Until this week I must admit it had been a while since I had thought much about the British Computer Society, or BCS, The Chartered Institute For IT, to use its modern, slightly unwieldy name. My dim impression or prejudice was that it was a rather dated and faded group with membership largely focused on the short-sleeved shirt and pens-in-chest-pocket demographic of IT drones of a certain age. On the other hand I knew that BCS CEO David Clarke (once of DEC and Compaq) had grown BCS membership and that there was a will to refresh perceptions. Was the BCS relevant to CIOs? I really didn't know, so earlier this week I sat down with Elizabeth Sparrow, appointed as BCS president in November, in the group's Covent Garden, London HQ.
Sparrow says she "recognises the image but the BCS has moved on enormously. We're aiming to be a world-class organisation. We want to enable the information society; that's what we're about at the core of our being. We have a lofty, visionary aim as to what information and technology can achieve and we're working at that at a strategic high level as well as at the practitioner level."
For CIOs, the news is that the BCS is pushing to achieve that noble (if ancient) aim: bringing professionalism to IT through a rethink of the CITP qualification.
"We really want CITP to be a qualification employers demand when they're recruiting so we asked a heap of CIOs and formed a group with some leading government people and they told us what they were looking for. The new CITP programme tests a very wide knowledge of IT based on a personal interview and is only valid for five years. CIOs said 'it's no good telling me someone got a qualification 10 or 15 years ago'. So the new CITP is going to be more demanding and current."
We'll see. One positive sign for the BCS is that average age of members is falling and is now pegged at 35. I still wonder about the overall relevance of a catch-all qualification in an IT world that is hugely fragmented but professionalism qualifications could well have value if they are policed.
CIO will publish the full interview with Elizabeth Sparrow next week.