If the computer industry is as mature as is so often claimed, then it must be asked why there are so many different bodies claiming to be 'the voice of computing in the UK'.
The following is intended as a guide to who is who in the computer industry. The list is by no means exhaustive: special interest groups are not included, nor are groups whose name makes it abundantly clear what they do, such as BASDA, the British Accounting Software Developers' Association. Also excluded are bodies such as the PCMCIA or IEEE, whose purpose is purely to set standards for others to work to.
BEST COMPUTER GROUP
One of the newer groups to be set up, the Best Practice Group, is a cross-industry selection of corporate vendors and user representatives. Formed with the co-operation of the Department of Trade and Industry, it aims to make complex IT installations as painless as possible and enable managers to understand and exploit the business benefits of information systems.
Its focus is squarely on the management issues surrounding implementation rather than on technology. These issues include relations between supplier and buyer and internal relations between sites where a new system is being installed.
The Best Practice Group will achieve its aims through a set of guidelines called the BuyIT guidelines. Due out this summer, they will reflect the collective experience of CEOs and board members. The guidelines will include advice on what to do to get the most out of information systems, plus an outline of the warning signs to look out for when something is likely to go wrong.
Member Peter Duschinsky, representing IT World consultants, says that the guidelines will represent 'a consensus between suppliers and purchasers of what represents good practice'. It is hoped that the resulting document will be useful not only to inexperienced and non-technical buyers, but also to vendors who will be able to hand it out to their prospective customers. The group is resolutely vendor-independent.
BRITISH COMPUTER SOCIETY (BCS)
The BCS has the reputation of being on the side of the 'boffins' while the Computing Services and Software Association is more representative of the industry in general. Although the distinction is more subtle than that, there is a grain of truth in it.
The BCS describes itself as the professional society for people in the computing industry and its members are individuals, never companies.
It was formed in 1957 as a chartered body and in 1990 became a chartered engineering institution. It now has 35,000 members and in 1984 took on responsibility for education, training and public awareness as part of the royal charter which it achieved in 1984. Like most of the other computer associations, it also concerns itself with the promotion of standards, quality and professionalism.
CCTA This is the government centre which works out the spec and approval for government systems. The name, CCTA, is an anachronism since it stands for Central Computing and Telecoms Agency and the organisation is no longer an agency. In April it will become an Executive Agency.
COMPUTING SOFTWARE AND SERVICES ASSOCIATION (CSSA)
If the BCS is the association of choice for an individual IT professional, the CSSA is the equivalent for organisations. A non-profit venture, it remains independent of any individual vendor and claims to represent 75 per cent of the industry by turnover. It has a code of conduct to which its 450-odd members must adhere and its focus is, as the name suggests, on software and services. Organisations wishing to join are vetted for their resources and financial stability.
The CSSA's stated objectives include becoming recognised as the single voice of the information industry by government, media and other groups - it is a member of the Best Practice Group, for example. It seeks to heighten awareness of its members' interests with the UK government and the European Union.
The association also aims to help recognition of the IT industry's needs through a series of campaigns and groups devoted to such matters as IT outsourcing, small businesses, banking and finance, and defence. It releases periodicals and reports on specific computing issues.
The CSSA also tries to pass its members business leads through links on its Web page, and aims to promote improved buyer relations and awareness of IT issues.
DEPARTMENT OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY
Although it is not a computing association, the DTI's has a commitment to IT which has recently sparked off the Information Society Initiative (ISI). The department has also provided the funding for the Best Practice Group and its BuyIT campaign. Its links with the computing associations are likely to grow even stronger as the ISI takes shape.
Similarly, it is worth noting the British Standards Institute (BSI), whose BSI DISC division relates specifically to IT. This is a statutory body rather than an industry organisation, but its findings and recommendations have a marked effect on the computer industry.
FACULTY OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, INSTITUTE OF CHARTERED ACCOUNTANTS IN ENGLAND AND WALES
A number of professional associations have sections devoted specifically to IT, and the Faculty of IT is one example. It publishes a newsletter distilling the issues it regards as relevant to IT in accounting, including news and comparative reviews. It also organises seminars which have covered subjects such as project pitfalls, the commercial use of the Internet, new accounting products and computerising a small business.
Members are offered discounts on these and similar events hosted by other bodies, as well as reduced rates on a number of industry newsletters, and even software and hardware products. They register in a 'directory of expertise' and can receive IT briefing documents on specific issues such as access control, audit automation and spreadsheet design. The faculty also offers one-off publications on specific areas of computing.
INSTITUTE OF DATA PROCESSING MANAGEMENT
A professional organisation set up along similar lines as the British Computing Society, the IDPM operates internationally and is more concerned with managerial IT issues than with high technology.
However, the Institute also has interests in purely technical matters and offers an education programme that is recognised as almost equivalent to degree level.
Most of the society's members are individuals although its constitution allows for corporate members as well. The Institute sits on numerous committees to represent the interests of its members.
NATIONAL COMPUTING CENTRE
The NCC is a user organisation and operates as if it were a standard user group without being attached to a specific vendor. Although it makes public statements and holds views on behalf of its membership, it does not define itself as a pressure group.
Chiefly it operates as an impartial information service. For an annual fee members can obtain advice on IT purchasing, and also join special interest groups dedicated to specific areas of computing; one recently formed group concentrated on computer security. The NCC also organises events and seminars.
PERSONAL COMPUTER ASSOCIATION
Carrying on from where the PCDMA (see below) left off, the Personal Computer Association has broadened its brief and grown rapidly. From an initial membership of seven companies, it now counts 60 organisations.
Director Keith Warburton explains that the PCDMA was too difficult to join because of its rigid criteria, hence the wider focus of the new organisation. Warburton adjusted the rules so that component suppliers and magazine publishers could become associate members and use PCDMA guidelines to offer some assurance to readers buying off the page .
The next stage was to relaunch the association with the new name and the wider brief of representing the industry itself externally - although any members selling PCs off the page must still adhere to the old PCDMA rules.
In its expanded role the PCA has been active in the Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) arena. It has also complained of what it regards as possible unfair practices from OEM vendors.
Following preferential pricing deals struck by Microsoft with Dell and Gateway 2000 over Office, the PCA took the case to the Office of Fair Trading which has referred it to Brussels. Warburton believes the PCA's role is to take up issues that would be difficult for a single company to take up on its own behalf.
PC DIRECT MARKETERS ASSOCIATION (PCDMA)
This is a group of direct resellers set up in 1992/3 following the spectacular demise of the old, pre-buyout MJN and Ti'Ko computers, which went under taking large amounts of users' money with them (not to be confused with the current MJN, owned by Time and perfectly respectable).
Considered at the time to clash with the Direct Marketers Association, the PCDMA failed to attract several major direct sellers, including Elonex and Dell, to its ranks, and was therefore hamstrung before it even started. The group was reformed as the Personal Computers Association (PCA) last year.
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