Growing our Technical Portfolio Through Cooperation with Other IEEE Entities
Xuemin (Sherman) Shen
Chair, Technology, Evolution, and Initiatives Standing Committee (TE&I)
The IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) is the leading global professional organization for creating advanced communications technologies and services, covering all aspects of communications from the theoretical foundation of data transmission and signal processing up to the communication infrastructures for distributed applications, services, their communication networks, and management. To continue advancing communications technologies and markets, it is important for ComSoc to evolve its technological portfolio by continuously supporting new activities that will provide significant benefit to IEEE members, the public, and the technical community. In particular, ComSoc will address those technologies and application areas that stretch across the scope of multiple IEEE operating units (i.e., Societies and Councils). In this issue of the President’s Page, I am pleased to introduce Heiner Stüttgen, the Chair of Technology, Evolution, and Initiatives Standing Committee (TE&I) for 2022–2023, to share with you the details.
Heinrich Stüttgen is an IEEE Life Fellow. He received an M.Sc. degree from the State University of New York in Buffalo and a Ph.D. degree in computer science from Dortmund University in 1984. From 1985 to 1997 he worked at IBM Germany on Unix development and networking research. He then founded the European Research Laboratories of NEC in Heidelberg and headed NEC’s European Research Activities until 2016. In 2020 he retired from NEC Labs. He has held various leadership positions on the ComSoc’s Board of Governors (BoG). From 2018 to 2022, he chaired the Activities Board of the IEEE Internet of Things (IoT) Initiative. Since January 2022, he is leading IEEE ComSoc’s Committee for Technology Evolution and Initiatives.
ComSoc has been engaging at multiple levels with new innovative technology initiatives such as those funded through the IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB) Future Directions Committee (FDC), the IEEE New Initiatives Committee (NIC), and other sources. ComSoc is also a major partner (sponsor) of the IEEE Technical Council on RFID (CRFID), the IEEE Sensors Council, and others. More recently, ComSoc has taken a leadership role in promising new initiatives and technical communities (TCs), such as the IoT Technical Community and the Future Networks Technical Community. The activities of these councils, initiatives, and technical communities partially overlap with or enhance work that is covered by ComSoc’s Technical Committees and Early Technology Initiatives (ETIs) under the Emerging Technology Committee.
In the past, the management of ComSoc’s participation in cross-society activities was done mainly in an opportunistic ad hoc fashion. In August 2018, Khaled Ben Letaief, ComSoc President at the time, founded an ad hoc committee to develop a more strategically oriented management approach for ComSoc’s participation in multi-society activities. After careful analysis, President Letaief and the BoG converted the ad hoc committee into a permanent standing committee, reporting to the BoG, and appointed Paul Hartmann as the first Chairman of this ad hoc committee and the new Technology, Evolution, and Initiatives Standing Committee (TE&I).
The mission of the TE&I committee, per ComSoc’s bylaws, is as follows: “The TE&I committee is responsible for the oversight and management of ComSoc’s involvement in external initiatives, i.e., those originated from IEEE-level or multi-Society initiatives (e.g., Multi-Society Technical Groups, IEEE Technical Communities, IEEE TAB Future Directions Committee, IEEE New Initiatives Committee, and all IEEE OUs). The Committee shall ensure that ComSoc’s involvement is timely and relevant, within ComSoc’s field of interest, as well as cost effective and compatible with the evolution of ComSoc and IEEE. The Committee shall recommend to the BoG when to terminate existing initiatives, revise existing initiative and the respective MoUs, and join/launch new initiatives. The Committee shall also monitor ComSoc’s internal initiatives, identifying gaps and opportunities, and recommending to Councils and the BoG (a) improvements of existing initiatives and (b) new initiative projects and programs consistent with ComSoc’s vision, mission, and Strategic Plan.”
To achieve these ambitious, high-level objectives, the TE&I committee has several streams of activities, namely:
- Oversight and management of ComSoc’s involvement in external initiatives
- Analysis of ComSoc’s portfolio of internal and multi-society activities to identify gaps in ComSoc’s activities regarding its strategic objectives.
- Development of recommendations to the BoG to launch, revise, or terminate new cross-society initiatives.
- Shepherding the transformation or creation of new Councils, Technical Communities, and Initiatives regarding their scope and contractual conditions.
Let’s do a deep dive into these four areas.
Oversight and Management of ComSoc’s Involvement in Multi-Society Activities
ComSoc currently supports (i.e., sponsors) five IEEE Councils on RFID, Sensors, Nano Technologies, Systems, and Superconductivity, and two Technical Communities (a.k.a. Initiatives) on Future Networks and IoT. We are considering a possible Initiative on Sustainable ICT and participation in the Smart City Technical Community. Supporting means that we have a formal agreement (Memorandum of Understanding — MoU) governing our involvement in the Council or Initiative and a voice on the Steering Committees of these organizations.
In addition, sponsors usually have some level of financial involvement. For councils, we support our ComSoc’s representative’s travel to one physical steering committee meeting per year. Beyond that, Councils are financially self-sustaining per the IEEE TAB rules. In the case of TCs and Initiatives, there is usually an obligation to provide some seed funding and a profit and loss sharing arrangement, so financial supervision is important here.
No matter the level of support provided by ComSoc, we will have a clear vision of the benefits derived for our members by sponsoring a Council, an Initiative, or a Technical Community. If no tangible member benefits are realized, we will not sponsor the activity. Please note that any IEEE member can become a member of a Council, TC, or Initiative, independent of whether their “home society” is a sponsor of that organization, at no or very small cost.
The ComSoc TE&I evaluates what the added value of participating in a multi-society IEEE activity may provide to ComSoc, based on criteria such as ComSoc member interest and involvement, overlap with ComSoc’s current and/or future portfolio, output, financial sustainability, and management quality. All Councils, Initiatives, and TCs that ComSoc sponsors produce a report to allow TE&I to assess the programs. Reports are due on a bi-annual basis when everything is running smoothly, and yearly if critical issues are identified or if a new MoU is needed. The reports are written by the ComSoc Steering Committee representative in cooperation with the Council, Initiative, or TC leadership. The TE&I reviews these reports and provides recommendations to the ComSoc BoG to either continue, continue with requested improvements (red flag), or discontinue our sponsorship.
Requested improvements may include to strengthen cooperation with existing ComSoc TCs and Emerging Technology Initiatives and to improve financial or other organizational deficiencies. The BoG decides on the TE&I recommendations at its Globecom meeting in December.
A key role in this process is fulfilled by the ComSoc representatives on each of the Steering Committees of ComSoc sponsored activities. TE&I has defined a process to identify new representatives involving BoG members, TE&I members, Chairs and Vice Chairs of ComSoc’s Technical Committees and ETIs, current representatives, and other ComSoc members active in the field in question. TE&I generates recommendations to assist ComSoc’s President in appointing suitable representatives.
Analysis of ComSoc’s Portfolio of Internal and Multi-Society Activities
Information and communications technologies are among the most rapidly changing fields in science and engineering. Therefore, ComSoc’s technical portfolio must continue to evolve over time. An important role of TE&I is to identify gaps in ComSoc’s portfolio and to catalyze new activities to close these gaps. Trends in technical development are often addressing multiple technologies, which have their homes in various IEEE Societies. IoT is a great example of this. IoT systems usually contain communications (e.g., sensor networks and 5G/6G), computing technologies (big data, edge and cloud computing), device technologies, reliability enhancing algorithms, sensor and actuator technologies, signal processing techniques, battery technologies, and more. Bringing together experts from different societies and councils in a “Multi-Society Technical Group” (i.e., the IoT Technical Community) allows IEEE to address the challenges of advanced IoT systems in a more comprehensive fashion than what a single society can do. Often, multi-society activities can provide solutions posed by vertical technologies better than efforts from a single society. Therefore, the second significant role of TE&I is to initiate new activities incorporating ComSoc’s technical expertise along with that of other IEEE Societies and Councils.
Development of Recommendations for the BoG to Launch, Revise, or Terminate New Cross-Society Initiatives
Based on the outcome of TE&I’s annual review of sponsored Councils, TCs, and Initiatives, TE&I develops its recommendation to continue, revise, or abandon sponsoring multi-society activities for the December ComSoc BoG meeting. Recommendations for new activities, based on step 2 above, are also provided. The BoG votes on adopting or modifying these recommendations, and TE&I conveys ComSoc’s position to the leadership of the supported Councils, TCs, or Initiatives. In addition, steps to implement new cross-society activities are taken.
Shepherding the Transformation or Creation of New Councils, TCs, and Initiatives
There are many ways and steps to initiate new cross-society activities, as shown in the diagram.
TE&I identifies new opportunities suitable to help ComSoc achieve its strategic goals. TE&I also works with ComSoc’s Technical and Emerging Technology Committees to find the best way to ensure collaboration between the new entity and the existing structure. In addition, TE&I can support acquiring seed funding from IEEE through the NIC and TAB FDC structure for new activities. TE&I regularly reviews new initiatives and help them interface with IEEE bodies (FDC and NIC) and other IEEE Societies and Councils. The graph shows built-in breakpoints to help avoid an endless drag of activities that will not succeed due to lack of participation by volunteers. Setting up new Councils, new TCs, and new Initiatives requires formal steps within the IEEE operations framework before they begin their “real” work. Members of TE&I and ComSoc staff have a lot of experience and will support the volunteers within these tasks.
According to ComSoc’s bylaws, the Committee consists of the following voting members:
- Three Members-at-Large (MaLs) serving three-year staggered terms (an MaL may serve a maximum of two terms)
- The Past Chair of the Committee
- The Vice President of Technical and Educational Activities (VP-TEA)
- The Chair of the Emerging Technologies Committee
- The Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee
- ComSoc representatives of IEEE-level or multi-Society Initiatives in which ComSoc has more than a 1/6th financial share.
The current TE&I members are Heiner Stüttgen (TE&I Chair), Roberto de Marca (TE&I Past Chair), Wei Zhang (VP-TEA), Gerhard Fettweis (SPC Chair), Zhisheng Niu (ETC Chair), Paul Hartmann, Sumei Sun, and Roberto Saracco (MaLs), Chonggang Wang (Chair of the IoT Technical Community), and Ashutosh Dutta (Chair of the Future Networks Technical Community). Roberto Saracco currently also serves as Past Chair of the IEEE New Initiatives Committee, which is a key source of funding for new IEEE-level initiatives. Appointing him as TE&I MaL was intentionally done to provide a close link between the IEEE NIC and the ComSoc TE&I Committee. Please contact the TE&I Chair or a committee member if you have questions or suggestions regarding current or new multi-society activities.
The Technology Evolution and Initiatives Committee is the newest addition to ComSoc’s standing committees. Its main objective is to oversee and steer ComSoc’s participation in Multi-Society Technical Groups and Councils. TE&I has focused on building a structured management scheme for managing existing MSTGs and Councils. In the coming years, we will add a process and build a support structure for creating new activities that will connect them to existing internal activities as well as help them to acquire seed funding. TE&I will also help ComSoc members to find ways to contribute to and engage in new activities. No matter how big or how well-organized a committee is, the support from our members is critical to making our ambitions come true. We encourage all ComSoc members to get involved in ongoing activities, provide new suggestions, and connect with the TE&I member of your choice to help ComSoc’s vision to bring the world together through advanced communications. Thank you.