Stepping along the path ploughed by Richard and Robert, I thought I’d try to order my thoughts on the BCS EGM through a blog post. Like Richard, I am (as I begin writing) uncertain as to my final leaning on this, although I have clear views on some of the issues.
Democracy In Action
One of the most important, in my view, is one which might be missed by many. Should the membership vote in favour of the Board of Trustees they are also strongly encouraged to change the bye-laws of the Royal Charter to stop this happening again.
For me, that is an atrocity and should not be allowed. That’s a strong word, so let me explain why.
The membership of the BCS is being swelled through the push for a higher profile. That’s a good thing, no doubt. However, two percent of an ever increasing membership base quickly becomes a large number of people. The time and effort involved in trying to marshal that many people to raise an object to how the BS is working effectively means that it will never happen. I believe that to be incredibly undemocratic.
Furthermore, the kind of member who is likely to pay enough attention to the actions of the BCS to raise an objection is much more likely to have attained a higher level of membership, such as Fellow. There aren’t many of those about, and I’ll wager that there certainly aren’t enough to amount to two percent!
Arguably what we are currently experiencing is a good thing. A group of highly committed members have used the mechanisms embedded in the charter of our professional body to put the brakes on a process which they believe requires greater scrutiny by the whole membership. Should the EGM vote go against those members, they should still be commended for having the courage and commitment to the BCS that they fought to initiate the process at all.
For the good of the members
The purpose of a professional body such as the BCS is to provide those outside of our industry with a recognisable ‘Kite Mark’ of quality when it comes to engaging the services of IT practitioners. Everything else that the organisation does should revolve around that most important premise.
If we follow the line of reasoning which identifies the activities which must flow from the above aim we will quickly find ourselves in the heart of the current argument.
Affirmation of Qualifications
Other professional bodies are extremely careful about how their members qualify for the professional qualifications they offer. This is a critical matter, in that it underpins the level of trust the outside world places on the body in question and its assertions as to the professionalism and trustworthiness of its members.
It worries me, therefore, that current implications suggest CITP seems to be a qualification along the lines of a Readers Digest competition – fill in the form, everybody must win!
It worries me even more because, as someone who is not a developer, the more rigorous path of CEng is not open to me. For IT professionals like me, the CITP must be a thorough assessment of the skill and integrity of the bearer or it becomes worthless.
I say this as somebody who has achieved CITP status. When I went through the process the level of detail I had to provide was actually quite high, and references were needed from other members of the BCS who were already of Chartered status (CITP or CEng) or higher. Had I not worked in the industry for so long, with such a varied wealth of experience from different roles, I am not sure I would have made the grade. That is absolutely how it should be.
The very fact that there are those within the BCS who cast doubts as to the validity of the CITP status inherently means that there are doubts as to that validity and it is therefore of far less value. This is a rapidly accelerating downward spiral which has important ramifications for the body.
Promotion of the Body and its role
There is no point having a professional body which underwrites the quality of practice in its industry if nobody is aware of it. For many years, working in IT, I dismissed the BCS as a group of fusty academics who were not in touch with the rapidly moving industry that I loved to be a part of. That the current BCS management have been striving to change that is to be applauded.
IT is an still immature industry. With such immaturity and rapid change there will inevitably be crises. It is the role of the BCS to wade into all these and advise, mediate and in some cases dictate in line with the levels of professionalism it seeks to underwrite in the industry. It cannot perform that role if nobody is aware of its existence.
At the same time, however, the BCS is, in reality, somewhat of a toothless tiger. We do not work in an industry where lack of professional qualifications is a barrier to practice. Perhaps that is wrong, perhaps no; there are very clear arguments to be made in favour of both views.
Sacrificed on the alter of our own success
IT as an industry has a problem. Some aspects of it, one can argue, fall into a similar professional services area to those of the legal and accounting professions. You would never hire an unqualified and unregulated accountant, so why should you use IT professional services that are not similarly regulated.
Many IT projects, particularly for large organisations and functions where lives are at stake, are held up as abject failures and stain the reputation of our industry. Would the threat of being cast out of the BCS and therefore being unable to continue to practice improve the level of conduct and professionalism of those involved in such projects? Who can say?
At the same time, however, ours is an area of extreme innovation at a pace so rapid as to be frightening. A prescriptive professional body might prevent such innovation (or at least force it outside the UK, which helps nobody). In areas such as the web, technology advances faster than any regulations could cope with, however responsive to change they might be.
That second situation demands a body more in line with the other engineering disciplines. They are looked upon to provide a guarantee of skill, knowledge, approach and practice to give confidence in those consuming the services of their practitioners.
Ultimately, the BCS has now reached a point where it does none of the above:
- There is no regulation of our industry, so the BCS is not an institution which safeguards quality of practice.
- The CITP has little value in the eyes of many because they perceive it to be to easy to achieve and too little scrutinised.
- If the CITP is to easy, what does that say for the CEng awarded by the BCS?
- What good is self promotion if it merely promotes your own inadequacies?
Where does this leave the BCS? I would seem to be approaching a bleak conclusion!
It is clear that careful examination of the issues driving the actions which have led to the EGM takes us down an existential rabbit-hole. Let us then zoom out and ask some simple questions which might help us (I am not going to answer them – you must answer them for yourself and let that guide your vote):
- Can we find information that tells us what the current management are doing, not just in broad strokes that outline a strategy but in more detail as to the implementation of that strategy?
If the answer is yes, then we have the transparency which those who have called the EGM have implied does not exist. If not, then the arguments of the dissenters have obvious validity.
- Are we comfortable with management that, faced with a situation which is uncomfortable for them (the EGM) wishes to change the constitution of the organisation to prevent the situation ever occurring again.
I think I have come to a conclusion during the course of writing this. What will happen after the vote? If the outcome does not meet my own convictions should I look to leave the BCS? If, as I appear to have concluded, I have low confidence in the CITP qualification I hold, should I remain a member of the body which awarded it?
Oddly, my opinion on this is clear. Yes. The pain within the BCS reflects the pain within the IT industry. That there should be a professional body within IT is clear. That the BCS is currently the only game in town is also clear. We should therefore continue to strive to make the BCS what it must be – the guarantor of quality and trust within the industry.
You can only affect change from within.