IEEE President’s Column: An IEEE for the Next Technological Revolution
It’s critical for our shared future that the organization is prepared
I want to reflect on the unique times we live in and how they force us to rethink our organization.
Our roots go back to the founding of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) in 1884. It is interesting to note that AIEE was around at the onset of the second industrial revolution in the last quarter of the 19th century. That time period was dominated by electricity, radio, the telephone, and many other advances. Fast-forward to 1963, when AIEE and the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE), which had been founded in 1912, decided to bridge any remnant rivalry, joined forces, and restructured into one organization more attuned to the times: IEEE.
Again, it is interesting to note that AIEE and IRE were aware of the shift in technology that was moving us into the third industrial revolution, which would be dominated by electronics, computing, information, and digital advances.
We once again find ourselves facing a time of significant change. During the past 15 years of this 21st century, we have witnessed a perfect storm of technology convergence that includes the dominance of data arising from the physical, the social, and the business worlds; massive computing thanks to the miniaturization of chips and other components, as well as other factors predicted inexorably by Moore’s Law; progress in algorithms and processing methodologies; and the integration of disparate technologies on the wondrous smartphone.
Our world is interconnected, “smart,” and mobile. We aspire to “intelligent” infrastructure, “intelligent” transportation, smart homes, and smart everything.
RETHINKING SOCIETIES, COUNCILS, AND REGIONS
The question is how IEEE should evolve to address the new opportunities of this fourth industrial revolution. Our 46 societies and councils (S/Cs) are the professional homes for technologists in a large number of important technical fields, but it is clear they currently do not cover many of the areas driving the technological progress of the future. We face a conundrum in the way we manage ourselves. Many of our S/Cs are narrow in their discipline, while much of the current technology challenges are broad and require complementary expertise.
IEEE Technical Activities is addressing this quandary of covering emerging technologies through its Future Directions initiatives, which are nimble ways to evolve and expand IEEE’s technical horizons. The initiatives have a fixed horizon of three years, after which one or several of the existing S/Cs absorb them. It has become clear in some cases, however, that we might better sustain a specific initiative by creating a new technical S/C rather than merging it into an existing one.
The important point is to guarantee that IEEE has the right mix of S/Cs and that we nurture and sustain new technology areas. Herein lies an opportunity to rethink the current portfolio of S/Cs and develop ways of combining or sunsetting existing ones by creating new organizational units that are home to the emerging areas in which our technological world is evolving.
There is a similar opportunity for IEEE Member and Geographic Activities (MGA), which comprises 10 regions, 339 sections, 2,430 chapters, 543 affinity groups, 2,266 student branch chapters of S/Cs, and 3,284 college and university student branches—all of which support our members across the globe at the local level. These numbers reflect the vitality of IEEE. Our members as technical professionals identify with one or several technical S/Cs and belong to a section and a region, and possibly to a chapter, branch, or affinity group.
Two regions—Regions 8 (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) and 10 (Asia Pacific)—account for about 49 percent of membership, while the eight regions in the Americas account for 51 percent. One drawback of IEEE’s method of dividing membership is that there are regions with fewer than 20,000 members and others with more than 120,000. The largest regions include communities with a wide variety of economic development levels, member needs, and concerns.
An alternative, more-balanced regional structure might allow local leadership to better address a specific area’s membership needs. MGA has been discussing what a more appropriate structure might look like and how to smoothly transition to it as IEEE continues to evolve.
The dual nature of IEEE—technical activities that include journals, conferences, and standards development and member and geographic activities—presents a third opportunity: centralized and decentralized management.
There are activities best managed centrally for efficiency. These include recruiting members, marketing the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, IT, and financial operations. Then there are activities best managed at the edge of the organization. For example, S/Cs manage their journals, conferences, and other activities, while sections and chapters deliver tailored offerings to members through events and conference activities that provide specific results to local professional communities.
There is clearly a lot of engagement between the core and the edge. Between the two ends, IEEE has many tiers: operational units, S/Cs, regions, and geographic councils, with many subcommittees. The question is how best to align resources across the organization. Is our internal bureaucracy too large and too rigid? How much of IEEE’s resources should be focused on each of our major activities?
Membership activities are struggling with meager resources at the local level. How much of our resources should be pushed to and executed at the member-facing edge? How do we encourage agility, adaptation, and local engagement while ensuring efficiency and consistency across the organization? We need a better balance of resources between the core and the edge, reinforcing a decentralized operation.
We should support the local geographic units and their activities at the appropriate level, providing them with access to meaningful resources to unleash our members’ ingenuity and volunteerism.
Now is a good time to engage in these not-so-easy discussions. We have many reasons to have confidence in our future. Our operational budgets are positive, offering the opportunity to invest resources in our future. Our diverse membership, committed volunteers, and enthusiastic students and young professionals afford a robust foundation to strengthen our global presence.
This year the Board of Directors engaged in a number of focused efforts, investigating how to better engage the vast audiences of electrical engineers, computer scientists, information and communication technologists, and biotechnologists. The Board also considered new membership models.
In January IEEE will launch a mobile app to provide access to all our activities and offer members ways to network and engage.
The Board developed and implemented
a strategy to promote open science and open access, launching new open access journals, further developing repositories for data (Dataport) and codes (Code Ocean), and designing new business models to market our publications.
It also addressed head-on that IEEE is a diverse, inclusive organization, as well as a transparent one, with a policy of open meetings and discussions. The Board committed to balanced operation budgets, which we have achieved two years in a row, and reduced corporate overhead.
We are in the process of enacting an efficient financial system to better manage our operations and finances. The Board engaged in transforming IEEE into a data-driven organization, assuring it is prepared for the next technological revolution. Much work still needs to be done.
This year I have had the honor to meet with volunteers around the world, to see the great work they do, and to hear how important IEEE is to them. IEEE is a symbiosis of committed volunteers and staff, but at the top are our members, more than 422,000 of them.
At the conclusion of my term, my experience as IEEE president and CEO leaves me convinced of how critical IEEE is to our shared future.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.