ACS critic circulates more detailed membership numbers

4 February 2020

More numbers have been released about the Australian Computer Society’s decline in professional membership.

They have been publicly circulated by senior ACS memberMartin Lack. The ACS, which does not itself publish detailed membership figures, has not refuted Lack’s numbers after being given the opportunity to do so. Lack’s statistics are based on numbers he has gathered from his contacts at ACS state branches, which have regularly been given detailed breakdowns of membership statistics.

Lack circulated the numbers in a press release signed by him and senior industry figure Ashley Goldsworthy, who is the only person to have been both president and CEO of the ACS. Professor Goldsworthy has been a fierce critic of ACS’s recent direction.

“Traditional membership of ACS has fallen considerably since January 2015,” says Lack. “ACS has a number of different membership types. Traditional membership numbers have fallen 40% over the last five years, from 20,468 to 12,320.

“Professional Member numbers have fallen 45% over the last five years, from 8,155 to 4,756. There are also 5,346 Associate Members with less rigorous qualification requirements. Their numbers have declined 30% from 7,819 over the last five years.”

Lack has now done a detailed analysis by state. His numbers show that biggest absolute and percentage reduction in members is in NSW, where ACS is headquartered and which is epicentre of the Australian IT industry.

“The total number of Professional Members in NSW is down 55% compared to January 2015,” says Lack. “The number of MACS (full Members) in NSW fell by 67%. The ratio of Professional Member in NSW was the lowest in the country, at just 30% of the traditional grouping.”

Lack says the decline in professional membership has been largely disguised by the growth in international members, who have no voting rights. ACS publishes only the overall numbers.

“ACS has been assisting the Federal Government assess overseas IT people for decades. Now called the Overseas Skills Preparation Program (OSPP). In October 2017, ACS started providing free membership for one year to OSPP participants – all based outside of Australia. The number of OSPP members rose to a peak of 28,887 in December 2018 but has now fallen by 9% to 25,588. The data indicates that very few renew after their initial year.

“There are also 7,231 ‘Professional Year’ members – a scheme which commenced three years ago enabling international IT graduates from Australian universities to gain more ICT skills and so assist them to obtain a working visa. This is the only major category which is growing.

“The ACS Annual Report states ‘it is a professional association for those working in the field of information and communications technology’. The ACS’ ‘Digital Pulse 2019’ report (Chart 2.2) said there were more than 700.000 technology workers in Australia. This means less than 3% are members of ACS.”

iTWire asked ACS CEO Andrew Johnson about the declining numbers. His detailed response, published in yesterday’s article, essentially said that it was because membership requirements had become more stringent. He cited a range of activities that the ACS was undertaking to increase its profile as a professional society.

Many senior members of ACS took legal action last year against the organisation in the Federal Court of Australia, citing irregularities in the October 2019 vote to change the society’s structure. The group, led by Canberra academic and consultant Roger Clarke, has expressed serious concerns about the way ACS is being run. They cite the decline in professional membership and the increased reliance on accreditation of overseas IT workers as alarming signs of ACS’s move away from its original role as a professional society. ACS lost the case, with Justice Wigney ruling that the vote was invalid and directing the two parties to negotiate.

Roger Clarke’s group submitted an initial proposal to the court on 13 January. ACS submitted its proposal on 31 January. iTWire understands their now discussing the conditions applying to that process. Roger Clarke has told iTWire that things are moving “very slowly.” The judge directed that a case management hearing should be set down in February 2020 for consideration of further steps to be taken. Lack doubts that it will happen in that timeframe.

One consequence of the judgement, says Lack, is that ACS now has to operate under its existing rules. The Management Committee was so certain the restructure would occur that normal voting procedures were suspended. “Members were told in an email on 7 January that Branch Executive Committee elections would be reactivated in the second week of January. It is now February, and nothing has been formally announced,” says Lack.

“The National Management Committee presently has just five members as opposed to the normal eleven. There is no President and, under the rules, even if one was elected by Congress, their term in office would commence 1 January 2021. Will ACS have a President at all in 2020?

“We really want to sit down with the CEO and Management Committee to develop a win-win for all stakeholders.”

Many senior industry figures have contacted iTWire since the publication of yesterday’s article to express their concern about the organisation’s direction. Many are worried about the numbers and the reliance on income from international accreditation, but many are also concerned about the increased commercialisation of the organisation.

In September last year ACS acquired the Institute of Analytics Professionals of Australia (IAPA), the Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA), Digital + Technology Collective (D+ TC), and Data Governance Australia (DGA). It also acquired co-working company River City Labs.

Many traditional ACS members have expressed disquiet at what they see as increased commercialisation of the organisation. One former senior member of the ACS, Phil McCrea, told iTWire he had not renewed his membership because of all that has been going on.

“It’s not the restructure,” he said. “I am on the board of two non profits that operate well under a Company Limited by Guarantee. It was the apparently random purchase of industry associations that irritated me. Industry associations have an entirely different focus to professional membership associations. Especially an advertising company!”

McCrea it is a very well-known and respected figure in the industry was former head of the NSW government supercomputer agency AC3 (which has since been privatised).

We are witnessing a civil war at the top of the Australian computer industry. iTWire is maintaining a watching brief on developments and will report on further events as they unfold.