It’s been a tough year.

At ACS, that difficult twelve months began months before the pandemic when an attempt at moving the organisation to a company limited by guarantee was voided following a successful Federal Court challenge.

Since then, ACS has undergone a series of major changes including the election of a new president, Dr Ian Oppermann, the departure of long-term CEO, Andrew Johnson, and a vote of no confidence in the management committee which saw two of its members removed in a subsequent ballot.

Capping off what has been an unprecedented year was last week’s Annual General Meeting, held virtually, in which a majority of members voting online chose to abstain. They then got to pose questions to Dr Oppermann, ACS Treasurer Arnold Wong, and ACS CEO Rupert Grayston in an extended information session.

As Dr Oppermann openly admits, 2020 – for all the change it brought – did not quite go according to plan.

“Much of this year was supposed to be dedicated towards ACS to becoming a company limited by guarantee, expanding member value and driving transparency,” he told Information Age.

“That became quite derailed with other internal issues.”

Those internal issues risked going public as local tech news outlets picked up wind of ‘ACS turmoil’ which had apparently included the sending of cease and desist letters to critical media outlets and alleged misconduct from management.

With half of his term spent tackling difficult problems in a different year, Dr Oppermann wants to spend his final year as ACS president helping the organisation leverage its existing technical knowledge-base to become a more influential voice in Australia’s digital future and the ICT profession.

The word he used frequently was ‘credible’.

“If we have a conversation with any stakeholders it should be natural to hear people to say ‘and this is how we see ourselves working with ACS’,” Dr Oppermann told Information Age.

“We need to be seen as a trusted, reliable, technically competent organisation who would be included in the conversation.

“So if there’s a national summit on smart cities, or data sharing, or blockchain, or in cybersecurity, it should be natural to include ACS. That’s really what I mean by 'credible'.”

Dr Oppermann has a close professional interest in continuing to build ACS’ credibility, especially when it comes to smart cities, artificial intelligence, and data sharing.

He has already helped lead the creation of a world-first data sharing framework that will enable the movement of personal data while mitigating privacy risks and the threats of re-identification.

As the NSW Chief Data Scientist, Dr Oppermann helped create the data sharing framework for NSW Health and the NSW Data Analytics Centre (DAC) to publish daily data about COVID-19 cases from very early on in the pandemic.

That personal and professional interest is the kind of value Dr Oppermann thinks ACS can provide people – though he admits the organisation hasn’t necessarily got a well-defined value proposition for why ICT professionals should join.

“If you’re someone who wants to participate in the national conversation at an important level, you either spend your entire life working your way through to get to the point where you are part of that trusted inner circle, you join an organisation which has already done some of that leg-work for you,” Dr Oppermann said.

“So far there have been a range of topics that the government, at Commonwealth and state levels, have reached out to the ACS seeking input on problems.

“The ability to be contribute to something like that and have it be taken seriously is pretty powerful.”

ACS CEO Rupert Grayston has a different perspective. Having spent years as a senior executive and chief executive of Engineers Australia, he views ACS through a similar lens and thinks ACS membership will one day become a necessity for becoming an ICT professional.

“First of all, people need to believe in the brand and believe that this gives them a little credibility – that it’s something nice to have on your email signature or business card,” Grayston told Information Age.

“You might also want to feel that an ACS membership is increasingly valued to some employers and peers.”

Grayston compared ACS to other professional bodies like Engineers Australia, Law Societies, and the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD).

He said that over time, membership and certification with these organisations has become expected and show employers, clients and peers that you are serious about your work.

“It makes sense in ICT that that should happen, but it’s not there yet,” he said.

“We want to be at the same stage Engineers got to where graduates were speaking with potential employers and asking questions about graduate programs and professional certification.

“Once it became something graduates wanted, then employers want it as well and we can reach a certain tipping point.

“But that is going to take time and continued effort.”

This article was originally posted under the headline 'ACS moves towards credibility'. It was updated at 6pm on 8/12/20.