Watershed moment for the ACS

Previous coverageHas the ACS lost the plot?Doctor to guide Australian Computer SocietyCan the Doctor save the day?
Written by Fran Foo, Contributor

Previous coverage
Has the ACS lost the plot?
Doctor to guide Australian Computer Society
Can the Doctor save the day?
Is the ACS irrelevant?

Q&A As the Australian Computer Society struggles to redefine itself, Edward Mandla, who has been in the hot seat for over two months, has been doing a fair bit of soul-searching.
The relevancy of the ACS has been questioned on several occasions and Mandla is aware of such criticism. But instead of living in denial, Mandla admits the Society suffers from a communications problem. He has vowed to right the wrongs.

An ACS member for nearly 20 years, he previously led the New South Wales chapter. After being appointed as national president in January, he realised that in order to re-invent itself, the Society had to look outside the box.

As previously reported by ZDNet Australia , Mandla's first task was to appoint Dr Kerryn Phelps, a seasoned media personality and the former high-profile president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), to join the ranks as a consultant on a six-month contract.

He makes no bones about his desire to be the voice of the ICT industry. Apart from being guided by Phelps on how to be more politically astute and media-savvy, he hopes to achieve three main objectives: be a one-stop-shop to members, attract non-ICT professionals, and establish strong policies.

Mandla spoke to ZDNet Australia  about the new-look ACS, its plans and upcoming policies.

Q: Do you think the ACS has become irrelevant? What are your initial observations since taking the helm on January 1, 2004?
A: I know there has been criticism about how irrelevant the ACS has become but we are working on a myriad of solutions to overcome this. I know that if we really want to be relevant, we have to have well-developed and well-thought out policies. We need to be respected. We need to be the reasoned voice for the ICT industry.

My perception is that the ACS are whingers -- always taking a negative perspective on things.

I also think the presidency should be a paid position. I think it should be a token amount of $50,000 per annum. Someone might give it to charity but I would give it to my company.

How are you changing the bad perception of the ACS?
We have a number of plans in place. We want to be the first port of call for our members, especially during hard times. We're certainly listening more to them. I've already sent letters to our members informing them that they will be polled regularly on ICT issues. So we want to reach out to our members better.

If a member is going through a divorce, ring the ACS.
I realise that we have a communications issue. The challenge is how to communicate all the good things that we do to our members. I don't think we've nailed that one yet but I'm trying to improve the situation. We have burnt some people badly in the past and I can only appeal to them to come back.

Your idea of being the first port of call -- is this in both a professional and personal capacity?
Yes. We want our members to think of us first if they're ever in trouble. If your boss is giving you problems at work or if a member is going through a divorce, they should ring the ACS. We've turned our back on members in the past because personal issues were not within our charter.

Is the ACS equipped to provide legal advice on marital issues? Is it even under your purview?
We'll be asking our members if this is something that they want but yes, we would like to be the first port of call professionally and personally.

You talk about expanding the membership base to attract non-ICT professionals. Can you explain the rationale behind that?
Firstly, we need to broaden the scope of the membership because information technology and communications have become ubiquitous.

Secondly, the ACS has established several working groups which ranges from computer literacy to open-source software. For instance, if I had a teacher as an ACS member, I could easily call upon his or her expertise in tackling the IT literacy problem. So we'd even like to open our membership to sales and marketing executives who work in the ICT field.

ACS membership should be divided into professional and interested streams. I passionately want to get our profession to a certain level so that ICT professionals are on par with lawyers, doctors, and accountants, amongst others.

Do you foresee a backlash from ICT professionals by opening the floodgates like this?
The AMA (Australian Medical Association) did it and see how successful it has become? It's about making the ACS more relevant in society -- anything to do with ICT ... the media and politicians should come to us first for comments and advice. That's how we want to be positioned and we've also hired a government lobbyist for that reason.

We need to become a household name. We aren't short on issues to tackle. For instance, camera phones as a surveillance tool has raised privacy issues among our members who have children ... and this is the "C" part of ICT.

I think the magic number to hit is 30,000 (members).

For many years the media has been told that ACS membership stood at "over 16,000". What is the exact figure?
15,000. But we successfully enrolled 400 students during the recent orientation week.

Last year, the ACS commissioned a study on the impact of outsourcing on the local industry to management consulting firm, Whitehorse. I understand the results have been held back pending amendments to the text. What exactly is being fine-tuned?
The study is about 120 pages. It's now with economic consulting firm Access Economics. People who have been displaced due to outsourcing are a special group -- mostly men in their 40s. We need to understand what the real return on investment is from outsourcing. We also need to understand issues such as the impact on GDP (gross domestic product) and taxes as a result of outsourcing.

We'll be releasing the findings of the study in June when federal parliament sits. It's a strategic move so it will have an impact in Canberra. We've also, for the first time, appointed a government lobbyist.

The OneACS project, which was proposed under their previous administration, was described as the "most significant structural review in the 36-year history of the ACS". The OneACS working party detailed the findings of the Shared Services Model to the ACS Council last May, saying there was strong support for the ACS to move from a federated model to a unitary model; administration should become a nationally provided function utilising shared services, and governance issues should be examined as part of the project. How is OneACS being implemented today?
A lot of money was spent on OneACS. I would have rather spent $50,000 on other areas. I think OneACS was misguided. It was about trimming finance. I cut $80,000 a year just by getting rid of the New South Wales ACS print publication but once you get governance into the picture, it's a whole different ball game. Shared services is alive and well but governance has taken a different tack.

To consolidate certain areas, we will be integrating finance, marketing and professional development.

We have burnt some people badly in the past and I can only appeal to them to come back.
When the 2003 ACS ICT Employment Survey was released, you said: "The response to recruitment agencies in the survey is deeply concerning. The data suggests that the ACS ought to build closer relationships with recruitment companies and consider branding, certifying, investing in, setting-up or acquiring a recruitment company. You run a head-hunting firm called Alt-U. Do you see any conflict of interest?
No, there's no conflict of interest. Part of my business is executive head-hunting. We help executives ascertain if they have the right skill sets for a particular job. Most of my customers are vendors and not end-users.

I think the ACS is in a good position -- probably better than the government -- to look into immigration and visa issues. I want to meet the heads of recruitment companies to understand what they're doing for ICT workers because I don't think they're doing enough. When our members ask us which recruitment firm to recommend, it's difficult. The first problem is most of the jobs online are fake and secondly, the way job categories are mapped out on job Web sites is an endemic problem.

I do like the idea of certifying recruitment companies and we are looking at more business opportunities for the ACS.

I'm working on a program called Corporate Recognition Program with companies who are encouraged to publish that ACS members are favoured in their job advertisements. Deutsche Bank is already on-board.

Your term lasts for two years? Is that enough? What do you hope to achieve?
We'd need to amend the constitution to move it from two to four years. I would be very happy if I could leave a legacy of strong policymaking and working groups.

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