The Past, Present and Future of AICS

Transcript of a talk given after the Association's Silver Jubilee AGM on 11 November, 1997 by Alan Tootill
(Founder and Honorary Member of the Association)

The most interesting aspect of humanity to me is the way two ideas can come together to form a different, and hopefully better, idea. So I started with a perception of the AICS as a power-house for the inter-change of ideas. Also I have always been uncomfortable with being either an employer or an employee, so AICS had to have space for those who were neither.

When I started in computing, at the age of 40 in 1967, one had to begin as an employee because the equipment was so big and costly — one is thinking of upwards of a million pounds in today's money. The big advantage of this was being part of a group of like-minded workers, finding out new things and freely sharing our discoveries with each other.

Having gained enough expertise to start out on my own, I wanted to preserve the free sharing of discoveries, and that can only be done in association with others. I wrote to the weekly computer papers of the time to find people interested in joining the association I had in mind. When one puts out an invitation to all and sundry, one wonders what sort of people might respond. I needn't have worried. The response was small in number but great in quality.

We set up meetings in a pub in Leicester Square and then hired a meeting room at the Friends' Meeting House opposite Euston Station. We did get the odd 'body shopper' coming to see us, hoping to find a ready-made group of bodies to shop. There was also the man who proclaimed loudly, "I am a management consultant because that is where the money is. If there was more money to be made selling fish and chips, I would be selling fish and chips". He hadn't heard of Harry Ramsden! These people soon became conscious of being in the wrong place.

I was encouraged enough to make establishing the Association my first priority; to be the one present at every meeting and keeping in contact with all who came. I was able to do this because, at the time, I was mailing managers in industry and commerce, offering to guide them in mastering business computing, and could fix the times I went to see any prospects. When I later took programming and systems work to keep solvent, I insisted on having a day free in each week to pursue AICS and other interests.

The problem in AICS was getting everybody to meet on a regular basis. After about six months, all the rules and articles of association and first committee members were agreed and the November, 1972, meeting was scheduled to inaugurate the association. Two people turned up, myself and Alan Mayne, who I'm glad to see is also here to-night. Although we were so few in number, we knew the idea was right and took the decision to go ahead. I wrote to those who had said they would join and suggested a date for the first official meeting, to be effective only if enough people had confirmed to me that they would attend. They did. We now had members, paying a subscription, so we could say for certain who was in or out.

From the earliest days some people benefitted commercially from the meetings, though this is not what I had in mind. Micro-Focus is the outstanding example. Mr Reynolds (I've forgotten his first name) put out a notice for a partner to work with him on his newly acquired T1000 micro-computer system. Paul O'Grady responded. They became Intel-approved practitioners until their micro-COBOL compiler and development system (which soon became the market leader) was ready.

Occasionally others, when offered work they were too busy to undertake themselves, passed it on freely to other members. This was all rather haphazard and only touched those who were able to come to the meetings.

Members were soon pressing for the association to actively promote their interests in securing work of good quality. There was, even, at one time, strong pressure for the AICS to become a trading organisation and this had to be fiercely resisted. You cannot give due weight to promoting high ethical and professional standards where money is a major consideration — as any follower of Rugby Union will be aware. This group did eventually trade together, under its own name, as AICS members.

Marketing members' services was now added to inter-change of ideas, employer/employee independence, and the sharing of work- related discoveries, as aims of AICS.

The AICS Code of Practice was the foundation of our marketing efforts and I would like to pay tribute to all who bent their minds to this matter and participted in the discussions by which it was hammered out. The vetting of new applicants was also a necessary marketing tool, of considerable value to potential clients.

Some members put together a combined advertisement under the AICS Logo and there were early, and not very effective, attempts to stimulate and notify members of work offers.

After leading the association for three years (counting the time before its official inauguration) I thought it time to have fresh minds at the helm, gave up the Chair, and was made President. That would have been between April and June, 1975.

For family reasons, in December 1975, I had to go back into full-time employment and relinquished the Presidency which has not subsequently been revived. This provoked the front-page headline in Computer Weekly: "President Quits AICS" — as if there had been some major bust-up. I took the journalist concerned to lunch and he later came to one of our meetings at Leicester House.

So I can NOT be said to have been one of the most successful Independent Computer Specialists, though I did go on to do other things outside the scope of my thoughts on AICS.

I remained in touch with the association and at some stage was made an honorary member — a kindly gesture for which I am grateful. London meetings, at Leicester House and the National Liberal Club, were stimulating. Sometimes there were guests. The computer manager of AB Foods spoke of what he wanted from a contracted computer specialist. A leader of a co-operative explained their system. The outstanding social event, to my mind, was an evening river cruise on the Thames with families, and some clients, joining members in the drinking, dancing and sight-seeing.

That is the past, as I knew it. I stopped attending meetings when they petered out in London, some time prior to 1985. There were then Branch meetings for SouthEast Counties, the West Country, and Thames Valley and, later, the very active Chiltern Branch. There was also the incorporation of AICS as a Company Limited by Guarantee.

Meantime the coming of the micro-computer into popular business use has transformed the scope for independent computer specialists. You can, at last, have your own hardware.

I was tempted back to the AGM two years ago by the prospect of combining a visit to the motor show with the Cix demonstration here of the potential of a World-Wide Website.

When we were reminded in a recent newsletter to visit the AICS web site, I was thrilled by the prospects it opened up for computer specialists, although I now have no commercial involvement in computing. You can display the services you offer for everybody to see — if they know where to look. On, which uses the 'excite' search facility, a call for 'aics' will quickly give me your home page and a link to Infologistix, but I know there is an AICS to look for. If I search for 'computer services' I am offered just under half a million sites or, for 'C++', twelve-and-a-half thousand. That is the problem that has to be addressed.

That is for the present.

I see a future where all those reponsible for achieving results in a business are computer literate, control the development of their own systems, and are themselves on-line to them. This is all done without any in-house computer staff. They are familier with the AICS URL and call there for any specialist help or advice they need.

For the computer specialist, it is the immediacy of the Internet that appeals and I see a future where, on the closed user group, all members, have up-to-date news of:

Members will still give their time and talents to direct the AICS and maintain the present high standards of integrity and competence — though they might be so many that a full-time paid staff will also be needed.

And members will avail themselves of every opportunity to meet each other in person on occasions such as this.

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