What do you believe are the major issues facing the IEEE?
Relevancy to an Increasingly Diverse Demographic
Associations today face challenges with membership declines. This problem is not unique to IEEE as many associations see these drops in membership, as many professionals do not find value in membership. Yet, as evidenced by the rise and growth of social networking – they do seek connection – more than ever. Social networks provide easy and convenient ways for people to network, and the proliferation of free online content has led to immediate access of the types of information that professionals used to be able to access only through association membership and industry conferences.
We need to rethink our role, instead of conceiving of ourselves as pseudo-club with annual meetings, perhaps we might consider broader communities that organize year-round around common technologies, values and goals. We already see this happening organically within some of our technical activities, publications and standards. However, this needs significant expansion to include things like micro-volunteering opportunities, techno-humanitarian volunteerism, and pop-up virtual technical communities. While we continue to remain technically relevant, and our content is cutting-edge, our delivery and outreach is not relevant to our broader target demographic.
We need to increase the value proposition for our IEEE membership and make IEEE personally relevant. For many years, I have listened to people talk about the need for ‘tailored tools, products and services’. I have seen time and again as much effort and funding have been spent trying to tailor what we think a certain target demographic might want, only to see these efforts fail.
We should focus on knowledge delivery – delivering technically relevant content that will support the individuals working in technology – it is simple. This should be our priority. Having the best technical content is what has made the IEEE brand strong – it will keep us moving forward. What we need to focus on is how to keep up and make improvements to our delivery mechanisms that meet the pace with which technology is changing. We are being challenged by new publishing mechanisms, like open source, and we need to be able to integrate social networking and collaboration tools so that more rapid peer review to publication might be supported.
Business Process Modernization and Integration
We have come a long way from the days when we ran a forms-based conference business. However, there are still many areas within the IEEE business infrastructure that we need to improve and integrate. We currently have separate systems that provide support for conferences, publications, contracts management and volunteer reimbursements. Each of these systems provide varying levels of access to centralized data management and support for extensibility.
It is critical that we move forward and provide all who are touched by our IEEE business processes with up-to-date modern systems that provide support for today’s compliance, financial and audit requirements and most importantly that meet our user needs. I feel this is one of our most urgent strategic priorities.
What is the current state of IEEE finances, and how of you propose to ensure that IEEE remains sound financially?
For the past 6 years, there has been a group of individuals within Technical Activities working to raise awareness regarding the state of IEEE finances. Our collective efforts are paying off. I am optimistic about where we are heading, infrastructure caps are finally being reduced, and as a by-product, the allocations of these costs to the operating units are being reduced. Collectively, there is an increasing awareness within the IEEE Board of Directors, the IEEE Finance Committee, and Executive Staff, as well as the members of the individual Operating Unit Boards, as to the importance of increasing the clarity associated with our financial operations. However, there is still work to do, and I remain committed to developing IEEE financial accounting that provides us with the ability to determine how each dollar is spent (as I describe in my position statement). We need to ensure that this trend continues with volunteer leadership that has been involved, understands, and holds financial transparency as a priority.
I have a demonstrated record of fiscal responsibility within IEEE. I base my approach to financial management on a simple set of basic principles: realistic balanced budgeting (no deficit budgeting) and tight control over expenses. I have practical experience, external to the IEEE organization, with the management of large, complex, budgets that require oversight and accountability.
What do you propose to do to deal with the increasing prevalence of open access and its impact on IEEE publication income?
When IEEE first decided to jump into the Open Access arena in 2007, I made it a point to monitor the impact to publication finances. The IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB) and Publications Services and Products Board (PSPB) also made a commitment to ‘continue experimentation with open access and monitor its impact on the organization’.
Open Access was initially viewed as a threat, this concern has not realized – peer reviewed, high quality publications are still highly sought after and our IEL subscriptions have seen steady year-to-year increases. IEEE has also been able to move into the Open Access market with three options for authors: Hybrid Journals, a new Multidisciplinary Open Access Mega Journal, and fully Open Access Journals
As I stated, the threat has not realized… yet. There is a two-fold threat that remains: 1) a decrease in IEL subscription revenues from librarians – those paying for current content access and 2) a decrease in IEEE open access title revenue from the funding agencies driving the main researchers – those paying to publish content.
Open Access is here to stay, and has proven to be a viable part of the IEEE publication portfolio. IEEE must continue the commitment it has made to experiment and monitor. We need to set a price point that is acceptable for authors, one that covers our publication costs and positions us for a sustainable publication business.
How much importance should IEEE place on professional development activities?
IEEE should place the development and implementation of continuing professional development activities as a priority for the organization. The ultimate outcome of any continuing professional development program is that it deliver benefits to the public, the employer, and the professional. It has never been enough for someone to simply graduate with a technology degree – they must stay current. Professionals must stay relevant, aware of changing trends, their knowledge must stay up-to-date, and their skills must stay current. IEEE’s Mission statement is to ‘foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.’ Providing support for continuing professional development directly supports IEEE’s Mission by helping to ensure that practicing technologists are meeting the highest standards by staying relevant and up to date. Today IEEE journals, conferences, and IEEE Xplore serve to help our members stay current. In addition, IEEE provides continuing professional education. We need to significantly expand our continuing professional education program and work toward bundling our course content as packages to Universities and business that provide continuing education.
What do you think is the number one goal for the IEEE leadership?
Accurate, clear and regular financial reporting is essential to ensuring an organization’s successful future. Much progress has been made in the clarity and quality of reported financials, but these efforts must continue so that the leadership of each TAB Societies and Councils are equipped with the financial tools to support informed decision-making and budget planning.
What have you done to raise revenue for IEEE?
In 2007, I worked to increase efficiencies of IEEE-CS conferences management and conference publications, remaining focused on providing volunteer support. I successfully developed and deployed significant revisions to the IEEE-CS conference operations business model. These changes were prompted by need to address the IEEE-CS financial situation.
In 2007, the IEEE Computer Society was losing money at an alarming rate, more than $10,000 per day. The approved baseline budget for the IEEE Computer Society (CS), at the time, reflected a deficit of $3,232,700. As incoming Vice President of CS Conferences and Tutorials, I conducted a review of the 175 conferences in the CS portfolio, which projected an operating net loss for 2007 of $3.4M. Pretty bleak.
I had to figure out pretty quickly how to generate additional revenue and reduce expenses. I did using data driven decision, using data indicating an insufficient fiscal model, primarily an inverse fiscal relationship between the number of conferences and associated net contributions. Although numerous improvements were implemented, a notable few:
- Significant changes to the conference approval process (e.g., automation/efficiencies).
- Centralization of conference finance administration and improvements to the way in which conference staff were organized.
- Simplification and changes to financials; single fixed fee based on expenses to cover costs.
- Changes to the way volunteer conference leadership was organized.
- Implementation of conference vitality measures and improvements to portfolio management.
These efforts directly contributed to the generation of a balanced budget and elimination of $3.7M deficit during 2008-2010 and provided a simplified and more efficient process for CS conference organizers.
What are your main priorities for Members?
I feel that within IEEE we need to look at our membership renewal process, membership models, and membership representation.
Let me first discuss our current membership renewal process, which is the traditional – you sign up year-to-year annual renewal model. This is fine, but does not fit with today’s global ‘membership economy’. What I mean by this is today we see an ever-increasing popularity of the subscription-based business, which is primarily tied to millennials, who appear to prefer to pay incrementally for ongoing access to services. We should provide, with online and automatic payment, an almost effortless way for our members to spread out the yearly cost of their membership. The data from these types of programs shows that when members join, they do not consider the monthly transactions – they become automatic parts of their budgets. This would also allow for IEEE to plan and execute larger, longer-term programs because of the associated sizable recurring revenue. As it currently stands, we watch and wait for the annual renewal numbers to arrive prior to inform the budgeting process.
Secondly, our membership models. I know that IEEE Membership and Geographic Activities (MGA) has been exploring many options. I would encourage this to continue. We need to support excursions and experimentation that would allow us to support continued membership price and package tailoring to underserved and serviced Regions. We must look at membership models that engage industry, the possible revival of previous prototypes where memberships and services were bundled and sold in bulk, these memberships and services offered by the corporation as incentives to their employees. Any change to our membership model must be self-sustaining over long-term revenue projections, but we should experiment.
Lastly, I want to discuss membership representation. This is also something that MGA is considering and is a topic of strategic discussion at the IEEE Board of Directors (BOD). The current representation of 10 Division Directors (those Directors who are sitting on the BOD from Societies and Councils S/Cs) and 10 Region Directions (those from the IEEE Regions) has been in place for many years and we have seen significant shifts in growth in Regions 8, 9 and 10. These areas are under represented on the BOD and we should support MGA in their examination in how to correct this and make the representation of these Regions more equitable.