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President's Page - May 2017

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From IEEE Communications Magazine May 2017

What’s New in ComSoc Conferences?

Harvey Freeman
Harvey Freeman
Guoliang (Larry) Xue
Guoliang (Larry) Xue

Conferences are a very important part of ComSoc operations. We showcase cutting-edge technologies at our many sponsored global events. Every year, thousands of participants come to locations around the world to discover new ideas, explore innovative solutions, and network with the leaders who are changing the world of communications. Leading these efforts for the past year and a half is Larry Xue.

Guoliang (Larry) Xue is an IEEE Fellow and a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Arizona State University. He received the Ph.D. degree in computer science from the University of Minnesota in 1991, and the M.S. and B.S. degrees from Qufu Normal University (China) in 1984 and 1981, respectively. He has published extensively in top journals such as IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking and IEEE JSAC, and at premier conferences such as INFOCOM, MobiCom, NDSS, CNS, and ICC/GLOBECOM. He received Best Paper Awards at ICC 2012, GLOBECOM 2011, ICC’2011, and MASS’2011. He is well cited, with an H-Index of 48 and over 10,000 citations. He has been a ComSoc Distinguished Lecturer. He was a keynote speaker at LCN’2011 and ICNC’2014. Larry has extensive experience in conference organizations and ComSoc services and currently serves as VP–Conferences for the IEEE Communications Society.

High-quality technical conferences are very important to both researchers and practitioners in the fast-changing field of communications and networks. People attend conferences to present new research results, exchange ideas, learn new developments, and network with other attendees. Maintaining high integrity and reputation, identifying important emerging research topics, ensuring a fair review process for paper selection, and keeping registration costs affordable are key factors for the success of ComSoc conferences. As a researcher and a long-time ComSoc volunteer, I have contributed to ComSoc conferences in various capacities such as an attendee, author, TPC member, TPC chair, general chair, and steering committee member. Serving as VP–Conferences gives me the opportunity to have a more comprehensive view of conferences and to work with the conference leadership team, ComSoc staff, and many dedicated volunteers to improve ComSoc conferences. In this column I will report what is new in ComSoc conferences with the hope you find these exciting, and continue to attend and contribute to ComSoc conferences. More importantly, I look forward to hearing from you about areas of concern and constructive suggestions for improvement.

Improved Strategic Planning for GLOBECOM/ICC

The IEEE Global Communications Conference (GLOBECOM) and the IEEE International Conference on Communications (ICC) are ComSoc’s two flagship conferences. Each of these annual conferences attracts around 2,000 attendees from around the world. These flagship conferences feature Keynote Presentations from world-class scholars and executives of leading companies, industry forums, and technical sessions. For example, GLOBECOM 2016 attracted 2,288 scientists, researchers and industry professionals from around the world in Washington, DC last December to attend more than 1,500 technical and industry presentations and an exhibition with 21 exhibitors. In May of last year, ICC 2016 attracted nearly 2,000 scientists, researchers and industry professionals in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to attend over 1,500 technical and industry presentations. As there are many young professionals and students attending the conferences, special sessions for young professionals were organized.

GLOBECOM and ICC are under the leadership of GIMS (GLOBECOM/ICC Management & Strategy Standing Committee) and GITC (GLOBECOM/ICC Technical Content Standing Committee). GIMS is responsible for site selection, conference finances, strategic evolution, and operational policies of GLOBECOM and ICC. GITC is responsible for providing strategic vision and management of the technical content of GLOBECOM and ICC. GIMS and GITC have worked hard to further improve the planning and operations of GLOBECOM/ICC. In the past, each proposal for future GLOBECOM/ICC includes its own proposed TPC Chairs, in addition to conference site and organizing committee. In the future, proposals for GLOBECOM/ICC conferences will no longer include TPC chairs. Instead, GITC will work with the winning team to select the TPC chairs. We believe this will help optimize the selection of the TPC chairs for the winning team. Volunteers interested in organizing future GLOBECOM or ICC conferences should submit proposals to GIMS.

Innovations in the Paper Review Process for INFOCOM

INFOCOM is one of the core conferences of ComSoc, with an acceptance ratio around 19%. Each year, INFOCOM receives around 1,600 submissions, of which around 300 papers are accepted for presentation at the conference and publication in the conference proceedings. Recent INFOCOM conferences have attracted around 900 researchers and professionals. In an innovative effort to enhance the fairness of the paper selection process, the INFOCOM Steering Committee decided to experiment with a double-blind review process with an automated system for optimal review assignment, together with a peer rating system to recognize top performing TPC members.

The motivation for INFOCOM’s change of the paper review process is to enhance fairness and optimize the suitability of the review assignment. Previously, the review assignment was a paper-claim based assignment: each TPC member claims a set of papers to review on EDAS, based on the title/topic/abstract of the papers; EDAS does the review assignment based on this input and other constraints such as review load and potential conflict-of-interest (COI). However, the process of claiming papers is both error prone and time consuming. To ensure that the EDAS algorithm finds a reasonable assignment, TPC members need to claim a set of papers that is much larger than their maximum review load. This is very time consuming to the TPC members. As a result, some TPC members failed to find the time to enter the required number of claims. As fewer paper claims were received, the review assignment became more random. It was also noted that the paper claim process is not resilient to collusion, where a small group of TPC members attempt to claim papers based on authorship rather than review suitability. Also, TPC members tend to provide more objective reviews when the author names are not available so that the reviews are based solely on the quality of the paper. These considerations led the INFOCOM steering committee to experiment with an innovation in its review process.

INFOCOM’s automated review assignment system, Erie, is described in an article published in the September/October 2016 issue of IEEE Network. It requires the following set of input data: (a) a list of reviewers, including their EDAS IDs as unique identifiers; (b) a list of submitted papers, including their paper IDs and PDF files; (c) a COI matrix between reviewers and the submitted papers; (d) for each reviewer, a list of his/her papers that best represent his/her expertise, in the form of PDF files. With the above input data, Erie can compute the suitability score between each submitted paper and each reviewer by comparing the PDF file of the submitted paper and the set of representative papers of the reviewer. This is accomplished by computing the similarity score between the submitted paper and each of the representative papers of the reviewer. The largest of these similarity scores is defined as the suitability score between the submitted paper and the reviewer. Erie finds the assignment that maximizes the total suitability for all submitted papers, subject to a number of constraints, including COI and review load, etc. It turns out that this integer linear programming can be solved in polynomial time, as the constraint matrix is totally unimodular. INFOCOM has experimented with double-blind review using Erie to make review assignment for the Area Chairs and all three TPC review assignments in the past two years. In order to incentivize the reviewers to provide high quality reviews, INFOCOM also experimented with a peer-rating system. For each paper, the three TPC members rate each other’s review anonymously. The system aggregates peer-rating scores for all papers for each TPC member. Top TPC members based on peer-rating are recognized.

I wish to point out that each conference is unique in its scope, objective, and author base. Hence, each conference’s steering committee needs to decide what is best for its conference.

Deep Industry Involvement and Startup City at WCNC

In recent years, attendance of most ComSoc conferences has been dominated by people from academia. ComSoc President Harvey Freeman mentioned multiple times that we need to strike a balance between academia and industry in our conferences. I am excited to report that the 2017 edition of the IEEE Wireless Communications and Networking Conference (WCNC), chaired by Andrea Goldsmith and Sarah Kate Wilson, achieved this goal. WCNC’2017 was a grand success, attracting over 1,000 researchers and professionals in San Francisco this March. Attendees packed the room to enjoy the enlightening plenary lectures, featuring top executives from leading wireless communications companies such as Qualcomm, Nokia Bell Labs, Assia, Huawei, China Mobile, Intel, Ericsson, and National Instruments. In addition to the high quality technical programs and informative panels, there were three industry forums and a Startup City track of presentations and demos by 15 startup companies in wireless communications. While there were a significant number of attendees from industry, the participation from academia remained strong. Many leading scholars, including several members of the National Academy of Engineering, attended the conference. It was great to see many leaders from both academia and industry at the conference.

Following are some of the tips the general chairs of WCNC 2017 shared:

  • Deep engagement of industry starting early in the conference planning phase and through the event by forming an industrial advisory board 12 to 18 months before the conference, and appointing either a conference co-chair or an industry program co-chair who is well connected to industry
  • Startup city as a platform to showcase the hottest wireless technologies in both an exhibition and a contest for the most innovative startups. This innovation made the conference more exciting. Connections between the conference organizers and the startups is key to this success
  • Enlightening plenary talks by top executives. Connections between the conference organizers and high-level executives is key to this success
  • A comprehensive set of industry-focused panels as well as workshops and tutorials strengthens the technical progra
  • •A comprehensive program for students: a mentoring lunch with senior academics and industry folks; student poster/demo sessions with awards; student-industry networking session
  • The use of professional conference planners provided by ComSoc, as the staff brings experience in conference planning/managing exhibits, which helped to ensure the success of the conference.

IEEE’s Initiative in IoT

With the explosive growth in the number of smart devices connected via the Internet, Internet of Things (IoT) is entering our daily lives. Wireless communications and networking are fundamental to IoT. As a result, ComSoc is playing an active role in IEEE’s IoT initiative, a multi-society undertaking with participation and sponsorship from 22 societies and councils. IoT is still in its early stages. It has experienced rapid growth, is multi-disciplinary, and is likely to have a profound effect on the world economy in the next few decades. At this stage, the identified verticals include: manufacturing; transportation; logistics; agriculture; aviation and defense; financial services; oil and gas; utilities; consumer electronics; health care; education; construction; and major movements such as smart cities, smart grid, and smart home. The identified topical areas include: big data; data processing; security and privacy; artificial intelligence and automation; cloud, fog and embedded computing; integration and design methods; virtual and augmented reality; connectivity; systems engineering; software and algorithms; sensors and sensor systems; integrated actuators; interfaces and displays; virtualization; and many more.

To create meaningful interaction and dialog among participants and to attract both practitioners and policy makers, the IEEE IoT is pioneering a new format for its meetings and conferences. The first is building events around a limited number of Verticals and a limited number of Topics important to selected Verticals. The second is balance between industrial, public sector, and researcher participation. The third is geographic balance, holding events in different regions of the world and selecting Verticals that are attractive for drawing local participation. The format for each event is to include overview material that is educational, exchange information on successes, difficulties, and challenges, and expose advanced ideas and concepts, but in the end use the events to drive recommendations that will result in future actions benefitting all three constituencies.

As an example, the University of Alaska, Anchorage, the State of Alaska, and IEEE IoT Activities are organizing the IEEE IoT Vertical and Topical Summit in Anchorage on September 18-20, 2017. The verticals were specifically picked because of local interest and the unique character of Alaska and other High Latitude Regions. These include the role of IoT in the following verticals and the unique aspects that go along with them: education; health care; oil, gas, and natural resources; aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles; and arctic region challenges. The topical areas this summit addresses include: security and privacy; communications and connectivity; big data and analytics; economic and societal impacts of IoT; and policy and regulations.

During the Summit the participants will be exposed to general aspects of IoT, and to local plans and challenges in Plenary and Keynote sessions. The Vertical and Topical Tracks will be used to present and discuss material at a much more granular level and to act as forums for conducting a dialog between experts in various aspects of IoT with practitioners and policy makers charged with implementation and deployment. Each Track will include a working group roundtable to identify courses of future action that will accelerate IoT adoption.

Conclusions

Delivering high quality conferences takes the collective efforts and collaboration from many people: conference organizers, ComSoc staff, authors, reviewers, patrons, and more. Above all, a successful conference should serve its attendees by offering high value for attendance. In this fast changing world, with new technologies emerging frequently, our conferences need to make corresponding changes as well in order to better serve our members. There are opportunities and challenges in front of us. We need to fix the problems and seize the opportunities. While the conference leadership teams and the steering committees of the conferences are working hard on strategic planning for the conferences, the wisdom of the crowd is more powerful than the wisdom of a few people. If you have areas of concerns or constructive suggestions to improve existing conferences or to propose new conferences, do not hesitate to contact the corresponding steering committee, any member of the conference organization team, or me. Let’s work together to make our conferences better.