David Clark is chief executive of the British Computer Society, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year but still having to make a major push to recruit new members worldwide.
Q. You have been making a big effort to raise the BCS’s profile and ensure it remains relevant now it has reached its 50th year. How has that been going?
A. There is always more to do, but we have over 60,000 members worldwide now and are adding 1,200 new members every month. So it’s moving well but obviously we would like it to move even quicker.
Q. The BCS has also been working to raise the level of professionalism in the industry. Why do you think that is so important?
A. Whenever something goes wrong in a company, you often hear it being blamed on IT. IT doesn’t deliver what people want: that is often the perception, even though most of the time it is not the technology but the way that it has been managed and deployed. But we believe that IT has to be a fundamental part of the business. When decisions are made as to how to change the business, IT has to be involved from the start, not only at the end.
Q. Various surveys have found that only in the order of 15% to 20% of IT departments say they have representation on the board. Does that speak to the challenges you are outlining?
A. Absolutely, that is a big problem, but I think it is an even bigger problem for businesses, because it means they have a really important piece missing because they don’t have the right knowledge around the table.
Q. But you think things are moving in the right direction?
A. I would like to think so, although probably not fast enough. I have spoken with people on a public accounts committee; a senior civil servant said that they would never dream of putting policy that has not gone through their legal and financial teams first, yet they would never dream of involving the IT people beforehand.
Q. So why is it so hard to increase the standing of the BCS?
A. In some professions it is a requirement of doing your job. In the IT world people become BCS Chartered IT Professionals because they choose to. So we need to win the hearts and minds of businesses. We need to more clearly make the case that it makes commercial sense. Microsoft has said that a true professional body is one where people are kicked out if they don’t meet the required standards, but they can’t have it both ways: they don’t insist on their employees being certified by the BCS, which means if we throw people out they don’t care so much either way.
Q. The BCS has been vocal in advising various UK government bodies on strategy. How well does that work?
A. It varies. But one of the things we are able to do is bring together customers of IT, vendors, and academics to help to guide strategy. For instance in the case of the NHS Connecting for Health project, while Richard Granger was often under attack, we’ve tried to be balanced. Speaking to our members who are clinicians, for example, we have said ‘this is what we believe should happen’, and the government agencies have tended to listen.
Q. And you bring together academics, too?
A. We have every major university IT academic as members, and one of the things we do is just that: bring them all together, which believe me is not easy. We have the Learned Society of the BCS which looks at what a computer science course is, what an IT course is, and so on. Are they meeting the needs of employers today and tomorrow?
Q. Not long ago you moved from a Grade II listed building into more modern offices in both London and Swindon. Is that all part of reminding everyone that although you have been around a while, you are still very relevant to IT professionals today?
A. Absolutely. We designed the offices ourselves to look how a modern BCS needs to look and to work.
Q. And how confident are you that the BCS has the brand, if you will, to maintain its stature in today’s environment?
A. Our membership keeps going up but in surveys only around 37% of respondents are familiar with the BCS. While no one else gets more that 2%, I think that 37% is still no where near enough.
Q. So do you plan another push for recognition and membership?
A. We’re looking at another major push in the New Year. The Communication Managers Association is voting on joining the BCS and we are looking at other combinations that pull in more people from the IT industry.
The BCS, a registered charity, certifies IT practitioners as Chartered IT Professionals, a qualification recognized worldwide. More information can be found at www.bcs.org.