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Upgrading ComSoc’s Technical Portfolio

Vincent Chan

Vincent W.S. Chan

President

2020-2021

As we have alluded to before in this column and stated in our strategic plan, ComSoc is in the middle of performing a strategic refresh. One of the three main thrusts is updating and further developing our technical portfolio. This is vitally necessary due to the rapid change in landscape of the research areas relevant to our society, and the timescale of evolution is being accelerated further by the pandemic. Thus, it is imperative that we carry out our strategic reforms without delay. Currently, many of the technical activities within ComSoc are fueled by four groups of committees (number of committees within parentheses):

  1. Technical Committees (29)
  2. Emerging Technology Committees (6)
  3. Industry Communities Committees (4)
  4. Technology Evolution Initiative Committee (1)

When our new administration started in January this year, it made sense for us to first sample the status of these committees. Around the June ICC 2020 Conference almost all of them met and I had the opportunity to participate in all the meetings save one (I had to review the recorded version). These committees met between one to two hours with one actually putting on a four-hour mini-conference. It was an eye opening and stimulating experience. It certainly was exciting to hear a large fraction of the brain trust of ComSoc engaged in technical discussions. I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise and so did some of the directors and chairs who attended many of the sessions. Following is a brief summary of our observations.

  1. There is no doubt the excellent ComSoc programs in conferences and publications are largely the fruits of these committees. The structures are agile enough to move into new areas without friction.
  2. There are frequent duplications of efforts in related committees. An unofficial count of one area found more than 10 committees working on various aspects or identical directions of the same general area. The active members are only weakly overlapping among these committees. Unofficially it seems the overlap is at most around 10 percent. Often new topics are started spontaneously in multiple committees around the same time, triggered by the rapidly changing external research and development landscape. This is not necessarily bad and wasteful duplication of efforts. At germination we need to let many flowers bloom. When and how we need to follow up to coalesce these efforts into coherent thrusts is the issue. We do not have a good mechanism thus far.
  3. While many committees are vibrant, a few are either past their prime or need a refresh of their paths forward. A couple were not aware of the request by the directors and chairs that we like to hear about the frontiers in their respective area and their plans moving forward. We are requesting updates from those few.
  4. Most of the committees work on a very focused area of research. Most are deep and current. However, there are fewer committees working on multiple layers of a network. Since multi-layer network research is very important to the future of communications and networks and also an emphasis of our strategic thrust, we must do more and better in this direction. I will devote the majority of the remainder of this page to this aspect.1

In the next several President’s Pages I will provide some views on how various network areas will merit multi-layer attacks. These areas include satellite, optical (fiber and freespace), and wireless communications and networks. For ComSoc, not having strong thrusts in this direction with the right attributes will be important opportunities lost.

Following are some of the issues and questions for consideration.

  1. First, we do not want to do any harm to well-functioning committees.
  2. How do we merge duplicated efforts? What are the pros and cons?
  3. How can we add broad network layers and application efforts? Should we start new committees or add broad spectrum leaders in some key committees?
  4. How do we add industry participation in many of these committees which are heavily academic?
  5. Why do we have industry-only committees? There are no academics-only committees. How can we encourage them to work together? Are there any benefits for them to talk or is it a waste of time, as some say?
  6. Does setting up an emerging technology committee in a traditional TC area mean that the TC is not looking far enough forward? Will there be conflicts eventually down the road? Should we give the established TCs the chance to move into the new areas instead of forming a new committee? Will they be forward looking enough and free of tethers from established traditions?
  7. Many of these committees are ComSoc-centric and even exclusively ComSoc. How can we work with other Societies and Councils when the subjects need broad participations?
  8. What should the future sets of committees look like? How fast should these structures evolve?

While we do not intend to harm the deep and effective efforts in many research areas in ComSoc, we need to reinforce our efforts in multi-layer and cross disciplinary research. We will try to convince existing committees to broaden out as part of their portfolios. The addition of leaders with the right preferences and attributes will help. We can also start new committees with the right outlooks in those areas. However, we need to be very mindful of the proliferation of too many committees, making coordination and interaction unwieldy.

These are issues we will try to solve in the next few months. What we know is that we cannot afford to sit still and let events overtake the society. If you have any ideas drop us a line.

1 The first of the three strategic thrusts is: “Reshape technical balance of and expand portfolio – Physical to Application Layer involving computing and services/applications.”