Members demand emergency meeting over future of BCS

BCS, the chartered institute for IT, is facing a call for an emergency meeting to debate members' concerns about the future direction of the society.

BCS, the chartered institute for IT, is facing a call for an emergency meeting to debate members' concerns about the future direction of the society.

IT consultant Len Keighley, a former member of BCS's governing board of trustees, claims to have the backing of more than 50 members for a motion to call an emergency general meeting (EGM).

Keighley is seeking further support from members for the EGM, which he says would encourage BCS executives to discuss concerns about the direction of the organisation, which was formerly known as the British Computer Society.

BCS members explain why they are backing the EGM

Ian Thornton-Bayar, northern chair of the BCS Project and Programme Management Specialist Group, told Computer Weekly he was supporting the proposed motion for an emergency general meeting because he felt the BCS is pressing ahead with major structural changes without properly consulting its members.

"It is basically that the salaried staff have decided the BCS is becoming a profession - reforming the BCS. Well they haven't really talked to the members about this. That is where the problems lie," he said.

Another signatory, IT lecturer Walter Milner, a member of BCS Birmingham Branch for eight years, said he was concerned that BCS had lost some of its focus on its membership.

"The headquarters exist to facilitate the requirements of the members. In recent times, that situation has been switched around, so that the BCS has become a business, offering products and services to members, with the focus that any business needs to have, fund raising and minimising expenditure," he said.

David Norfolk, analyst at Bloor Research and a member of the BCS Configuration Management Specialist Group, who has also signed the motion, said BCS should be more open about the money it is putting into the transformation programme.

"I would like to see the existing powers that be regain an explicit mandate from the membership. And the money that is spent needs to be accounted for in a very public way, together with what we can achieve from it," he said.

"The emphasis on chartered status sounds like someone is trying to leverage the BCS as something more powerful, and something more institutional that it was before, which is a good thing, provided its done on behalf of the membership, not something done to the membership," he said.

John Mitchell, a member of the BCS Information Risk Management Audit Specialist Group, said he was concerned that BCS was behaving more like a business and had lost sight of its obligations under its royal charter.

"The BCS, under its royal charter, is there to promote an understanding of computing and to advance the knowledge of computing for the benefit of the public," he said.

He said that changes made by BCS, which have closed specialist IT groups to people interested in IT unless they become members of BCS, had damaged the work of the groups and their ability to reach out to other parts of society.

BCS, which has nearly 70,000 members in industry and academia, announced a £5m transformation programme in September to raise its profile and offer a wider range of qualifications, products and services.

But Keighley said in an e-mail circulated to BCS members that he and others are concerned that BCS has shifted its objectives from supporting its membership to that of a business that sells products, such as the chartered IT professional qualification.

Dramatic changes

BCS said in a statement to Computer Weekly that its transformation programme is necessary to meet dramatic changes in the IT industry and that it had consulted widely on the project.

"Trustees, council members and those holding positions across many of the institute's groups and boards have played a substantial role in the development and testing of the strategy behind this transformation and its implementation," it said.

"Detailed research was conducted into the direction the membership felt the institute should be going. This was followed by debate and discussion amongst trustees, BCS council, the wider membership and stakeholders."

The BCS said it had not yet received a copy of Keighley's motion and could not comment on its contents.

"We cannot comment on a hypothetical motion, and we cannot undermine our own governance structures by overreacting to discussions among members. However, we are always delighted to discuss our strategy and direction, and more than happy to discuss why the transformation programme is good news for members and the general public - and very much about engaging members more, not less," it said.

BCS president Elizabeth Sparrow and deputy president Bob Assirati asked Keighley to stand down as a member of BCS's governing board of trustees in February, after he circulated the motion to members of the society.

Vote of no confidence

His draft motion calls for the society to suspend work on its £5m transformation programme. It also seeks a vote of no confidence in BCS's board of trustees and the chief executive.

Under BCS rules members can call an emergency meeting if they submit a motion with at least 50 signatures from BCS professional members. Once a motion is submitted an emergency general meeting takes place within two months.

Keighley told Computer Weekly that he had raised more than 50 signatures, and he is seeking more before he submits it.

He explained his reasons for the motion in an e-mail sent out to other BCS members.

"Over recent months numerous changes and restructuring activities have been undertaken to such an extent that the membership of the society now seems to be secondary to the role of the 'business' of the society," the e-mail said.

"All of the changes and statements are being made and supported by a very small minority of senior volunteers and staff without proper and careful due process and consultation with the wider membership.

"All this has brought me to the point where I, together with other members to whom I have spoken, no longer agree with the direction of the society being taken by senior volunteers and staff. Although this has been brought by myself and other members to the attention of the senior volunteers and staff of the society, they seem to show little interest in listening."

Royal charter

Keighley has raised questions over whether BCS's transformation programme is compatible with its obligations under its royal charter and bylaws, which encourage members and other individuals concerned with computing to meet to further the interests of IT.

What BCS says its transformation programme has achieved

  • The chartered IT professional status has been updated to make it more useful to employers as a badge of competence.
  • BCS Academy of Computing aims to support computing in education and research
  • BCS staff organisation is restructuring to support transformation and to build income for the BCS.
  • A new members network

Keighley said he hoped the motion would lead to open dialogue between BCS and its members.

"Having gone through various mechanisms of trying to change that direction or at least discuss a change to that direction, the only thing is to try and wake them up," he said.

"We want the management of the society at a senior level and the members to come together for an open and frank debate."

BCS said the trustees of the institute "welcome all constructive debate on how best the institute can meet the objectives of its royal charter, to which the trustee board remains fully committed".

It added, "The institute is fundamentally a membership organisation, government by members, with volunteers and staff working in partnership. Members meeting together to share knowledge and support one another, developing their careers and learning about new methods and technologies remains an important part of the way the institute meets the charter objectives.

"However, the institute - members and staff alike - have a wider responsibility. The institute must face outward to society, enabling members to fulfil the expectations placed on a public profession."

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