Group Chief Executive's report
16 December 2020
Dear BCS member
At the end of an extraordinary year when COVID-19 put every area of life under unprecedented pressure we can feel proud that BCS remained relevant to our sector and to society.
The professional body for IT has emerged not only as a provider of vital learning and skills in a radically changing economy, but as a leader on socio-economic issues where IT and IT professionals deserve a powerful voice.
Our core purpose of Making IT Good for Society proved forward-thinking and inspirational, as exemplified by BCS branches like Berkshire, which helped to advise people on online threats and by the nationwide learning support given to parents, teachers and children through our Computing at School (CAS) network. BCS member groups - from Chester and North Wales to Preston and District, from North London to Hereford and Worcester worked to support their communities alongside organisations like Age UK, making a real difference in closing the digital divide.
Technology was in the public eye like never before and BCS responded with insight and authority. Experts like Adam Leon Smith FBCS, of our Software Testing Specialist Group, spoke to national media on the technical challenges of track and trace; we commissioned YouGov polling on public attitudes to algorithms in the wake of the summer exams crisis; we harnessed the collective insights of our own membership as plans were being put together for the first contact tracing app, allowing us to counsel against use of a centralised data storage model.
BCS has also taken a lead role in helping the sector understand long-term challenges around diversity and inclusion, commissioning new analysis and promoting the voices of under-represented groups in IT, particularly those of black women.
Responding to the pandemic dominated the second half of our financial year. Our top priority was to do the right thing for our staff, our volunteers and our members in the knowledge that they would look after the best interests of the organisation. By the end of March 2020 all of our staff were working successfully from home, thanks to a huge effort, recent technology investments and clear support and guidance on new ways of working.
We relocated our Head Office during the year, opening the new HQ in Swindon in July. I pay tribute to all of our staff who showed resilience and true commitment to agile working to complete this project during the most difficult of times.
2020 also marked the second year of our three-year operational plan to transform BCS into an organisation fit for the future. It is pleasing to report that, despite the challenges the Group returned to profitability and achieved an overall financial surplus.
The diversity in our revenue streams also helped mitigate the impact with our Apprenticeship and Organisational membership businesses holding up well.
Learning and Development
Over 20,000 people have now started BCS Digital Apprenticeships broadening the pipeline of tech talent ready for the workforce and supporting the UK’s economic and social renewal, post COVID-19.
More than 69,000 exams (Prof Certs, Vocational, Knowledge Modules) have been delivered in the last year. A range of new certification offerings including AI, DevOps, Agile and Business Analysis have now been launched, along with RoleModelplus - our new skills audit platform.
The strong position L&D has created for us cannot be underestimated as it allows us to continue to reinvest in supporting our members and the future of the profession.
I’m proud to say we have 64 books currently in print and 75 ebooks published.
Membership continues to be a key focus and we prepared the ground for a re-energising of our membership proposition during 2020-21.
A comprehensive review of strategy was carried out by our new Membership Director Holly Porter, informed by an insight project to develop segments based on member needs and to size the potential growth opportunity in the market. During the year a CV review tool was launched as a member benefit, a new offer was developed to attract students to join BCS, and we introduced a teacher membership proposition. The vITalWorker campaign, championing the role of IT professionals, resulted in nearly 250 nominations, a great many from within the NHS.
After March, many community events were migrated online with very positive feedback and in many cases improved attendances - for example - the virtual insights and the webinar series. We have also invested further in new technology to allow improved virtual conference functionality during the coming year.
Some of our earliest actions after the pandemic began were to implement a fee-freeze and to offer the opportunity of a four-months-to-pay renewal window. That was the right action and complemented by new and adjusted campaigns for individual membership.
In January 2021, we are set to launch a significant recruitment campaign which positions BCS membership as the most credible route for career development and for evidencing a commitment to professionalism, industry leadership and ethics.
All of these measures give me confidence in our membership strategy, supported by the upward trends in membership numbers we saw in the first half of the year and which were inevitably pressured by the pandemic.
Our new PR strategy aimed at providing original data and analysis on issues where tech connects with society, included fresh research on the Contact Tracing app, on the banning of Huawei from the 5G network, on diversity gaps in the IT profession, on the use of algorithms to estimate exam grades and on the need to professionalise coding in scientific research. All of these studies were covered across the national and trade press as well as being shared with key policy makers, following a renewed programme of relationship management.
We enjoyed strengthening links with relevant government departments, particularly in relation to technical qualifications with Skills Minister Gillian Keegan writing exclusively for BCS’ IT Now magazine and giving the keynote speech at our Festival of Digital Skills. During the pandemic, we were part of a group involved in regular briefings with Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture and we continue to respond to a range of consultations, often with partners across the Chartered bodies.
We have just submitted our final response to the government’s National Data Strategy consultation; I am pleased that the published draft already reflects several long-term BCS recommendations including: integration of data skills across university courses; recognising work led by the Royal Statistical Society (where BCS is a partner) to professionalise data science; and ethical data use by public services.
The Society Board also launched a new award, The Society Medal, which recognises an outstanding contribution to making IT work for the benefit the public; I’m proud to say that that first recipient was Elizabeth Denham CBE, the UK’s Information Commissioner.
Our education activities continue to make a significant impact. Despite the significant challenges we met all of the performance criteria for year 2 of the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) contract. We have seen a significant increase in Computing at Schools (CAS) engagement - helping teachers with CPD during lockdown with 15,385 attendees across 608 meetings.
Our first CAS Showcase held online in July saw over 50 events with more than 7,000 bookings and 780 people attending. The CAS Autumn event went on to build on that success with an inspiring programme of speakers and webinars.
We continue to work in partnership with BT on the Barefoot Computing programme to support primary schools.
Actor and author David Walliams was the face of a summer campaign aiming to help parents find online resources for home education during the Coronavirus crisis, developed as part of this association.
We also won additional project funding from the Nuffield Foundation for placements in data science.
Health and social care
Dr Philip Scott, Chair of the BCS Health and Care Executive (HCE) has become an established thought leader in health informatics and its relationship with professionalism; webinars on Covid- accelerated digital transformation across the NHS were strongly attended and featured many senior figures across Health and Social Care.
BCS, supported by HSC, is currently working to sharpen and promote The Federation for Informatics Professionals’ (FEDIP) public role in professionalising the Digital Health discipline across the sector.
The first cohort of BCS Health and Care members have taken CHIME’s CHCIO, qualification in September, an examination when coupled with FEDIP, validates health and care leaders in CIO roles.
The shape of the year ahead is uncertain, but I am confident BCS is not over-exposed in any single area, that we have scanned the horizon and anticipated coming challenges and opportunities. These include Brexit, demand for digital skills in a transformed employment market and greater public expectation of professional standards, given the controversy of recent high-profile IT projects.
With our focus on harnessing the commitment and expertise of our membership, our increasing profile on major policy initiatives, and by promoting professionalism as part of our engagement with major businesses - I know we will remain a relevant and trusted voice.
Thank you for your enduring support.
Paul Fletcher FBCS
Group Chief Executive