Opinion: Is BCS priority the business or its members?

Is the BCS, the chartered institute of IT, a charitable business that has as one of its income streams a membership base that pays an annual fee, or is it a group of professional members who join together to fulfil charitable and professional aims, with a business wing to generate income to fulfil those aims?

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By IT consultant Len Keighley, who has been a member of the BCS chartered institute for IT for 30 years. He stepped down as trustee of the BCS in February to press for an emergency general meeting (EGM) to debate the organisation's future.

Is the BCS, the chartered institute of IT, a charitable business that has as one of its income streams a membership base that pays an annual fee, or is it a group of professional members who join together to fulfil charitable and professional aims, with a business wing to generate income to fulfil those aims?

It is this question, and my belief that it is the latter I want the society to be but the former in which the BCS seems to be heading, which has led me to start to push for an EGM of the membership to consider a vote of no confidence in the current trustee board and chief executive.

Over recent years, and more obviously over recent months, I have felt that there is a move away from the society I joined around 30 years ago to a form that is less focused on membership and more on income generation. While I would in no way want to remove the latter, it is the relative importance of these aspects that causes me concern.

I see the society much more as a group of members that, by the use of a business function, fulfils the objectives of its Royal Charter, than as a business that fulfils that role with membership as one of its income streams.

Another way of looking at this issue is as a question of who runs the society - the business or the membership? While at face value it would appear to be the membership, increasingly we see the business playing the lead role in the society's relationship with the media and other businesses, and the focus of the business being on selling product, not membership.

A number of the changes brought about by the recent transformation process within the BCS do not seem to have been discussed widely and it is for this reason that the third of my motions is to suspend further transformation work until we establish where and how the allotted funds are to be deployed, and this has been fully considered by the membership and accepted.

I liken the changes in the BCS to the changes undertaken by the AA when it converted from being a members' motoring organisation to that of a business providing motoring services. I voted against that and mourn the loss of the members' AA. Indeed recent events highlight this change, as it was reported this weekend that the AA is going to provide repair services for heating boilers. Not something I could see a members' organisation doing.

My relationship with the society over the past 25 of my 30 years' involvement has been one of an active volunteer member. If that relationship is now to change to one where it is only my membership fee in which the interest lies, my input to the society must change to reflect that. While I may still remain a member, the time I give freely to the society will be reduced. However, until I have explored every avenue to change the direction of the society to one more attuned to my beliefs, I will continue to push against the direction the society is taking. The motions for the EGM are tools to try to effect that change.

I would very much welcome your thoughts, whether they be for or against. Please feel free to contact me.

This was last published in March 2010

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