Leaving the BCS ELITE…

I’ve been on the the main committee of the BCS ELITE group for the past couple of years, but I just resigned my position.

I do like the BCS, I think they have a role in helping people map out a career in IT. I know a lot of people in the industry think the BCS is pointless and detached from reality, but I’ve loyally been a member since the 1980s even when it meant nothing to me, though in the past few years the management of the BCS has started focusing on helping people to build an IT career.

The BCS itself is more relevant than ever and after the recent drama of an emergency general meeting, where some members were questioning the agenda of the society, I think the society is now through the storm and ready to start making a real difference.

To those who don’t know anything of ELITE, it “is the UK lead forum for IT Directors and Senior Managers to exchange experiences, views and expectations on how information systems should be managed to achieve business objectives.”

In short, it’s a group for BCS members who are of IT director level or above – the senior management of the British IT industry. I was elected onto the committee with a mandate to offer a few modern ideas, get some new research published, and influence the events that ELITE runs… getting real industry leaders available for debate.

But things never really worked out like that – though I tried. ELITE is like a gentleman’s club for people who work in IT. Events are a success if they break even – rather than if they add to the body of management knowledge – and publications are torturously slow to materialise. In an era where companies need to be planning for every quarter and using modern-day communication systems to ensure rapid decision making, the ELITE culture of cigars in Pall Mall clubs grates somewhat… and how annoying is it to find a committee of IT experts who cannot use any scheduling tools (beyond mass emailing) to arrange meetings?

Take a look here at the forthcoming events organised by ELITE. Well, actually as you can see there are none. And even those that you can see arranged in the past hardly have any appeal for any CIO level management I have worked with. The last management level event that was organised was an audience with Michael Dell back in April 2009. That’s if I’m not including the dinners in Pall Mall clubs that are so important in setting the future strategy of the British IT industry.

Even then, does anyone really want to pay to listen to Dell anymore? Perhaps back in the mid-nineties yes, but what would a present-day CIO get from listening to former industry greats, apart from hearing some old war stories? When I once suggested getting Jimmy Wales to talk about Wikipedia, I had to explain to the committee who he actually is.

Or how about the management publications? You can see them here… A report from three years ago and a survey from five years ago. Cutting edge stuff…

Surely a group priding itself on independence and access to senior level IT managers should consider why it exists? Why should the group exist in the first place? If it is for producing independent research and comment, and offering high-level events and networking opportunities, then why not schedule some of those reports or events? It seems logical.

Instead, the meetings are dominated by a dogmatic adherence to committee politics that are reminiscent of ‘Wolfie’ Smith organising politics in Tooting. Some committees need structure and rules, but when the structure and process becomes the main topic of meetings then there is something seriously wrong. The events and publications timetable speak for themselves anyway.

I’m not detaching myself from the BCS in general. I’m still a member, and I’m cooking up some ideas with the head office in Swindon, for some work that should help promote the BCS and stimulate debate on IT careers in the future – I think the BCS does have a lot to offer. And I think the current management team have a clearer view than ever of what the BCS can achieve – there is a bright future ahead for the society.

It’s just a shame there is not more that the BCS offers to the thousands of senior IT executives in this country. There are already some people out there working with this community. The Computer Weekly CW500 club does a great job with monthly events always featuring a CIO speaker and regular publications, CIO Connect has a regular magazine and events… the IT management community is busy, but there must be room for the BCS to be doing something that addresses their needs to constantly be learning about their own industry.
Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field

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5 responses to “Leaving the BCS ELITE…

  1. Dear Mark

    I feel very disappointed having read your comments. Having missed the past 4 committee meetings, and all since I became chair, I wonder how relevant and up to date your opinion really is. By not being an active member you gave up your right for comment a long time ago, at least in my opinion.

    I wish you all the best.

    John Seglias
    Chair of the BCS Elite

  2. John,

    I didn’t show up for the past few meetings because the writing was clearly on the wall that ELITE would not change. I was hoping for a sign of improvement, but it has not happened, and now with several unfilled places on the committee it seems rather obvious that the group itself is not fit for purpose.

    If ELITE was making a contribution to the IT industry and creating value for the BCS then where is the evidence of that? Where are the events featuring C-level executives talking about their IT strategy, where are the research papers giving unbiased information? Where is the active engagement online with the IT community?

    If ELITE really was making a difference then I’d stay on board, but I’ve only got so many hours in the day, so my voluntary hours are going elsewhere.

    regards,
    Mark

  3. Hi Mark,

    I’m disappointed by your decision. We both know that the ELITE c’ttee has had its past problems, but with a new chair and some new blood it’s not the same committee you used to sit on, and having been unable to attend the last few meetings you haven’t seen it in its current form. I joined to try and make a difference, who knows whether I will have the time and energy to succeed, but the point about your leaving is that there’s no point in pissing in from the outside, as an innovator it would have been better if you’d stayed and participated, if we all run off it will never evolve and renew.

    FWIW we haven’t been too hung up about process since the elections, the new blood is trying to feel its way forward, BCS is co-operating well with admin support etc. and I think the group can make progress. As for the website, I’m not even sure that all the events get onto it, and some in planning are definitely not announced yet. It will be a while before we have a long forward calendar again.

    But the comparison with CW500 is interesting. I’ve been a member for several years, and until I moved abroad a very regular attendee, travelling down from Yorkshire to enjoy c. 8 – 9 events each year. CW500 is not flourishing; the loss of John Riley as editor, the move from Claridges to Lancaster Gate, and the interregnum before Brian took over have been disruptive and taken a heavy toll. I last attended for the excellent talk by John Suffolk earlier this year, I flew into the UK especially, and was very disappointed at the turnout for such an interesting speaker – in the “old days” he would have packed the hall.

    So whatever issues ELITE has to overcome, CW500 has its own to face in regaining its former glory. Of course CW500 now has Brian, Angelica and you actively promoting it, supported by commercial sponsors and RBI paying for the organisation needed to make it successful, so it ought to flourish. I hope so. I suspect there are some lessons there for ELITE.

    Eventually we all have to prioritise. I am feeling overcommitted with my charitable / pro-bono involvements, I can’t take any more on and I may have to thin out those I currently have, and I suspect it was the same for you.

    BTW, we seem to schedule our meetings using Doodle, and being overseas my participation is largely virtual using Skype, Webex etc., so I guess we’re creeping into the 21st century – certainly we’re nearer to the future than a goodly number of City IT departments 😉

    All the very best,

    Steve

  4. I can completely understand your position on this Mark – I have also found the ELITE group to be far from my expectations.

    I attended the Michael Dell event – and paid for this out of my own pocket. I have never attended such a sycophantic event, carefully scripted and a complete waste of time, it seemed that the committee was just in awe of Michael Dell irrespective of what he didn’t say beyond his Dell bio.

    This year I really wavered about the value my membership was going to give me, and probably like many members who increasingly see the BCS as being of closed (and London based) ranks, this will probably be my last.

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