The BCS in the community

Alan Pollard Alan Pollard, BCS President

Each year, the BCS continues its growth as a successful business. But in order to fulfil the laws and rules governing its charitable status, the BCS has to demonstrate that it adds real value to the community at large. For the theme of his presidential year, Alan Pollard takes his lead from the BCS Royal Charter and returns to the Society's charitable objectives: to advance knowledge and education for the benefit of the public.

It is customary for each new BCS President to champion a particular theme during the course of their year of office. Looking back over the past three years, past President Charles Hughes (2006) did such magnificent work laying the foundations for our professionalism programme which continues to go from strength to strength. During our 50th Jubilee year in 2007, past President Nigel Shadbolt focused on public engagement and did so much to raise the profile of our society and our channels of influence. Rachel Burnett, our President in 2008 extended the theme of engagement to our own community of Members and set the tone for sharing in our successes and promoting our interests.

For my year I am returning to our charitable objectives. The BCS is a not-for-profit charity with very strict guidelines set out for the conduct of its business. It is a common misconception that being a not-for profit organisation means you must not make a profit. This is not so. During the course of discharging your responsibility for maintaining a healthy and going concern, generating a surplus is perfectly permissible, provided you can show that any such surplus is applied to the achievement and fulfilment of the organisation's charitable objectives and not for individual or corporate benefit.

Thanks to a first class chief executive and management team the BCS is a very successful business that continues to outperform year on year. To satisfy the requirement of the laws and rules governing our charitable status, however, we have to demonstrate that the BCS adds real value not to itself but to society in general. In the formal words of the Charity Commission we have to exist for and deliver 'public good'.

So how does and can the BCS do this? It's worth restating what our charitable objectives are as spelt out in our Royal Charter.

'The objects for which the Society is hereby constituted shall be to promote the study and practice of Computing and to advance knowledge and education therein for the benefit of the public. In this Our Charter and the Bye-laws the expressions "Computing" shall include matters concerned with the furtherance of computer science and technology and the design and development of computing systems and applications; and "computer" shall include any form of computing system. Provided that, in pursuing these objects, insofar as they may be similar to those of existing organisations, the Society shall use its best endeavours to co-operate with them and to ensure that its activities are complementary to those of such organisations.'

The key phrases are 'to advance knowledge and education' and 'for the benefit of the public'. The BCS has an exciting challenge. Never before has so much knowledge and learning been within reach of us all; nor have we ever had the ability to communicate and form communities in the ways that new web technology now makes possible. Some crucial issues arise because of this.

First we must use our technical and social skills to ensure that 'within reach' does not actually mean just out of reach. As daily living becomes more and more enabled by and dependent on technology we must not forget those parts of society who, for whatever reasons, cannot take full advantage of that access to knowledge and information. We must do our bit towards the elimination of 'digital poverty' so that lack of access is not added to lack of food, work and home as the characterising evils of an underprivileged society.

Second, we have a professional role to play in the development of the tools and technologies for global knowledge sharing and helping to ensure that information is gathered, stored and used in ordered, secure, ethical, beneficial and trustworthy ways.

Third we must engage with the communities around us and help them to use, trust and benefit from ICT.

Accordingly, the theme for my year is the BCS in the community. There is so much that BCS members have to offer, whether as individuals, in groups or as a trusted Learned Society in our own right. Already this year we have been putting together plans to develop a register of volunteers - BCS members who are willing to give some of their time and skills to help others. We will be launching this soon.

I intend to set a president's challenge to see which individual or group can devise and successfully implement an initiative that demonstrates the BCS charitable objectives in practice in the community.

The BCS will continue to work with other organisations in the charity sector so that our pooled abilities can be put to maximum public benefit.

With our well-established forums and strategic panels we are rapidly becoming a natural first choice for informed, professional guidance and advice on a wide range of public and private sector programmes and challenges. Behind the scenes, the BCS regularly contributes on the key issues of the day and is earning itself a first class reputation as a provider of independent, trusted support.

Our specialist groups cover a wide range of interests and expertise from formal programming methods to the use of computers in the arts, from artificial intelligence to information security, from the history of computing to the challenges of the technology of tomorrow.They serve both as a valuable recruiting resource for new BCS members and as yet another capability for extending our skills and knowledge into the communities around us.

The coming year will see a renewed focus on bringing professionalism to IT - with the BCS taking a world class lead in setting the standards and raising the profile of the profession. With our partner institutions, and working closely with the industry and major corporate businesses, we aim to make 2009 the year in which the demand for professional IT qualifications in every sector really brings about a step change not just in the career prospects for our members but in the fortunes and future success of businesses enabled by technology.