Making policy a priority

commentary How can the ACS improve its sphere of influence on IT issues in Australia?It's often stated that when it comes to the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, the only constant is change.
Written by Edward Mandla, Contributor

commentary How can the ACS improve its sphere of influence on IT issues in Australia?

It's often stated that when it comes to the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, the only constant is change. This is true not only of the technology itself -- with new developments occurring almost every day -- but also in relation to the various social and environmental factors impacting on ICT professionals.

As the professional society for those working in ICT, the ACS faces the challenge of staying abreast of these issues, and how our members feel about them, while presenting those views to industry, government, and the wider community.

This is a role we have always played to a greater or lesser extent; however, in 2004 it has assumed far greater prominence.

Recognising the way in which technology increasingly pervades all aspects of business, government, and community life, the ACS has resolved to commit a substantially greater portion of its resources to developing and promoting policies on key technology issues.

There's no shortage of issues needing our attention. We're currently being approached for our perspective on topics as diverse as open source, free trade, offshoring, computer literacy, ethical computing, and cameras in mobile phones, to name just a few.

While it would be easy to make reactive statements in response to these requests, the ACS believes it has a responsibility to develop considered positions that are defensible and accurately reflect the views of our members.

To this end, I have initiated regular online polls to allow members to articulate their views and drive the direction of ACS policy. Already, these polls have enabled us to make informed decisions about potential new services, as well as identifying those issues of greatest concern to ICT professionals.

In these areas, we have established specific working groups -- small, highly focused teams of eminent industry representatives who debate the issue in the context of our changing ICT landscape and create a policy document for the ACS to endorse and take to government.

So far, we're making solid progress. We have brought together the most prominent players in the Australian open source community to form a policy development group on open source software. In relation to offshoring, we have attracted key industry stakeholders to join ACS representatives and others in developing an informed position. Offshoring has polarised views right across the ICT sector and business community and demands a considered ACS response. We are also driving policy development groups in the areas of Internet/spam, cameras in mobile phones and ICT work/life issues.

In each case, the working groups are being mentored by Professor Kerryn Phelps, who has been retained by the ACS to help maximise the effectiveness of this work. Professor Phelps' experience, gained during her highly successful and influential term as President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), is enabling her to make a valuable contribution to the Society's policy and lobbying initiatives.

As part of our renewed focus in this area, we have also expanded our public relations resources and established a relationship with a knowledgeable and respected political lobbyist based in Canberra, who will be able to guide and direct our voice in the nation's capital.

I believe ICT professionals are inherently forward thinking -- it's an integral element of what we do to plan ahead and to consider the implications of the various technologies we implement. As such, I believe we have a duty to contribute to public debate on a wide range of issues relating to the application of technology.

We welcome input from both members and non-members about our stance, as we seek to grow the ACS into a more relevant and influential organisation that is the first port of call for comment on ICT issues.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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Edward Mandla is National President of the Australian Computer Society (ACS). The ACS attracts a membership (of 15,000) from all levels of the IT industry and provides a wide range of services. The Society can be contacted on 02 9299 3666, or email info@acs.org.au.

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