2007 IEEE President-Elect
But, this is a rapidly changing world, and despite its success, the IEEE faces significant challenges in many areas. The key to continued success and growth will be the ability to adapt to the changing environment, meeting short term challenges and anticipating long term trends sufficiently in advance to maintain our leadership and prestige.
I am strongly committed to increasing our membership by reaching out for new members in all aspects of our technical fields and related areas; the IEEE should not become an elitist society, and neither should its membership pool be limited by a narrow definition of what are the relevant technical areas. Members are an invaluable source of feedback, new ideas and innovation, and by their membership are an important measure of the relevance of the IEEE to the technical community. In addition they are, of course, the source of the volunteers who provide the leadership that has made the IEEE so successful.
In recent years, membership has increased slowly year-to-year, driven largely by the increase in student members. Normally, this would be good, because student members should become full IEEE members. However, IEEE retains only about 25% of the student members three years after they graduate, and recent graduate members are down 34.6%. A survey indicates that by four years after graduation, former students no longer consider themselves as recent graduates; they feel settled into their careers. The IEEE needs to focus on developing a bridge from student membership to full membership over these early career years, providing not only what recent graduates need technically to advance their careers, but also what they need for career management.
Members will have different needs in different phases of their careers; in addition, there will be different reasons for membership by geography and job: academia vs. industry, management vs. non-management, Region 1-6 vs. Regions 7-10 (and possibly even between countries within a given multi-country Region), recent graduates vs. experienced, etc. An article of faith has been that the IEEE must provide benefits to its members which will justify the cost of membership. We need to develop flexible benefit packages which are optimized for various categories of membership; here, one-size does not fit all. Also, we have not done a good job in publicizing the benefits of membership, and must do so better.
IEEE-USA is developing career management modules. This can be an important step for better serving members and a valuable membership benefit. The effort can serve as a prototype for similar development in other Regions.
Another important aspect of membership is that if the trend over the last few years continues, half the IEEE membership will be from Regions 7-10 within 10 years. Regions 7-10 are leading IEEE membership growth, and we must take advantage of the resulting opportunity, while reversing the decline in membership in Regions 1-6. A 50/50 membership distribution would be a milestone, and we should start considering the implications now.
I strongly support the new China initiative. We should ensure we have a strong presence in emerging geographies. We will need to have an appropriate focus in India, and in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, analogous to the China initiative. We have been successful in attracting new members in India; it now is the country with the second largest IEEE membership. Interestingly, India is strongly software oriented, an area that IEEE, and others professional societies, have not been particularly successful in attracting to membership. We need to understand and leverage our success there, and hopefully such understanding will enable us to better penetrate the rapidly growing world-wide software, services, and applications areas.
Finally, another area of serious concern is the loss of Society memberships, which is down by about 14% from its peak. The factors for society membership decline are almost certainly different than those involved in IEEE membership, and require study and action.
The IEEE reserves are around US$165M, an all time high. After a decline of about 1/3 during the stock market collapse, the reserves have increased by a total of US$74M over the last three years. We are now well beyond simply recovering the reserves lost in the downturn, and we need to establish a long-term policy on the growth of the reserves and handling of the surpluses. Remember, however, that with 3% inflation and a 3% spending rule for initiatives, at reserves of US$165M, we will need a surplus of around US$10M just to retain the purchasing power of the current reserves next year. In any case because good financial times are always followed by downturns, we need sufficient reserves to survive any downturn without undo concern.
Even with the increase in IEEE reserves, some units within IEEE are on a track to bankruptcy, especially some large societies. Since the bottom lines of both IEEE and the aggregate of all the S/Cs in TAB are positive, there is no reason that any entity in IEEE should go bankrupt. However, any readjustment of revenue and expense allocations needs to be done without disturbing the entrepreneurial spirit which has been so successful in IEEE. Reducing the infrastructure charge through increased efficiency, and/or counterbalancing it with increased revenue, is an important focus. However, the IEEE never must become primarily driven to optimize revenue and surplus.
One of the most frequent comments I heard while visiting S/Cs was “let’s spend the money before they take it away from us”. Currently, units with reserves can budget only 1% of their reserves, and then only if their Reserves/Expense (R/E) ratio is 0.5. I propose to allow units with higher R/E ratios to access more of their reserves: e.g., 5% at R/E of 0.75, 10% at R/E of 1.0. This is self limiting; no unit could spend itself into bankruptcy, but it will drive good behavior by allowing those entities which increase their reserves to have increased access to them.
IEL has been a great success, and is the linchpin of IEEE financial success. However, IEL may be a contributor to the drop in Society and IEEE membership, since it allows access to all IEEE publications without IEEE membership for those who belong to institutions which have IEL.
Open Access to publications is potentially life threatening to IEEE; having all published information available is clearly a strong disincentive for purchase of IEL. So far, Open Access has not had much impact, but we will need to monitor possible activity and have action plans in place.
The IEEE can contribute greatly to the technical community by optimizing information search capabilities. One result of an IEEE survey on how people work is that many industry people are starved for time to find the information they need. If improved IEEE search capability can save a member 1 hour month, it would more than pay for IEEE membership.
A major complaint about IEEE publications is that they are too theoretical. We need to develop publications with more practical content. We have continually talked this; it is time that we move on it, and devote enough resources for a serious effort. Operating successfully in this space may require significant time and resources to develop the requisite experience and expertise, but it is important to future IEEE relevance and growth.
A number of publications have inordinately long times between submission and eventual publication, sometime running as much as two years or more. This is not acceptable, and we should establish a system of monitoring and rewards to ensure that articles are published in a timely manner.
Another comment heard from S/Cs and various chapters I’ve visited around the world is the need for “continuing/continuous education”. Technical community members now expect they will be working in many different areas and at a number of different jobs throughout their careers, and they will need reviews, tutorials and overviews appropriate to getting them up to speed in new areas and jobs. EXPERT NOW is a great step forward; it makes available to the technical community the excellent tutorials, short courses, and reviews that are presented at conferences. This is a new revenue stream, but more important, it will also be an important information source for IEEE members and the technical community. This is an excellent area for cooperation between EAB, RAB, and TAB.
In a similar vein, IEEE-USA is developing modules on various aspects of career management, another very important area and an opportunity for increased membership benefits, especially for new graduates. While the focus of this project in the USA, it can serve as a prototype for similar module development in other Regions.
It is vital that IEEE keep up with technological change, especially at this time when key advances most likely occur in the gaps between existing technologies. We are good at starting new conferences, but relatively slow in starting new publications. We need a fast track for new publications, so we can establish our presence and leadership in a new field. I favor the quick formation of technical committees to cover new areas; this should be much faster and less complex than forming new societies or technical councils, but would provide groups around which the technical community can coalesce and establish new conferences, special issues, publications and educational material for new technologies. Such a committee can eventually become a society, a technical council, be absorbed into an existing S/C, or dissolve, as appropriate.
In the 90’s IEEE was very ensiloed, with various entities operating relatively independently of each other. With the downturn of the early years of this decade, we had to come together to solve the serious problems we were facing, and working together, we were effective in overcoming those problems and stabilizing the situation.
One good result of the downturn is that it led to a new spirit in IEEE of cooperation across the boards and OUs to solve our problems and work for the common good of IEEE and the technical community. It is important to continue to develop this spirit of cooperation. When we work together, the IEEE can overcome adversity, and continue its success and growth.