The BCS is intensely relevant in a society where IT is integral to everyday life. Over one million people work in the UK IT sector and everyone gains from the ubiquity of computers: in healthcare, education, transport, defence, commerce, administration at local and government levels, and leisure. IT drives changes to the economy and business, influencing policy and regulation. The immense complexities of information management and information technology confront society with challenging issues, which the BCS and our members are best placed to address.
Our objectives stated in the BCS Royal Charter, are: 'to promote the study and practice of computing and to advance knowledge and education therein for the benefit of the public,' and we are one of the larger registered charities. This underscores our remit to benefit the public.
Our commitment to these objectives is shown by excellent progress in our drive for IT professionalism, and in maintaining and enhancing IT standards and qualifications at all levels, including the core competences of our chartered IT professional standard. We have a leading role as the learned society for IT. In our thought leadership programme we seek to engage with a wider community of influence and to share our findings. We provide informed opinion and expert advice, and work with Government and other organisations, from our authentic perspective of IT expertise.
My theme for my presidential year is strengthening relationships, both externally and internally. Continuing the theme of public engagement elaborated by Professor Nigel Shadbolt in his presidential year, the BCS is able to demonstrate convincingly that IT and computing do not merely concern remote concepts and ideas, but are about interesting, relevant and accessible topics that are of enormous practical use in how we live. We must do this persuasively, because IT needs the support of the community in order to flourish.
Two of the ways in which we engage externally to strengthen relationships are through our External Relations Board, which oversees the public engagement programme and the forums.
The External Relations Board sustains BCS as the recognised authoritative source of leadership in IT principles and practice. It monitors all arrangements for the external representation of BCS on behalf of the trustees. Its constituent audience includes - but is not limited to - IT professionals, employers, academia and other bodies concerned with IT practice. Its Government Relations Group has an important role in developing mutually beneficial relationships between BCS and government locally, nationally and internationally. It has been doing so specifically in areas such as education, identity systems, criminal justice and health.
Our forums each comprise a community of interests that is strategically important for the BCS and the IT profession. Each forum is led by its strategic panel whose members consist of influential and acknowledged professionals in their sector, who can speak authoritatively on behalf of the BCS, to ensure that the expertise and experience of IT professionals is respected, valued and taken into account, for the purpose of underpinning the outward-facing role of the BCS.
We are working with the press and other media, other professional associations and learned societies, research councils and charities, with the Government and with markets, which need our methodologies and capabilities, so as to increase our influence for public benefit. We collaborate and share best practice wherever possible.
The Ethics Forum links into our professionalism drive. The time has come for us to raise professional and public awareness of the importance of ethics in the research, development, deployment and implementation of today's IT systems. The ethical dimensions of computing must be clarified, in the knowledge that there are no easy solutions. The issues include moral responsibility and choice, standards of professional practice, codes of conduct, aspects of computer law, corporate behaviour and public policy. Ethics is an integral part of the education of students in traditional professions, such as medicine and law. IT and computing would be advantaged by a similar approach.
Our branches and specialist groups flourish as a result of our members' enthusiasm, dedication and effort. They provide networking opportunities, education and training, company visits, presentations, links with schools, universities and businesses. They offer an introduction to the BCS and an entry route for many IT professionals at early stages of their careers.
The BCS is closely concerned with the UK's valuable computing heritage. At Bletchley Park the Computer Conservation Society, one of our specialist groups, has done brilliant work in rebuilding two pioneering machines: Colossus - the first real electronic computer - and the British Turing Bombe, based on those that cracked 'unbreakable' Nazi Enigma code. BCS Trustees made a donation at the beginning of the year in order to preserve the full rebuild of Colossus as a national asset, and securing its long-term future.
One of our 50th anniversary projects, initiated by the BCSWomen Specialist Group, was to commemorate the contributions of women to the code-breaking work and pioneering computer developments at Bletchley Park in the Second World War. We are in a unique position to do more to promulgate the extraordinary history of the development of the IT industry, and the special role played in the UK and elsewhere by the remarkable innovators, creators and entrepreneurs who have advanced the profession and its practice.
Internally we have a structure of accountability for the many pursuits carried on by and on behalf of our members, through to Council - the BCS advisory body, and to the trustees - the BCS governing body. We want members to participate actively. The Electoral Review Working Group has been set up to review whether any improvements can be recommended to the electoral process for Council elections, and to the representation, skills and experience bases on Council. It is consulting widely.
Members rely heavily on the support of the staff at BCS headquarters who work hard and successfully in helping us to develop strategy and maintain our wide range of projects, activities and interests. We have a growing portfolio of useful products and services. We have a strong financial position and operating performance, with record revenues.
In its 50th year the BCS has earned the right to be proud of what it has achieved since its early pioneering days. As the leading industry body for IT professionals and a Chartered Engineering Institution for Information Technology, we can look forward confidently to building on our achievements, to pursuing professionalism and sustaining our work in public engagement.
My theme of strengthening relationships will focus on communicating our achievements, our advice and expertise, with each other and with the wider community.
Rachel Burnett is President of the BCS.