Podcast: Tariq S. Durrani

Hear what Tariq S. Durrani has to say about important IEEE issues

7 June 2012
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Hello. This is Ania Monaco with The Institute. The annual IEEE election is right around the corner, with ballots going out to members in August. To help you decide who to vote for, I’m interviewing the candidates for 2013 IEEE president-elect about important IEEE issues.

One of the candidates is IEEE Fellow Tariq S. Durrani. He joins me today in Phoenix at the IEEE Meeting Series.

Hello, Tariq. Thanks for joining me.

Tariq Durrani: Thank you.

Ania Monaco: What would your top two priorities be if elected?

Tariq Durrani: As a preamble, Ania, let me first of all say it’s indeed a pleasure and an honor to address the IEEE members through The Institute, and I appreciate the question you’ve posed. What I’d like to do is to first share with you my vision of the IEEE, and from this will stem the priorities and related developments.

I see the IEEE as an irresistible magnet that draws individuals, students, professions, practitioners, academics to its fold through the opportunities and services it offers. That the IEEE is perceived as a home for life for the engineering and technology community and, indeed, for cognitive disciplines. Beyond that, being a magnet, we want the IEEE to be the wellspring of knowledge, a veritable source of cutting-edge ideas, authoritative information, and innovations on issues that matter to the world.

Beyond a key knowledge source, the IEEE should be a leader in setting the pace for trends in science and technology areas of interest and influence. Beyond this, the IEEE should make a real difference for our members and for society around the world. To achieve this, we must form transformative advances that will deliver a transformative impact in all aspects of our world.

Turning to the specific set of priorities, I see the role of IEEE as providing members with opportunities to realize their full potential by delivering effective products and services for enhancing their skill bases. In this context, continuing education and development is a key element to support lifelong learning.

The second aspect is greater engagement with industry and encouraging practitioner-driven and practitioner-oriented products and services. I plan to establish a panel of chief executives and chief technology officers to advise IEEE on strategic issues for effective engagement with industry.

All this reflects a strong commitment to ensuring that through its activities, IEEE contributes to the enrichment of lives and advancement of society, leading to progress and transformation for the future.

Ania Monaco: Now why do you feel you are the best candidate?

Tariq Durrani: That’s an interesting question. I have had a wide-ranging and unique leadership experience within IEEE and outside. This has prepared me to take up the reins and responsibilities at the helm of IEEE. This experience has been gained through intimate working knowledge of most of the IEEE main boards. I’ve been the president of not one but two keynote IEEE societies: the IEEE Signal Processing Society and the IEEE Engineering Management Society. The IEEE Signal Processing Society has given me technical depth, and the other, management breadth.

I’ve also been regional director of the IEEE Communications Society. I served on the Technical Activities Board for eight years, the Publication Services and Products Board for six years, and several years on the Awards Board and IEEE medal committees. I’ve been vice chair for Technical Activities for Region 8, and most recently I was vice president of the IEEE Educational Activities Board.

I have grassroots experience working with chapters, sections, and my region—Region 8. Having traveled extensively around the world, I have a clear understanding of the needs and motivations of IEEE members. I’ve negotiated for and helped establish two IEEE medals: the Jack Kilby Medal in Signal Processing and the James Clerk Maxwell Medal, with the Royal Society of Edinburgh, for the recognition of leaders in their subject areas. I’ve been a member of the IEEE Conferences Committee and a general or executive chair of some of the flagship IEEE conferences.

Just taking into account the positions I’ve held within IEEE, I’ve gained a deep understanding of the workings of IEEE. In addition to all this activity, in my professional life I’ve been deputy principal—the second-highest position—at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, one of Europe’s leading technical universities. This has given me experience in leadership, strategic management, and resource planning and delivery. I’ve held high offices in other professional organizations and learned societies, including vice president of one of the oldest and most distinguished, the national academy of Scotland: the Royal Society of Edinburgh. And I’m a fellow of several organizations.

I work closely with industry and government at the highest levels. I’ve held some eight directorships in public, private, national, and international organizations, ranging from small and medium enterprises to large corporations. I spent quite some time in the United States and currently hold visiting appointments at two prestigious universities: Princeton and the University of Southern California. I have worked in Europe for most of my career and have advised governments and professional organizations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ania Monaco: What new member benefits do you feel IEEE should offer?

Tariq Durrani: I think in these turbulent times, there is a compelling need for IEEE to support career development of its members. The increased and integrated provision of continuing education and professional development, skills development, and related opportunities is a key benefit that should be enhanced. The IEEE Educational Activities Board has a major role to play through the provision and extension of e-learning. So that’s one benefit.

Another aspect is mass customization of technological information: offering members information products constructed from the whole range of IEEE publications, customized to their needs and suited to their requirements. This is an additional model for publications, one that is customer-needs driven and user-focused.

I feel a very important benefit for a global organization is to encourage multilingual versions of our journals, serving members worldwide and opening new markets for IEEE products.

And a further benefit is to look toward driving affordable member rates worldwide through new membership models and progressive benefits, such as providing career support for GOLD [Graduates of the Last Decade] members through a virtual network of mentors.

Another interesting and important aspect is to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship within the IEEE by establishing an innovations academy to support the IEEE global talent pipeline that turns innovative products into entrepreneurship.

Ania Monaco: Past presidents have supported IEEE’s expansion in places like Africa, China, and India. What else do you think IEEE can do to be more global?

Tariq Durrani: Thank you very much. The IEEE, as you know, has members spanning some 160 countries. Our aim should be to provide everybody with a similar range of expanding benefits. I think it is important that the IEEE consolidate its position in Africa, China, and India. We should establish strategic alliances with global organizations that have missions aligned to the IEEE. I’d like to mention three: UNESCO, World Federation of Engineering Organizations, Engineering for Change, and a fourth, the Royal Society of Edinburgh for Humanitarian Activities.

Let me share my views with you on this. In Africa we have only just started identifying opportunities. Earlier in February, IEEE President [Gordon] Day signed an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with UNESCO. I had the good fortune of orchestrating this relationship. The objective is to work together to support specific initiatives in Africa aimed at sustainable workforce development and capacity building by focusing on engineering education.

As Madam Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, mentioned at the MOU signing ceremony, help and cooperation of the IEEE is needed in Africa. She stated that to meet the needs of sub-Saharan Africa alone, over two million engineers and technicians are required—an immense challenge.

You mentioned India. Here we have just started establishing interesting and innovative initiatives. The recent signing of the contract with the All India Council for Technical Education, an advisory and statutory body, will offer engineering students of any Indian university access to [IEEE] Xplore products. This is a major initiative for supporting IEEE activities in India.

Traveling around the world, particularly in India, I found Indian industry eager and willing to work with the IEEE, to share its development roadmaps, and keen to seek IEEE support for capacity building and training of its engineers.

Having said all that, over the last 10 years the membership of the IEEE in terms of senior grade in India has remained somewhat static, roughly in the range of about a thousand or more, while the student membership has grown from about 8500 10 years ago to 25 600 in 2011. So clearly the IEEE has its work cut out there. There’s an associated issue of student retention.

In China, a country of over one billion people, with graduates of some 70 000 engineers each year, we have only 7521 IEEE members in China in 2011. A lot of work needs to be done there in terms of membership development and provision of services. So we have our challenges.

You mentioned other areas. Clearly Brazil is an avenue we’d like to explore. But let me bring something different to the table. If we look towards global opportunities, clearly the world’s most populous countries are China, India, and the United States. And the fourth most populous country is Indonesia, with over 247 million people and an average age of 28 years—a strong democracy, a very stable economy, a country willing to make investments in higher education, broadband investments. It has immense natural resources. Having worked with senior government officials there, I know that there is immense enthusiasm and opportunity to work with the IEEE.

Within the same vein, the IEEE has made investments in support staff and this is paying off. I know of effective IEEE offices in China, Hong Kong, India, Japan. They are making an impact, though much remains to be done. Clearly greater regional staff presence is a worthy objective for the IEEE. So my take on globalization is that we need to offer services and products, and we need to build on our investments there.

One other aspect that I keep coming back to is that multilingualism is something the IEEE needs to pursue with vigor.

Ania Monaco: Finally, which new areas of technology do you feel IEEE should focus on?

Tariq Durrani: Thank you. There are two roles that the IEEE plays in terms of areas of technology. It offers support, dissemination, and popularization of technologies. The other is that the IEEE is very good at identifying emerging areas of technology and their benefits, and in nurturing these by bringing to bear the key assets that the IEEE has in its members in the form of information, knowledge, and expertise.

In this case, two abiding principles of the IEEE are important here: advancing technology for humanity and engineering the future. Thus in pursuit of these principles, I would advocate the IEEE progress in areas of technology that have an impact in terms of new knowledge, sustained economic growth, jobs and prosperity worldwide. In this context I would suggest focusing on first, clean or green technologies and renewables, and second, cyber security.

Let me illustrate the importance of this by making a specific point. The U.S. holds about 2 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. What that means is that even if we drilled every drop of oil out of every single one of the reserves offshore and onshore, it won’t be enough to meet the long-term needs of the U.S. On the other hand, the U.S. consumes about 25 percent of the world’s oil. Thus, for its own economy and for sustainable growth, investment in renewables, clean and green technologies is an imperative.

These technologies have the potential of creating an untold number of jobs and new businesses. I’d like to see the IEEE to be the lead source and a repository of knowledge on this subject. Thus, a platform where the subject is nurtured, and for the IEEE to be the national home for activities related to the areas of clean and green technologies, including carbon capture and renewables, such as wind, wave, tidal, and solar power.

The other area is that of cyber security. It goes without saying that we are vulnerable to weak cyber infrastructures and susceptible to cyber attacks. Work in the area is developing, and it is clear that over a period of time the activity and the associated industry is poised for immense future growth. This is a multidisciplinary area where members from cognitive disciplines within the IEEE and outside with widespread knowledge and expertise can work together to address large-scale and emerging issues on the subject.

Having identified these areas, I think it’s also very important that the IEEE maintains and announces its global presence in areas such as the smart grid, cloud computing, green technologies, life sciences, technology management, energy, and transportation.

Ania Monaco: Well, thank you very much for joining me, Tariq. Best of luck to you. And to all IEEE members out there, look for your ballots to come in August. And if you’d like to learn more about the candidates and see some more election coverage, make sure to visit The Institute and check out the election section of the website.

This interview was recorded on 17 February 2012.

NOTE: Transcripts are created for the convenience of our readers and listeners and may not perfectly match their associated interviews and narratives. The authoritative record of The Institute’s audio programming is the audio version.

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