The British Computer Society (BCS) launched its new branding over the weekend and it is clearly setting an ambitious course.
The changes clearly run far deeper than just the corporate colour change from blue to green.
Firstly, it is obvious from the web site that it wants to fulfil a more global role rather than just one confined to the United Kingdom. It has conspicuously stopped calling itself The British Computer Society in favour of referring to itself simply as the BCS.
It has obviously seen the globalising trends within information technology and realised that the IT profession is not only rapidly starting to mature, but also rapidly becoming global itself. Many more practitioners are working on projects across the globe and there certainly needs to be some sort of international standard. The BCS clearly intends to provide that standard.
The BCS has also added the strap-line “The Chartered Institute for IT” to its logo, which makes it very clear that it is a chartered body on a par with other chartered bodies, such as accountancy and surveying.
This is certainly a very important move. I believe, as I recently blogged, that Chartered IT Professional (CITP) status is a qualification whose time is coming. The IT profession is maturing and many people realise that IT touches almost every aspect of modern life. People also now know that when IT professionals do not act professionally that their actions can actually harm society.
Our profession is growing up and we need to take on the responsibilities that come with that maturity.
The CITP assessment process itself has been revised with two further hurdles being added. Candidates must now sit a formal examination and undergo a mandatory interview and presentation.
The motivation is clearly not to deter candidates, but to make sure that the qualification is “aspirational and demanding to achieve”. The new BCS literature goes further and says that the qualification should “show that holders understand the business they are working in and add value through the use of technology” and that CITP status should “tell employers something about the holder that they cannot find out easily for themselves.”
There have been a number of voices calling for some form of “practice certificate” for IT professionals to show that they are competent and up-to-date; and the BCS seems to have recognised this with the new Certificate of Current Competence, which Chartered IT Professionals will need to revalidate every five years.
I think this move may well put various manufacturer accreditations into context. They prove competence in a particular product from the manufacturer’s perspective, but they don’t necessarily show any understanding of business or a commitment to professional ethics.
People may be cynical about these changes. The rhetoric is certainly easily rehearsed, but I do believe that the BCS is determined to see this through. Also, I believe that there has been a recent ground swell from grass-root professionals in IT feed up with seeing poor work passed of as the product of “professionals”. At a number of lunches and other such events, I’ve noticed that whenever the “Professionalism in IT” agenda is raised that there are a number of ardent supporters who feel that this really needs to be moved forward. These changes are a vehicle for this and they deserve support.
Detractors of the BCS have often claimed that it is a rather irrelevant ivory tower that just appeals to academics. This may have once been true, but it has travelled an awfully long way since then. It now knows what it must strive to become and what it may lose if it doesn’t.
Indeed, the BCS is taking steps to right the imbalance that has long seen it portrayed as just a learned society reserved for academics and researchers. It genuinely seems to be embracing the requirements of its other important stakeholders (such as practitioners, government and the wider public).
However, I am pleased that it is not just throwing the baby out with the bath water and intends to remain a learned society with the formation of the BCS Academy of Computing. I think being learned is an important aspect to a professional body that wants to be at the heart of a profession that changes so rapidly that we joke about “internet years” being but just a few months.
The BCS has certainly taken a momentous step in the right direction this month, albeit the first step in many. I am particularly encouraged that the BCS itself recognises this. The new web site itself has a lot about the necessity for further change and transformation, going as far as to say: “BCS doesn't just need to be changed, but completely transformed.”
It is time for experienced IT practitioners to become chartered professionals and to shape the future of our profession.