Dialog with Computer Society
Given the serious financial challenges posed by COVID-19, what steps do you plan to have IEEE take to provide financial support, reduce overhead expenses, and help mitigate the financial disruption to Societies?
First, I plan to establish an IEEE-wide rapid crisis response team with emergency funds available, possibly from IEEE Reserves. A process will be defined to assess impact and allocate funds to any international emergency of the same scale brought by COVID-19. We need to be prepared better for the next such event.
The Technical Activities Board (TAB), which I chaired in 2019 and all the societies/councils (S/Cs) comprise, also has a Reserves fund. I propose to use that to offer loans to any S/Cs that are temporarily running into financial disruption to mitigate their difficult time. The loan would be returned when the S/C is out of the disruption with sustainable operation.
Long-term, the real fix shall come from reducing overhead expenses inherent to the large organizational structure and business operations of IEEE. The Financial Transparency effort that I originated has shed light on some inefficiencies. We need to reinvent our business processes, such as developing Service Center models, to put those organizations who are generating revenue into a better position to control their expenses. Application of technology can also reduce the friction of manual handling, and re-handling, of purchase orders, contracts, accounting, and more.
In addition, many Young Professionals are affected severely in the worldwide economic downturn. I propose to reduce fees for Xplore access for YPs, offer entrepreneurial webinars and training courses to help improve technical skills for better job potential, and form networking programs to connect with experienced professionals for career mentoring.
How do you see the technical activities of IEEE evolving as a result of COVID? How can IEEE work more effectively with Societies and councils to take their specific needs and capabilities into account in this evolution?
Most affected by COVID were IEEE’s conference operations, a critical activity for S/Cs. Nearly 2,000 IEEE conferences were wiped out overnight for face-to-face meetings. Due to the global shutdown of travel, almost all IEEE conferences have become virtual events. We were preparing for the worst, but the results were amazing. Taking the flagship SPS conference ICASSP as an example, the peak attendance was 3,000 before. But once it went virtual, with the reach to a worldwide audience, the attendance was over 15,000. A crisis is also an opportunity. It taught us to get outside of our comfort zone to realize that we indeed have the means to serve a much larger audience and better meet our mission.
In the new normal, IEEE should facilitate the use of tools and platforms for S/Cs to offer their conferences as hybrid – consisting both traditional face-to-face meetings and virtual participation. That would allow us to be more inclusive to engage those who cannot afford to attend in person and those who work in industry without time to leave their daily job. I am working with the IEEE Conferences Committee in preparing for such a new normal.
Also, we should look beyond conferences centered on just published papers. Data, code, audio and video are all important media that can convey rich technical ideas. Witness the thousands of pre-recorded videos IEEE is collecting as part of virtual conferences, and the popularity of IEEE DataPort that I championed to produce, which enables us to build data communities.
The challenges due to the Open Access (OA) publication model only continue to accelerate, as our collaborators and competitors continue greater adoption of this model. What do you see as the near-term activities that IEEE and the Societies need to undertake to address this fundamental shift? How do you propose to improve transparency regarding these issues so that Societies have more awareness of, and input to, what IEEE is planning?
Open Access (OA) is a publication model that poses both a revenue threat and an opportunity for IEEE, and we seem to fear its threat. I view it as an operational opportunity and a mission advantage for IEEE. Revenue obtained from authors through OA publishing will likely be less than currently earned through institutional subscriptions, however, that will drive our costs of publishing lower, improving our operational efficiency. Importantly, OA makes more research results available freely to a larger audience, helping IEEE fulfill its mission of Advancing Technology for Humanity greater than ever before.
Not all authors will be able to afford Open Access Article Processing Charges, hence some continuation of the free-to-publish, pay-to-read model may survive. Since it is difficult to predict that balance, our best approach is to serve both OA and traditional audiences and see where that takes us. IEEE is building a portfolio of OA publications. When I was Vice President-TAB last year, we fast tracked the creation of new S/C OA journals. They allow IEEE to compete fairly in the new landscape of OA.
Transparency of all these efforts has been provided through various TAB forums. Most have taken place as in-person meetings during IEEE Meeting Series, and not easily available to all. Our experience with virtual Meeting Series events in June 2020 has shown we can reach a broader volunteer audience. I propose that similar virtual meetings continue even when physical meetings can resume, to keep all interested volunteers informed and their inputs heard.
What are your plans for greater engagement, transparency, and inclusion of Society volunteers with IEEE? What are your plans for increasing diversity in volunteer leadership?
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.
In geographic regions, we should develop global strategies to offset political walls against equal participation and strive for fair participation and leadership from diverse groups, especially women and others who are under-represented. We must make sure at every level of our organization that we have proper representation from our constituents. It cannot be just a token at the top.
Young professionals are our future. We should build IEEE to be their “Home Base” to help them with career growth, job opportunities, mentoring, and peer networking, by building a sense of community.
Also, we should provide better personalization of services to accommodate different needs of our diverse constituents. IEEE should engage broadly and communicate more effectively with our members/users about our value proposition, services, and opportunities. I have led the development of the IEEE app to devise mobile strategy and infrastructure to engage members and other users with a simple click, to offer persistent availability and value.