations, wrote to Ministers, talked to MPs. We also made our views more public, such as here:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/7415845/Digital-Economy-Bill-undermines-plans-for-digital-inclusion-warns-BCS.html

    If you type ‘BCS Digital Economy Bill’ you’ll see a great deal more. We are continuing to take an interest in it, but somewhat hampered by having to focus on the EGM. As an organisation we have done a great deal to build our reputation as an independent Institute that should be listened to on these matters. Like a lot of people, our voice of (I hope) sanity got a bit lost in the rush over this Bill, but we continue to soldier on.

    Hope that helps.

  3. ^^Sorry – I meant:

    If you type ‘BCS Digital Economy Bill’ *into a search engine* you’ll see a great deal more.

  4. Thanks for the reply, David. The BCS did indeed show up a little in the DeBill debate, but it was not in the way most of the computer professionals I know would want.

    The BCS appears to support 3-strikes/graduated response kangaroo-courts-without-the-court, according to http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.34746 where I also see BCS supporting the fallacy that “the creative industries” need defending from the internet (rather than recognising the benefits of adapting to it). BCS concerns I have read are rarely about fundamental liberties or software freedom; they are about the cost of implementing the legislation.

    From my vantage point as a branch committee member, I see none of the vitality I would want from my professional association; just PHB-speak and core governance that gives lip-service to inclusion of technologists. The bCS voice I read in http://www.computerweekly.com/blogs/read-all-about-it/2010/04/the-egm-debate-bcs-v-len-keigh.html turns me off, I’m afraid.

    Maybe the BCS doesn’t need people like me as Fellows? That seems to be the message I’m hearing.

  5. Of course BCS needs people like you as Fellows! The EGM debate is pretty heated – and while I think a robust response from Trustees is necessary and unavoidable, I can understand why it turns some people off. There’s a lot more to this than what’s been put in Computer Weekly, and the role and drivers there are pretty simple.

    In terms of the issues around DEB, BCS has to take a line that is consistent with its role. BCS is home to people who feel as you do, and to others with different views. I agree that many computer professionals take a stronger view on this than BCS has, but I don’t see that as a problem.

    The role BCS plays is to provide a non-political and independent view of the profession, for the benefit of the public. We are not here to take a position based on the strongest or most widely-held political view amongst our members, but provide advice on the professional issues. We’re not a union or a lobbying organisation – not that there’s anything wrong with being, just that we’re not. Other organisations such as the Open Rights Group are there to lobby in that way, and I see BCS and ORG as playing a different but often mutually-supportive role – we’re not in competition. In fact, I personally know a lot of the active people in ORG, and get on very well with them despite us taking a different view.

    In terms of the position, it is obvious that BCS should support the concept of copyright. Those who hold those rights should be able to exercise them – and we can’t take a view otherwise. It’s not really for BCS to dictate the business model of the music industry, no matter how tempting it would be – they’d simply say it’s not our area of expertise, and they’d be right. However, we can and should (and did) comment on the efficacy of the measures, and how they impact on other rights that are important. That helps, and it provides a good foundation for organisations such as ORG to put their points across…or a good foundation for the government to respond – we don’t take sides. I blogged about similar issues around ID cards some time ago:

    http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conBlogPost.589

    However, there’s no doubt we should have done more, and perhaps more forcefully – but we are a small staff team with a lot of different responsibilities, and we’ve been absorbed by the EGM discussions for some months now.

    I have to act as a good steward over the responsibilities given by the members to trustees, from trustees to the CEO and on down to me. It is very important to me to be able to look you in the eye (literally and metaphorically) and someone working for BPI in the eye, and say that I have worked to ensure the professional view is heard. I’ve never turned down an opportunity to explain myself and the organisation to a member, and I hope I never will. If you’d like to discuss DEB more, I’d be very happy to do so – call the switchboard and ask to speak to me, or let me know if you’d prefer me to call you…

    Anyway, what we’re doing on DEB is really nothing to do with the EGM. In many ways I wish it were that simple…

  6. “The role BCS plays is to provide a non-political and independent view of the profession, for the benefit of the public.”

    That’s a bizarre statement. In my experience, the BCS is second only to the IEEE in its inbuilt political nature. Everything seems to be built around politics: elections of council, grades and processes, influence on the government, and so on. It is a very long time since it did anything *technical* about computing (with the possible exception of the Journal).

    What benefit to ‘the public’ does the BCS achieve with its huge subscriptions extracted from programmers like me each year? Please name a few!

  7. I agree with the sentiments expressed in this article. I’m not currently a member of the BCS but as a developer working at Europe’s biggest software R&D lab I would have expected to be part of the core demographic.

    If someone was to set up an equivalent organisation, run by geeks for geeks I would be keen to join.

    • I’m another developer doing R&D work who would expect to be part of the core BCS demographic. However, the notion that BCS is at all relevant to the modern development community is just preposterous. After investigating the BCS at regular intervals over the last 20 years, I can find no reason whatsoever to revise my decision then to join ACM.

      For geeks by geeks in the UK, check out http://www.accu.org.

  8. I appreciate the time you are spending here, David, as do others (I’ve heard on Twitter) – thanks.

    Concerning DEB, can you direct me to the working group I could join at BCS to set the policy and public position on issues like that? You say “we are a small staff team with a lot of different responsibilities” and that’s just plain wrong; you are facilitators for a huge organisation and if you can’t get members to do this important work then there’s a serious issue you need to fix instead of corporatising further. If you’re the only people doing the work then shut the BCS down right now.

    For the little it’s worth, my view is that BPI’s position is unreasonable since it is based on bad data and outdated thinking, and I think giving them equal weight is a mistake for an organisation that’s supposed to have a grasp on the issues and deliver thought leadership (which one of the ways I read the BCS Charter responsibilities).

    Concerning the EGM, I think your last comment contains the essence of the issue. When I read the BCS Charter (sadly not available as a web page) I do not read it as you and the other members of your team do. You seem to believe that the BCS should be delivering a public service independent of the professional views of its members, at their expense. You appear to believe the members have delegated responsibility to you (plural) alone. That’s why I question whether I should remain a Fellow; you do not act or speak for me yet you want to act with my assumed authorisation.

    When I read the Charter, I believe it calls for the gathering of the members of the computing profession collectively in the public service. That means representative, not abstract; informed, not impartial; authoritative, not politically correct. The core of the EGM crisis seems to pivot on these distinctions. Your cadre dismisses the professional views of senior members and prefers a squeaky-clean, management-approved stance that satisfies corporate affiliates and corporate lobbying organisations.

    The thing that depresses me most about the “debate” page cited above is the way that, instead of seeing the views Len Keighley espouses as indicative of a real issue, you seek to marginalise him and the outlook he presents in your comments and brush aside the EGM as an inconvenience imposed by an isolated and anomalous outsider. That “tone” speaks louder than any explanations.

    There’s plenty I’d like to ask you about all this – maybe we should arrange a webcast discussion?

  9. Hi Simon,

    Thanks – it’s no chore to get into discussion with you – quite the reverse.

    I did in my last comment leave you with something easily misinterpreted. By ‘small staff team’ I meant that which supports our senior volunteers. You’re absolutely right that it would be very wrong for unconnected staff to form their own views. In practical terms, we on staff have a day job to take the view of the organisation and promote it through media and to policy makers – all under the guidance of senior volunteers.

    Part of what we’ve been doing through these changes is to try and up our collective game on policy development and ‘prosecution’. We have a new Policy & Public Affairs Board – http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=nav.13818 and it has only had one meeting so far (like I say, it is new), and this is one of the outcomes:

    http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.35483

    It’s a start. Historically, getting your view heard has had far far too much to do with who you knew, not the merit of the viewpoint. The volunteers and staff in this area are working to try and change that, and open things up – while still working in a way that has clear lines of governance. We’ve not done it yet, but hopefully we’ll get the chance.

    We’ve had a number of really great activities on policy in recent times drawing people from different communities within BCS. At least one of the EGM signatories – who I get on personally very well with – has been heavily involved in one of our greatest recent ‘hits’, and it’s a model for the future. Here’s the position:

    http://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/coroners-justice-bill.pdf

    …and here’s the result:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/03/09/coroners_and_justice_bill/

    It’s not every day that you get to make this kind of impact – and it was all volunteers. I just held their coats, so to speak, but I was proud to do so.

    I guess in summary I think our reading of the Royal Charter is pretty similar, possibly identical.

    In terms of a conversation, I’d really like that. As far as a webcast is concerned I’m not the one people want to hear from. Our President and CEO will be holding a webinar, as well as going around the UK (Elizabeth will be going to Northern Ireland in addition to the dates on this link):

    http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.35470

    There’s a lot more that could be said, but it’s rather past my bedtime now. Many thanks for the discussion, and for being so straightforward – I really appreciate it.

  10. When I decided to take my (pointy haired) management degree and go into IT, I did it with every intention of becoming a manager of IT, or more accurately, a manager of IS (of the type I could see then was missing, someone who could understand both the management and the technology aspects of the job). So when selecting a professional association to join I very specifically did *not* join the BCS. The BCS it seemed to me was trying to be all things to all people, to represent the “IT profession”; but you can’t do that, because IT is not a profession; it is, at best, several. The interests and professional practices of the developer are not the same as those of an IS manager which are not those of a helpdesk operative.

    Maybe the BCS should focus on representing one group? Like the computer scientists?

  11. […] BCS EGM The British Computer Society is in the process of being transformed into The Chartered Institute of IT. This is the wrong direction – it’s becoming a club for the Pointy Haired Boss instead of an association to support Dilbert and Alice. The consequence? It’s full of talk of outsourcing real computer jobs abroad and wants to serve the people who are doing it. It failed to take any public leadership position over the Digital Economy Bill and rejects attempts to embrace open source. It has no connection to the interests of actual computer professionals any more. For me (a Fellow, for now) it has come to symbolise all that’s worst in British IT. […]

  12. Hi Simon,

    Just as an aside, I noticed you’ve linked to a Computer Weekly article and cited it as an anonymous spokesperson. In fact, this was reproduced from a statement in the members area that you can find here is you’ve a logon:

    https://wam.bcs.org/wam/sentinelcheck.exe?/20799/20801/23366/23367/egm-response-part2.htm

    This was signed by Elizabeth Sparrow and David Clarke with the agreement of the entire Trustee Board. That’s only a minor point…

  13. Simon.
    Your opening piece in this thread says that BCS “rejects attempts to embrace open source”.
    There is quite an active Open Source Specialist Group http://ossg.bcs.org and I know you have spoken at several of their events (for which I thank you).
    I’m not aware of any explicit rejection of open source by BCS (if there was I regret it) though I’m sure there is much more we as BCS could do to support open source.

    When the dust has settled from the EGM, assuming I’m still in post as a BCS trustee, I’d welcome the chance to talk further about this.

    Mike
    I couldn’t agree more in your assessment of BCS that “Everything seems to be built around politics”. There are too many committees, rules of governance are arcane and hard to unearth, and I certainly found it difficult to understand which committee did what when I first started to become engaged with internal BCS processes.

    Ironically, the whole EGM process may have been triggered by the Trustees’ decision to simplify the support structure for and lines of communication with the member groups by removing a level of committee.
    You could take the view that, as there had been rumblings of discontent for some time, which the existing committee structure had failed to resolve, a new approach was needed.

    This simplification of of the board/committee structure had actually been recommended by the Membership Group Working Party (referred to by http://bcsreform.wikispaces.com/Message+re+EGM+call )

    As a Trustee, I want, and am probably obliged, to take into account the views of all parties, and then come to a rational decision, not just based on who shouts loudest or who has been a member for longest.

    So when a branch chair can write “I have felt fully involved in the process and other Committee Members have had the chance to participate in various consultation exercises”, it could be the case that the EGM callers do not agree with decisions the Trustees have come to after examining the arguments on all sides, rather than there has been no consultation.

    Of course that doesn’t mean that all past decisions were correct or have stood the test of time, and even before the EGM call was made I had committed to re-examine contentious decisions affecting the member groups made during the tenure of my predecessors.

    • Hi Adrian,

      There is quite an active Open Source Specialist Group

      Indeed, although you’ll note that Mark Elkins is one of the EGM signatories. My comment relates to an attempt to engage the current leadership with the OSI. More than that, I’ve repeatedly seen messaging from the BCS that treats DRM, software patents and the use of the term “piracy” uncritically, and I remain concerned that BCS policies respect corporations more than members on these and similar topics. After the flap is over, I’d welcome a chance to talk.

      Meanwhile, the attempt to prevent future EGM calls with a rule change that’s included in the ‘quick vote’ is disgraceful and I hope the Trustees will mitigate it if it gets through by creating a binding public issues voting procedure that’s equivalent in force to an EGM.

      • Yes I know that Mark is one of the signatories, though I don’t know his specific reasons for signing.

        Having seen the amount of senior volunteer time and staff time that has been involved in the EGM, and other work that has been put on hold, I think many people, including perhaps some of the signatories, feel that more should have been done to resolve the issues before resorting to the EGM call.
        For example, realising that the the relationship between the Trustee Board and the advisory Council wasn’t working as well as it should, the current trustees put in hand a piece of work which has resulted in Council now electing its own independent chair. Previously the BCS President as well as chairing the Trustee Board was expected to chair the Advisory Council as well, which arrangement was not ideal for a number of reasons. The recommendation to have an independent chair of Council would have been known – at least by those signatories who are members of Council – before the EGM call was issued. You could take the view that it would have made sense to give the new chair of Council a chance to address the issues before deciding whether to call an EGM.

        As I said, given the disruption, potentially damaging polarisation of attitudes and cost of the EGM, and without wishing to suppress future debate, it seems to me reasonable to ask whether 50 signatories is still a suitable threshold. If we think a change is appropriate, should we go for an actual number, a percentage, or perhaps say no more than one EGM in a given period?

        And provide better mechanisms for dispute resolution in future, because I don’t think any of us want a repeat of the current situation.

        • As a bemused observer to all this, I am horrified that the leaders of BCS have allowed this situation to arise, horrified they have failed to channel the valid concerns into effective change, horrified they have decided to vilify members and deny them public comment, horrified that they have decided the best solution is to prevent anyone being able to complain again.

          You are probably right that a cheaper solution is needed; until it exists, we need to keep the EGM mechanism as it is. I just voted against the rule change.

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