Issue No. 01 - Jan. (2014 vol. 47)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MC.2014.23
Dejan S. Milojicic , HP Labs
Today's IT professionals, computer engineers, and students share knowledge directly through the Internet and gather at "cool" events like hackathons. How can the Computer Society reinvent its relevance with contemporary researchers and practitioners?
Dejan S. Milojii
IEEE Computer Society 2014 President
Over the years, the IEEE Computer Society has served both researchers and practitioners in numerous technical fields by organizing conferences and section/chapter meetings, publishing journals and standards, and offering professional and educational materials. In that same time span, technologists have become younger, more intent on solving specific practical problems, and increasingly virtually connected. Some of the Society's services can now be found elsewhere, simply by searching the Web or professional portals such as Stackoverflow. Members now physically gather at hackathons and focused conferences—such gatherings are of direct use, have a high "cool" factor, and attract various IT professionals, computer engineers, and students.
These trends confront the IEEE Computer Society leadership with a key challenge: How can we retain the rigor of our traditional scientific and engineering principles and values, yet appeal to young, tech-savvy professionals who aren't members? How can we reinvent the Society to make it more relevant to contemporary researchers and practitioners?
ONE YEAR, THREE INITIATIVES
The IEEE CS presidency lasts only one year, so the president has to initiate activities while still in the president-elect role.
As president-elect, I focused on three efforts. First, with a team of renowned experts (Hasan Alkhatib, Paolo Faraboschi, Eitan Frachtenberg, Hironori Kasahara, Danny Lange, Phil Laplante, Arif Merchant, and Karsten Schwan), I undertook writing the CS 2022 Report, addressing 22 technologies that are likely to be disruptive by 2022. This report, freely available to everyone, will be published in early 2014 and is intended to provide technology input into the 2014 CS strategic plan.
Second, with a team of conference organizers (Tom Conte, Paul Croll, Sven Dietrich, David Ebert, Jean-Luc Gaudiot, Frank Huebner, David Lomet, Cecilia Metra, Hausi Muller, and Bill Pitts), I began a thorough analysis of current CS conferences—in particular, their best practices, outcomes, core evaluation criteria, governance practices, open access policies, and relationship to technical committees and journal publication—as well as how they compare to ACM conferences. Conferences are extremely important for the CS because they're where most innovative work is presented first; they're also a source of financial stability. This ad hoc committee will continue through next year, and the results of our analysis will help the new vice president of the Technical and Conference Activities Board to strengthen these gatherings.
Third, I met with the IEEE CS executive committee and staff directors in a full-day event to plan for the following year. We addressed three major topics: technology, the Society's focus and impact, and our relationship to IEEE. In the rest of this message I elaborate on our findings, which will also be my own priorities in the coming year.
Recent years have brought multiple disruptive technologies that will revolutionize the way we manufacture goods (3D printers), program and use computers (nonvolatile memory), and interact with and through computers (voice- and gesture-based human-computer interfaces). In addition, incremental innovations, such as in cloud computing, big data analytics, and the Internet of Things, have enabled tremendous growth in unrelated fields including medicine, bioinformatics, and life sciences.
To address these changes, we need agile communities that can quickly start, grow, shrink, and stop once both technology and practitioner needs are met. Special Technical Communities (STCs; http://stc.ieee.net) can help in this regard. We've already started 15 STCs in various areas such as cloud computing, smart grids, social networking, sustainable computing, multicore systems, and wearable computing, to name a few.
Another excellent example of a technology- and practitioner-driven initiative is our upcoming cybersecurity effort, which has just been approved as an IEEE initiative. The primary benefits of this initiative to practitioners include identifying the top 10 cybersecurity flaws, architectural risk analyses, threat-modeling processes, a security component library, an open source framework library, a design patterns and attack patterns library, and building codes for security.
We're a Society of engineers and practitioners, and we always need to drive our contributions from the technology itself. In particular, we've done this with Computing Now (http://computingnow.computer.org), which covers cloud computing, big data, mobile computing, networking, security, and software engineering. We've also started new publications in the areas of cloud computing and big data. Staff-organized conferences focus on the latest technologies, with a successful big data event in Silicon Valley last fall and a mobile cloud computing event in 2014.
IEEE CS FOCUS AND IMPACT
As the technology changes, so does its use. Today, typical IEEE CS members, or potential members, are substantially different than they used to be. They're younger and much more versed in technology, having grown up with multiple devices and applications; English is their second language; and they need much faster and more practical benefits from the community. Even the notion of community has changed—it's much less formal but far nimbler and more hands-on. Driven by the Silicon Valley culture, young professionals prefer to gather at events where they can get directly exposed to technology and the people creating and using it.
Current technologies have also changed the way practitioners search for information, collaborate, publish, and network as a community. In the past, conferences and journal articles were the primary venue for publishing and learning about innovative results. To interactively address solutions for technical problems, engineers gathered at annual conferences, section/chapter events, and standards meetings.
Today, professionals disseminate their results instantly on websites, which their colleagues around the globe evaluate in real time. They meet virtually more frequently than face to face. They communicate using Skype and social networking tools. What are the needs of these new professionals, and how can we meet them in the context of our traditional activities? We have some ideas:
- Conferences need to be of more practical and immediate value to practitioners. New practitioners live in the moment; they want to learn insights and techniques to create solutions now and for their immediate needs.
- Publications, in the form of traditional journals or magazines, require years to start and can live for many years beyond their usefulness. This is out of step with the pace of modern technological developments, which can start quickly but also evolve and vanish rapidly. Moreover, today's authors want to publish almost instantly, and practitioners want to read their work at that same pace.
- The traditional mechanism for codifying research results for practitioners is to incorporate them into standards. The necessity for achieving broad consensus may slow the use of standards-making for fast-moving, disruptive technologies, though. Complementing standards-making with open source publication, living libraries, and patterns may be an appropriate approach. The cybersecurity initiative may offer an opportunity to try these out.
- Professional activities and education similarly need to be of practical and immediate use to potential students. Metro area workshops exploring hot topics, such as cloud computing and multicore system design, attract many attendees because of their relevance.
Increasing membership of young practitioners has been an IEEE CS goal for many years, but our efforts haven't been effective yet. I'm a firm believer that we first need to provide the value to potential members, and then they will join. However, not all of them will prefer traditional full membership, so we must explore new business models, including lightweight membership models with selective benefits, while retaining traditional membership with full benefits.
We've discussed all kinds of plans, but we should refuse to abandon the rigorous quality processes of traditional products we've delivered to our members over the decades—rather, we should enhance and complement them with varied, dynamic offerings better matched to modern members' needs.
IEEE AND FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY
The IEEE CS isn't a business, but a volunteer-led organization. However, a healthy, financially sustainable Society is crucial for its operation. The CS is by far the largest society within IEEE, both in terms of the number of members (75,000 CS members out of 400,000 IEEE members, of which 200,000 belong to a technical society) and in revenue from events and publications. But despite being a high revenue-generating society, we haven't been profitable over the past few years.
There have been many attempts to return to profitability, such as cost cutting and adjusting to IEEE revenue distribution, but none were sufficient. We even discussed some extreme moves, such as organizing the IEEE CS into smaller, focused units, or even broadening the scope of cooperation with other societies, but such approaches didn't seem promising.
During the next year, we'll attempt to radically change our financial situation to revert to profitability by carefully evaluating every facet of the IEEE CS. New conferences, organized by staff, have proven to attract different kinds of attendees, people with more business interests. These conferences are profitable compared to traditional conferences, which typically only break even. New publication models, such as myComputer (www.computer.org/portal/web/myComputer) and Computing Now, substantially reduce costs because they eliminate the price of printing and distributing paper, and volunteers undertake some of the editing usually performed by staff. New membership models can be motivated by new services, such as filtering new publications and conferences for papers that match a member's profile.
Generally speaking, there's no magic wand. We need to address every activity we undertake as a Society and focus on only those that bring value and are financially sustainable. We can only afford to sustain a few small, strategically important or incubating activities longer term without a sizable return on financial investment.
The Society's top leadership isn't enough to lead the Society—we need every current and future member to contribute for us to be successful. One of my major focuses will be on recruiting the true technical leaders in their field who can elevate us to the next level. Being an avid soccer coach, I'm fully aware of the saying that games are won by players and lost by coaches. I invite all members of the IEEE CS to help me win this game! I plan to continue the efforts of past presidents Kathy Land, Jim Isaak, Sorel Resiman, John Walz, and David Alan Grier, and pledge to work closely with the next president-elect, Tom Conte. Only together will we make a difference.
Dejan Milojii is a senior researcher and manager at Hewlett Packard Labs. He received a PhD in computer science from Kaiserslautern University of Technology, Germany. An IEEE Fellow, Milojii is the author of several books, many papers, and a dozen patents. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.