Speaking with the 3 candidates for 2021 IEEE Elect-President – Part A
Today we meet with the 3 candidates for 2021 IEEE Elect-President , Life Fellow Saifur Rahman, and Fellows S.K. Ramesh and Ray Liu, and we share with you all the first part of the interesting conversation we had.
Why did you first become an IEEE member?
S.Rahman: I wanted to attend an IEEE conference in New York City as a student. So take advantage of a very low-cost registration, I became a Student Member in January 1974.
S.K.Ramesh: I was one of the founding members of my IEEE Student Branch, as an undergraduate ECE student in 1978. That moment has led me to where I am today, four decades later. Computing and Communications technologies were changing rapidly. We also knew that it was vital to have strong teamwork and communication skills to be successful in this rapidly changing environment. The IEEE SB provided a great platform to grow technically and professionally. We even published our own newsletter called “Bandwidth” with articles contributed by students and I was Editor in Chief in my senior year!
R.Liu: I joined IEEE in 1985 as a graduate student. I believed IEEE was important to my profession. IEEE published top-notch technical articles that were excellent overviews and revealed leading edge research in my field. Membership in a Society gave me access to some of those articles and discounts to conferences. Although publication access has changed with universities and corporations subscribing to IEEE product packages, I still encourage all my students to join IEEE for professional growth, networking, and opportunities to build skills through volunteering.
Will COVID19 pandemic affect IEEE Strategic Plan for 2020-2025? And if yes, how?
S.Rahman: It will affect in several ways – most prominent will loss of revenue from conferences as they are cancelled and/or go online. Second is fall in membership numbers. Without the possibility of networking, members – especially consultants and retirees – will find IEEE less attractive. I have seen members cancelling their membership due to loss of income from Covid-19 situation.
S.K.Ramesh: IEEE’s Strategic Plan provides a strong foundation to support our members and deliver on our global mission and vision over the next five years. Our core values of trust, integrity, service to humanity, ethics, and global community building are timeless and relevant, especially now. IEEE will emerge as a global leader in a post-COVID world where innovation is critical to economic development. Our reserves are healthy but tough times call for fiscal prudence. We need to adapt to the changing landscape in publications and conferences focusing on our members’ needs for continuing education, and leverage opportunities to attract new members.
R.Liu: Most affected by COVID were IEEE’s conference operations. Almost all IEEE conferences have become virtual events. We were preparing for the worst, but the results were amazing. Taking SPS’ conference ICASSP as an example, the peak attendance was about 3,000 before. But once it went virtual, with the reach to a worldwide audience, the registration was over 15,000. A crisis is also an opportunity. It taught us to get outside of our comfort zone to realize that we can serve a much larger audience and better meet our mission. I am working with the Conferences Committee for this new normal.
Apart from Academicians, Students and Researchers, how does IEEE benefit a typical IT worker in Region 8? A software engineer, an electrical engineer, a software developer?
S.Rahman: These professionals in R-8 can take advantage of unparalleled networking opportunities at almost 2000 international IEEE conferences (both face-to-face and virtual), access to the finest technological literature, massive resources for up-skilling, innovative collaboration facilities with like-minded colleagues worldwide.
S.K.Ramesh: IEEE members work in a number of cross cutting areas in the IT industry that we have all come to rely on and expect in these challenging times. We also know that a majority of our members look to IEEE to stay technically current. This is important as jobs are changing and evolving in the new post-COVID normal. Members working in this area can stay current and prepare for the future through industry focused conferences and publications, standards, and communities like IEEE Entrepreneurship. I co-championed the IEEE Learning Network (ILN) (iln.ieee.org) that provides timely and affordable access to relevant technical content.
R.Liu: Diversity is a strength and we must excel with such an advantage. We have been very successful in offering products and services for our members in academia, but we can do better to engage industry members. My plan is to offer more continuing training and learning on practical content relevant to their work to advance their career, creating more tangible value and benefit to industry members. If we can offer more to industry, we can attract more industry volunteers, who can help us create more value for industry, in a virtuous cycle. This is a global issue for IEEE.
Who do you recognize as the biggest competitor of IEEE, worldwide?
S.Rahman: There is no one single competitor. There are many national organizations like IET (UK), VDE (Germany), SAIEE (South Africa), IEI (India), CSEE (China), IEEJ (Japan), Engineers Australia, CIGRE (France), etc. which are very prominent in their home countries and some are expanding abroad by allowing foreign membership. The best way for IEEE is to collaborate with these national societies rather than compete. As the President of IEEE Power & Energy Society, I have signed MoUs with CIGRE and CSEE; we do joint conferences and participate in joint industry expos. IEEE as a whole can do the same.
S.K.Ramesh: Honestly, I look at this question differently. Our biggest challenge is internal. Nimbly adapting our structures to serve our members is a priority. IEEE publishes 23 of the top 25 journals in our fields. Publications and conferences drive close to 80 % of our revenues and we should aggressively pursue the Open Access model. We already have 21 fully Gold OA journals with more coming. Business models need to incentivize societies so revenues reflect their contributions. Virtual conferences have attracted several non-members, with the potential to grow IEEE. Bottom line – We need to move fast and lead from the front.
R.Liu: Other than ACM being a strong competitor of IEEE’s Computer Society, most of our societies/councils enjoy a dominant position in their technical fields. However, we do have competition for our products, including periodicals, conferences, standards, and educational products. The emphasis on Open Access changes our publications model. Success with virtual conferences changes our conferences model. Universities are increasing their efforts on educational products for industry. We must continue to adapt ourselves to offer better values/services, and to reduce the overhead expenses inherent to the large organizational structure and business operations of IEEE.
More interesting questions and answers in Part B