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Towards a global cyber institute – Part 1.
By Allan J. Sayle, President Allan Sayle Associates

“Today is not yesterday;
we ourselves change;
how can our Works and Thoughts,
if they are always to be the fittest,
continue always the same?
Change, indeed, is painful; yet ever needful;
and if Memory have its force and worth,
so also has Hope.”

Carlyle, Essays: Characteristics.

Download Article: Adobe Acrobat pdf (155kb)

What service must a professional institute provide?
What are professional bodies for?
A cyber institute is at hand – if you want one

Every important profession, and a lot of wannabees, eventually finds it has its own institute or society purporting to be the official “professional body” representing it, committed to its promotion, furtherance and so forth.

The truly great institutes, such as Britain’s Institute of Civil Engineers, formed in 1822, were efforts of prominent and acknowledged experts in that field for creating a forum in which fellow practitioners could meet and discuss issues of the day affecting their profession. Those institutes became fraternities, to a large degree, led by eminent people who had contributed to the body of knowledge of their profession.

They were forums for communicating – networking, in today’s parlance. The latest ideas, innovations, developments, projects and undertakings would be presented to the members. Theory and practice were readily available to them from their peers. Face-to-face meetings involving presentations, questions, debate (some of it fearsome, as was the case in the so-called “gauge wars”) were a primary method of communications for the members. Open discussion about contentious issues was encouraged and uncensored. And, though members might be diametrically opposed to each other on technical points of issue, they would put aside their differences and help each other.

A famous example is that in which Isambaard Kingdom Brunel sprang to the aid of Stephenson (his bitter opponent in the gauge war) when the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait had construction problems, and the equally swift assistance of Stephenson for Brunel when the latter was struggling to launch the Great Eastern, on the Thames River.

Communications evolve. In those olden days, the principle means were face-to-face assemblies, postal communications, periodic meetings, periodic publications. The speed at which members of those august bodies communicated was state-of-the-art. As the 19th century progressed, the telephone and the telecommunications age were born, enabling better and quicker exchange of knowledge and news.

For this, the world owes Scottish talent much: Alexander Graham Bell, an emigré Scot, for the ‘phone. The concept of the fax invented in Scotland’s highlands by a farmer and (a somewhat crude) television by John Logie Baird in Glasgow.

As commerce and business found, those developments enabled the institutes to expand their reach, to some extent but the core methods were periodic face-to-face meetings in local areas (branches or section meetings) and a periodic magazine containing articles and learned papers contributed by members and invited persons of note.

Towards a new model

The past business model for professional societies may have served well but its structure, organization and services received by members rested on available means of communications which are being supplanted by the internet and mobile computing and telecoms, which are radically different from those of bygone days.

In the past, the old societies resembled telephone exchanges. The movement’s body of knowledge, BOK, created by its practitioners and professionals, passed through them and was distributed to the members using newsprint and occasional conferences. Hard copy was the dominant means of disseminating the knowledge created by members. Headquarters people could determine what was and was not passed through, the timing of distribution, and so forth. They could also decide what would appear in print in the house magazines and “learned” journals. And, a sound HQ library was de rigeur for any such institution.

Regardless of communications’ developments, in “Quality” our BOK remains intact. Its repository is now digitally based. Though excellent hard copy texts from long-standing publishers, notably McGraw-Hill, still exist, these, too, are being superseded and, if the recent developments involving Google hold sway and copyright law is flouted, will become digitized in libraries.

America’s DARPA is generally credited for creating the internet, and Britain’s Tim Berners-Lee with conceiving the world wide web. Their net result (no pun intended) is a set of these effects: a dramatic increase in the number of people exercising their right to free speech and being heard; disintermediation; almost immediate dissemination and interchange of knowledge. Those are changing the business models of commerce and enterprise and they will change that of the quality movement. This article focuses on their possible effects on quality’s professional institutions.

Challenges of time

It is widely recognized that the world’s business is speeding up. Time being money is no longer merely a saying, its magnitude is being measured, and its use is being managed to a greater extent than was ever the case. Time is a competitive weapon. In train, the demands on business and professionals are growing. But not only because of the need to improve one’s use of time.

An accessible global knowledge base

Knowledge is expanding as ever more countries industrialize and enter the global economy. Education systems are increasing the capabilities and demands of their citizens who develop not only a thirst for more knowledge but the ability to create it, find innovative solutions to problems and make a contribution to its global storehouse. The internet is enabling those nations to acquire it from anywhere in the world, accelerating their development, sharpening their competitiveness and improving their economies.

Using these modern means of communication, coupled with airfreight and fast sea freight, resulting from the containerization revolution of the late 1960s, supply chains are spread around the world as never before. People in quality need to contribute to the assessment and management of the entire chains and individual suppliers within them. Whatever one might think of the merits of ISO 9000, to date, its appearance and that of globally organized registrars are the quality movement’s only response to that need. Quality’s “professional” bodies are behind the curve, remaining somewhat parochial in nature and outlook. For individuals working in the quality world, this will not do. And those individuals are those bodies’ paymasters.

They need something far better, and yet they need the same thing they always did. Members want pertinent news and information, tools they can use in their daily business, others’ solutions to problems: knowledge. And it is global not national knowledge that is required.


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