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Computer Society Connection

Pages: pp. 82-87


Within the computing field, the IEEE Computer Society has established a reputation for excellence. As a component of the IEEE, the Computer Society's activities parallel those of 41 other societies and councils serving the engineering and computing disciplines. Representing by far the largest IEEE society contingent, the Computer Society has 87,452 members, approximately 64 percent of whom are full IEEE members.

Recognizing the influence and control the IEEE wields over our Society and in turn the power of Society members' votes to influence the IEEE leadership, we posed five questions to this year's candidates for IEEE president-elect. Because this election determines who will serve as president-elect in 2005, president in 2006, and past president in 2007—vital positions within the IEEE's governing body—our members must cast informed votes.

Our volunteer leaders have identified the following questions as essential to the Society, the IEEE, and the Society's relationship with the IEEE. The first response to each question states the Computer Society position. These positions synthesize the views of our most senior leadership: the Society's current, past, and incoming presidents.

We present these questions and answers (limited to 150 words each) to help you make your decision in the IEEE election, which closes 1 November. We also remind and encourage you to cast your vote for Computer Society leaders by 6 October in our Society election.

Gerald L. Engel, IEEE Computer Society President-Elect


IEEE leadership has recently made statements regarding the importance of welcoming individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines into the organization. In the Computer Society, this has been our strategy for several decades. The membership report at the recent IEEE Board of Directors meeting and the proposed follow-up project focused on electrical engineers and other traditional engineers. Even helping mechanical engineers was mentioned. However, in the entire presentation, computing fields were never mentioned.

What do you believe is the appropriate role of fields like software engineering, information technology, and bioinformatics in the IEEE, and how would you as president see that that role is achieved?

Computer Society Position

For the computing fields to succeed within the IEEE, they must be considered an integral part of the organization, and this must be from the standpoint of what these disciplines are. Statements such as "electrical engineering is broad enough to include field X" or "we will have to modify the requirement for senior members and fellows to include field X" are simply not acceptable.

Those of us who are in these fields would like to see a future in the IEEE in which we are welcomed for what we are and in which the quality of our work will be appropriately judged for what it is. To assist in the process of welcoming new disciplines to the IEEE, the proven tool of affiliates must be used, and similar techniques should be evaluated.

Michael R. Lightner

Computing and related fields are among the key integrating elements across the IEEE. These elements include hardware and software engineering, information technology, distributed and grid-based systems, high-performance computing, human-computer interaction, bioinformatics, quantum computing, and molecular computing.

I support the identification and representation of the integrating elements of IEEE disciplines, with computing as one such key area. These elements must have in place appropriate organizations, programs, products, and services, and they must be broadly visible in the IEEE and throughout the world.

My call for a lower membership fee with a choice of services will help the IEEE compete with the ACM and other organizations that focus on computing professionals. I favor an inclusive definition of a computing professional and the admission of this broad group to the IEEE.

Levent Onural

I firmly believe that the IEEE is the right organization to embrace the fields referred to in this question. Because I feel that they are essentially included in the "core" of the IEEE, the listed fields should not even be considered as "allied branches."

If those who are working in these fields do not consider the IEEE to be their home, we in the IEEE should work hard to change that image. In addition, we must ensure that the IEEE is the leading society in these fields. However, this vision is totally independent of the motives behind some attempts to increase the number of members in the IEEE. I am not in favor of indiscriminately allowing people to join the IEEE just to increase the membership numbers. We should keep the member qualifications—education, professional activities, and so on—in place to ensure that the IEEE maintains it prestigious status.

James M. Tien

Clearly, the IEEE must embrace the computing fields, including computer engineering, computer science, software engineering, information technology, and informatics.

While not making excuses for the BoD report, I believe that it was just assumed that computing is a part of the IEEE. Indeed, I have assumed it, having graduated from departments with names like "Electrical Engineering and Computer Science" and "Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering." Moreover, when I joined the IEEE in 1974, I immediately became a member of the IEEE Computer Society and, over time, three other societies.

This fall, the IEEE membership will vote on a constitutional amendment that would include computer engineering, as well as computer science, in our scope of interests. While I pushed for this change, I am of the opinion that the world has long recognized that computing is a part—indeed, a large part—of the IEEE.


Peter Drucker identifies "responsibility" and "accomplishment" as the keys to motivating volunteers. Robert Putnam indicates that social capital—a key benefit of collaborative work—is based on "trust" and "reciprocity." These in turn encourage participation and open the doors for new initiatives. What specific steps can the IEEE take to increase these essential aspects of the organization?

Computer Society Position

The desire to make the volunteer experience both rewarding and enjoyable has been the hallmark of the Computer Society over the years. The Society has indeed recognized that volunteers are our most important asset. Unfortunately, budget and other restrictions imposed on the Society have made proper appreciation of our volunteers increasingly difficult.

We look forward to future opportunities to bring us back to the time when volunteer participation was highly valued. We sincerely hope the IEEE volunteer and staff leadership will recognize that the appropriate care of volunteers is one of their most important responsibilities.

Michael R. Lightner

We must acknowledge accomplishments of our long-term volunteers with a new category of membership, the Distinguished Member, which would be based on significant and continuing contributions to the IEEE. Next, we need to develop a clear set of activities, responsibilities, and resources that are available for volunteers in different parts of the organization.

Today, society intellectual property accounts for 50 percent of IEEE revenue. However, societies have no real mechanism to use these financial resources to innovate. This must change.

Our biggest impediment is letting an ultimate goal of providing scalable products and services get in the way of innovative experiments. We must be willing to spend money on projects that empower trusted volunteers to experiment and then provide resources to capitalize on successful endeavors. Most importantly, we must be willing to invest in challenging nonstandard experiments without guarantees of success.

Levent Onural

To encourage participation and open the doors for new initiatives, we must take these specific steps:

1. Make certain that the IEEE is truly a volunteer-driven organization.

2. Establish mechanisms to institute member control over all IEEE operations and actions. The first step is to ensure total transparency of IEEE operations and decisions.

3. Change the IEEE governance structure to allow more decentralized—both geographically and technically—decision making and operations.

4. Encourage a friendly and constructive culture in all functions.

5. Establish programs to invite members to become volunteers. Make volunteering easy and desirable without forgetting that our members are already very busy professionals.

6. Trust is a delicate matter: It is broken very easily. Therefore, the IEEE should not hesitate to discipline those who do not keep trust in place.

James M. Tien

Drucker and Putnam state the reasons why I have been an involved and satisfied IEEE volunteer for 21 years. Indeed, whenever I have chaired an IEEE committee or board, I have successfully employed these same motivations to fruitfully engage my colleagues.

However, I have also been motivated by another driving force: belief. I have always believed in the value of the IEEE as our profession's "global resource of choice" for scientific, educational, and professional products and services. The IEEE has served me well in my career, and I have, in turn, worked hard to make this belief in the IEEE's global value a reality for others.

Nevertheless, since 2000, there has been a deterioration in trust and responsibility, mostly due to the economic downturn and the centralization of budgets and initiatives. We must go back to the future. We must especially free our technical entities to do what they do best—be entrepreneurial.


Funds, especially funds for new projects, have been extremely difficult for societies, including the Computer Society, to find. The New Initiatives program has been implemented to address this problem for the entire Institute.

Given that there has now been some time to reflect on the New Initiatives program, do you feel that it has been successful? In the spirit of continuous improvement, how can the program be improved? How would you work to see that appropriate organizational units including the Computer Society have better access to their reserves for the implementation of new projects?

Computer Soceity Position

From the Society's perspective, the New Initiatives program has provided very little benefit for the societies and has instead served to support other IEEE entities. In general, the record of centrally planned "initiative" programs has not been positive in industry, and there is little reason to believe that the IEEE's results will be any better.

We are quite concerned that there has not been a concerted effort to assess the program and report the results to the IEEE at large. Such an assessment is absolutely necessary if the program is to be continued. The findings of such an assessment should be used to either enhance the program or, if warranted, to terminate it.

Regardless of these efforts, for the societies and thus the IEEE to remain viable, there must be better provisions for using existing surpluses to develop new initiatives that provide incentives to societies to generate surpluses even if they support other IEEE entities.

Michael R. Lightner

The initial activities of the New Initiatives Committee were a success, but we need to restructure the committee to meet new goals. The NIC's current charter adds unnecessary layers of bureaucracy to experimentation without providing effective mechanisms for large investments.

Our organizational customers and members are interested in aggregated IP products. Thus, scalability, integration, and coordination of projects ultimately become important. Societies should be able to access some portion of their reserves for innovation.

We have a responsibility to follow the progress of innovative projects and decide when to expand them institute-wide. This should be a task of the TAB Products Committee and the NIC.

There will always be critical projects that cut across society and organizational interests. These projects need to be appropriately vetted and ultimately approved by the Board of Directors.

Levent Onural

The IEEE is not a savings institution. Because the purpose of the reserves is to help overcome difficult times and uncertainties, they should be kept at a reasonably low level.

Quickly changing operational environments dictate new initiatives and programs, and the IEEE must have a vision for how to spend its money for meaningful projects. The New Initiatives procedure answers this need, but it is not an effective process—it is simply too centralized.

The program can be improved by allowing more freedom to organizational units to initiate new projects. Centrally planned and implemented projects should be considered only when a broader IEEE community needs such projects, if centralization would be more efficient, or if a project is too large to be handled by an organizational unit alone.

James M. Tien

To become more entrepreneurial, IEEE entities must be given more trust and freedom, especially from a financial perspective.

I would like to give all entities the freedom to annually invest up to 10 percent of their reserves in initiatives they deem cost-beneficial.

Coordination and collaboration should occur among all entities that pursue similar initiatives. Further, the results of these initiatives should be shared and celebrated.

Those service entities without reserves (for example, the Publication Services and Products Board and the Educational Activities Board) should continue to obtain initiatives funding.

Additionally, I recommend establishing a self-replenishing $10 million Initiatives Loan Fund from which revenue-generating initiatives could borrow for up to five years. The loan repayments would include an interest rate comparable to what the IEEE could secure on the open market.


There are two significant issues with the current corporate allocations to TAB and the societies and councils. First, they are too large: The total allocation increased by 16 percent between the 2004 projected budget and the first pass of the 2005 budget. Second, when reductions in the infrastructure allocations take place, they occur after the society and council budgets are set, often after the fiscal year is over, preventing the societies and councils from using the surplus.

How would you control, perhaps cap, spending at the IEEE level to insure that the units could indeed do responsible budgeting?

Computer Society Position

Those groups paying the bulk of the IEEE infrastructure charges should have a direct voice in the budget process. Costs and expenses within the IEEE should be increased in a conservative manner to approximate increases in inflation. Clearly, exceptions must be made for some development work, but these exceptions should be clearly articulated, discussed, and require a specific line-item vote for approval. Unanticipated surpluses returned at the end of the year should be made available to the societies to use on their projects at the time the funds are returned.

Michael R. Lightner

We must have a multiyear budget. This would provide revenue and expense targets, address the effects of initiatives and infrastructure costs, and allow for effective budget development.

Over the past several years, the initial infrastructure allocations have been unrealistically high. This puts unnecessary pressure on the societies, creating a budgeting nightmare and leading to misunderstanding and distrust.

By now, we should understand the nature of our infrastructure, its growth, and key variables. We must provide for inflationary infrastructure growth and keep that as a cap. Any other increases, which can occur each year, would be associated with projects, initiatives, and so on. These costs must be accounted for separately, and we must see the ongoing impact of our initiatives—in terms of both cost and ROI.

Finally, we must present infrastructure costs in a clear, understandable format to eliminate confusion and mistrust.

Levent Onural

No organization can function without allocating enough resources to the underlying operational infrastructure, including basic governance, staff to take care of administrative matters (personnel, taxation, filing certain papers, legal issues), maintaining membership records, and other essential functions.

The costs of these activities are real, and they should be funded. However, pushing central services beyond these basic functions, especially when the recipients do not welcome such services, is unacceptable. Furthermore, if those who receive those services are not allowed to control the costs, there is no way to justify them.

We must immediately stop the central IEEE from generating unnecessary costs based on providing unwanted services to its operating units. The best way to achieve this is to convince the BoD to impose planned budget cuts for central IEEE operations spanning a few years.

James M. Tien

4I have learned a lot from having served for 10 years on TAB and the IEEE Finance Committee. Not surprisingly, I have learned that we lack discipline—we overspend in good times and we underspend in bad times. This is human nature. However, despite our individual proclivities, we must realize that we are responsible for a $250 million business that underpins the viability of a global and highly esteemed learned society.

We must gain control of our infrastructure costs. We must understand which functions are or are not core to being a learned society.

We should consider outsourcing our noncore functions. For example, many businesses have outsourced their IT function which, as in the IEEE, seems to be a cost sinkhole.

We must build and adhere to rolling three-year budgets; only in this way can our entities plan and not be annually whiplashed by end-of-year surprises.


Has the current structure of the IEEE, especially the IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB), outlived its useful life? Specifically, does it make sense to follow a United Nations model (one society, one vote), or are the problems that exist for large organizations significantly different from those of smaller organizations? Should we separate TAB into a large-society body and a small-society body? Should we encourage some form of independence of larger subunits?

Explain specifically changes you feel are required and how you as president would encourage TAB and the IEEE to reorganize.

Computer Society Position

The IEEE and TAB in particular have become increasingly centralized and bureaucratic. The major thrust is to micromanage the various units to the point that little or no opportunities exist for their growth and development.

In the case of TAB, the continuing expansion of the number of societies has created a structure that cannot reasonably be expected to make decisions for the good of the entire organization.

Significant work is necessary to clearly articulate the objectives of both the IEEE and TAB and then set about constructing reasonable governance structures to achieve these goals. Since it is unlikely that this will come about from within TAB, it will be necessary to initiate such efforts from the level of the IEEE Board of Directors with appropriate input from the involved societies.

Michael R. Lightner

TAB has several functions: bringing societies together to understand common needs, opportunities, and IEEE activities (currently done poorly); working together on the activities, products, and services that involve all societies and providing a voice for all societies in these matters (done reasonably well); and looking after the well-being of the IEEE's technical activities. Here, TAB does not do a good job, as evidenced by the challenges the largest societies (including the Computer Society) face because of the various allocation formulas.

I do not support splitting the IEEE into either independent units or big-society/small-society bodies. We must find a way to have effective representation of our societies. One possibility is a Society/Council group and a Division Director group, with approval required by both and a resolution process defined for disagreements. This critical challenge is currently being explored in detail within TAB.

Levent Onural

Reorganization of the IEEE is a larger issue than just reorganizing TAB. The current IEEE major board-level structure (TAB, RAB, EAB, PSPB, IEEE-USA, IEEE-SA) does not meet the members' needs. Therefore, a major reorganization is needed and overdue. Such a reorganization could completely change the current flavor.

Perhaps the best option would be an Activities Board that includes all member-side functions of the current six major boards, an Infrastructure Board that takes care of all of the functions associated with the central operations side of the IEEE, and some other smaller boards (or committees) to take care of other specific needs.

Therefore, the answer is that TAB has finished its useful life, but other boards probably have finished their useful lives as well. A completely new way of governance and functioning is necessary.

James M. Tien

Although I do not possess the wisdom to define the ideal TAB/IEEE structure, I would, nevertheless, like to make several observations.

Clearly, technical entities are a must: They provide the basis for acquiring, reviewing, and publishing our intellectual property; they promulgate the organization and presentation of conferences; and they are our entrepreneurs in recognizing emerging technologies and in acting nimbly.

While I don't feel that there is an ideal upper limit to the number of technical entities, I do feel that we must develop a collegial way of sun-setting those that are no longer technically—and financially—viable. However, as a learned society, we must safeguard the entities that are essential to our profession.

TAB suffers from the same representational issues that faced the US founders, who resolved these issues by establishing both a Senate and a House of Representatives. Perhaps TAB could evolve into two similar bodies.

About the Authors

Bio Graphic
Michael R. Lightner is a professor of electrical and computer engineering, computer science, and rehabilitation medicine at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His research interests currently focus on technologies to increase the independence of people with cognitive disabilities.
An IEEE Fellow, Lightner's IEEE experience includes serving as an editor in chief, conference technical and general chair, Circuits and Systems Society president, division director, vice president of Technical Activities, and vice president of the Publication Services and Products Board.
For more about his candidacy, see
Bio Graphic
Levent Onural is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. His current research interests are in the areas of image and video processing.
A senior member of the IEEE and a recipient of the IEEE Third Millennium Medal, Onural has served as director of IEEE Region VIII and as vice chair of the IEEE Regional Activities Board. He was a member of the IEEE Board of Directors from 2001 to 2003 and served as secretary of the IEEE in 2003.
Bio Graphic
With degrees in electrical, computer, and systems engineering, James M. Tien is active in both academia (RPI Chaired Professor) and industry (Structured Decisions Corporation Principal). Tien's international recognition for contributions to his profession includes being elected to the US National Academy of Engineering.
Within the IEEE, Tien has led efforts to enhance the quality, quantity, and viability of its intellectual products and services, including serving as vice president of both the Publication Services and Products Board and the Educational Activities Board.
For more about his candidacy, see
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