History is littered with companies that did almost everything right but failed anyway. Some failed because they didn’t understand what their business was, or should have been. For example, Eastman Kodak thought it was in the film business. Actually, it was in the business of capturing and preserving images. It ignored disruptive innovations that would render its traditional film business obsolete. Today, it is far from the powerhouse company it once was.
In 1975, Steven Sasson, an electrical engineer on Kodak’s research team, created the first digital camera—decades before digital cameras flooded the market and built-in cameras became commonplace in cellphones. The company saw no business opportunity for its digital camera, because it could not imagine a world in which its film was supplanted by digital media. Less than 30 years later, Kodak was struggling to reinvent itself in the digital media world. Film had become an anachronism.
OUTSIDE THAT BOX
Like Kodak, IEEE cannot allow itself to continue thinking within its traditional parameters. Members and volunteers come together to create, disseminate, and use information to advance technology for humanity. But we are much more than a membership organization, conference organizer, publisher, and standards developer.
Our world is increasingly driven by information. Yet we talk about papers—whether presented at a conference or archived in a journal—as if the papers were the information. Papers are a centuries-old technology to record and share information. They were born in a time when scholars collaborated through letters delivered on horseback. This is the 21st century. We need a new medium for sharing our information.
We hold more than 1,400 conferences annually, face-to-face meetings that are episodic. Nothing new here; people have been holding meetings for eons. And between meetings, people are communicating and innovating 24/7/365, across the globe. Some are using video chat tools, webinars, and blogs. Episodic, face-to-face meetings are becoming obsolete in the Internet Age.
In the future, nearly all scholarly and business information will be created by individuals who never meet in person—brought together through technology and bound by a passion to better the world. Information will be consumed by yet another set of individuals, indifferent to its source, working on problems spanning diverse disciplines. Time will be critical, whether to save lives or to maintain competitive advantage in the marketplace.
More than ever, IEEE needs to address the future of information: how technical professionals will create it, share it, and use it in an evolving, global marketplace. Imagining and acting on that future are critical to IEEE’s continued success.
We’ve taken a lot of positive steps to build this future. Articles in our IEEE Xplore Digital Library have been transformed from static PDF files into interactive XML. We’ve built technical communities spanning societies to better assist researchers working on multidisciplinary problems.
To this end, we ran a pilot program in 2014, and this year we’ll be launching IEEE Collabratec. It will provide a suite of online tools with which to network, collaborate, and create—making publishing faster and easier.
However, we are not alone. Facebook, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Twitter, and Wikipedia, to name a few, are also innovating in the information space. While they are not our direct competitors today, they could be if we miss the sea change in how technologists produce, acquire, and use information.
IEEE is focusing this year on not just our immediate future but also on what is coming in 5, 10, and 15 years. We will talk about the future of information, the future of conferences, the future of membership in professional technical organizations, the future of publications, and the future of standards development. In short, we will talk about the future of IEEE.
IEEE’s Board of Directors has already been incorporating these strategic discussions into the fabric of our meetings. Such a strategic examination and visualization of IEEE’s future is an absolute necessity. It is being given priority at every board meeting.
For IEEE to remain a touchstone organization for engineers and technologists, it must evolve. That evolution, while swift, cannot be haphazard. Instead, there must be a comprehensive vision of what IEEE is as a community today and what we wish to be in the future.
By the end of this year, it is my goal to have an actionable vision, articulated in a comprehensive strategic plan and accompanying global strategy plan everyone in our community can embrace. But most important, I want that vision to be an outgrowth of the ideas and insights gathered from across IEEE.
I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions. Please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than ever, IEEE needs to address the future of information.