Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-170)



Dr Turner

  160. Have you never been asked to give advice on some of the more major computer involving projects where over the years the Government response has gone disastrously wrong?
  (Professor Hall) Not as a Society.
  (Mr Clarke) So far as I know I do not believe so.
  (Professor McDermid) I was going to say yes until your last qualifying point there actually.
  (Professor Hall) Not as a Society.
  (Mr Clarke) As individuals a number of us have. One of the other Vice Presidents has some involvement with the Office of Government Commerce in the programme the gateway reviews that they are putting in place. No, in general, the answer is we have not been asked to help those interesting challenges.

  161. Do you think the Government might have benefited in the past if it had?
  (Professor McDermid) Yes, absolutely.

Dr Iddon

  162. I would have thought your Society is fairly healthy. You say you are young and obviously you must be still growing but can I ask you how healthy you do feel and what are the main issues that you are wrestling with at the moment and what are your main concerns for the future?
  (Mr Clarke) I think we are in that position that you describe and certainly we want to continue to grow as a Society. We are growing. We want to make sure that we are relevant to our community and that is always a question of as the needs of our community and the people we are trying to serve changes we have to make sure we are at least up with that and in front of that. We have to make sure that we offer value in every sense to our members. We are constantly reviewing that so we can attract more people in the IT industry. We are not complacent about it either because a lot more people have come into this industry in the last five and ten years and if you take our market share, if you look at it in those terms, we have got a reducing market share of people who have come into this industry because so many more have come in and have joined us. We think there is a challenge there. We have to make sure we are absolutely relevant to this community and we offer them the things they want from us.
  (Professor Hall) I think the role of the learned societies is changing and evolving as we speak. I have just come back from a meeting of the ACM in New York which is our equivalent in America. They make most of their money out of publishing and their membership is going down all the time. People seek less needing to belong to them, they buy their publications, they are seen to be the top in the world in publications. We are very much a membership society and serving the community. Things like this, being a spokesbody for the community I think is one of the things which is very important as we move forward.

  163. When your council meets what are the big issues that you need to discuss to see into the future?
  (Mr Clarke) I think they are predominately around where we see the industry going. One of the things we need to do to be able to represent our potential and new members, particularly new members, one of the things we need to do to attract more people into our Society than we currently have, you do tend to get a relatively narrow spread of the IT industry into the organisation, we need to widen that. How do we serve that better? We have just invested a lot of money in taking all of our services on line because that is a vehicle that a lot of the new people coming into the industry use. So just making sure we are still relevant to the people we are trying to serve is the primary thing that the Council look at.

  164. Do you have a decentralised network in the regions?
  (Mr Clarke) Yes, we do.

Mr Heath

  165. I am just wondering: as the profession and the industry matures how are you going to avoid what happens in the other areas of splitting up into constituent parts as more people declare themselves specialists in one area or another and do not feel the need for an umbrella body?
  (Mr Clarke) We have a number of specialist groups already. I think in order to speak on a number of issues you have to represent the industry. It is not enough just to represent a specialist group. You need the expertise at the specialist level but you need to be able to speak on a wider basis in order for people to take what you are saying seriously. I think our members believe we need to be both of those. Certainly we do believe—the people running the Society—we have to have both specialist focus, real in-depth knowledge on specific issues, but also be able to represent the whole industry when that is the right thing.
  (Professor Hall) Your question highlights the point also of the tension between the subject growing and people splitting off and the need to do inter-disciplinary work.

  166. Yes.
  (Professor Hall) It is a huge tension. It is a tension the RAE really militates against, and universities themselves are trying to overcome this. It is very difficult because you get immediately into three or four dimensional matrices. I believe that the Royal Society and the Royal Academy have a huge role to play in this in the inter-disciplinary nature of things because they should be set up for that. That is something I think they should really focus on whereas the learned societies which represent a particular community are going to have much more. We have to have a relationship with every other society if we are going to do that and they can organise it much easier.

Mr Dhanda

  167. Just very briefly. I would be interested to know, you talked about your relationship with the industry, what is your relationship like or indeed do you have any kind of relationship with the trade unions which represent people in the IT industry?
  (Mr Clarke) To be honest we do not. We have very little contact with the trade unions. It is really a member organisation.

  168. There will be a crossover amongst your members and their members and in terms of understanding the industry.
  (Mr Clarke) That is a very good point. I think it is something we ought to look at a lot more closely than we have done. We have not really looked at that too closely.
  (Professor Hall) Many of us are members.
  (Mr Clarke) Absolutely.

  169. I would be happy to make the introductions for you.
  (Mr Clarke) Thank you.


  170. I have to bring it to an end sadly. I know we would have liked to have asked many more questions and you might want to make more points but as I did indicate please write to us. Thank you very much for answering some of the questions we have asked you and also telling us of your ambitions. I think we are much more knowledgeable about the Society now and hopefully you will be in contact with this Committee again if there are other issues which come along. Thank you very much for taking the time out. I am sorry it has been so short.
  (Professor Hall) Thank you for the time.
  (Mr Clarke) Yes, thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you.


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