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News from the National Academies
Date: May 10, 2000
Contacts: Bob Ludwig, Media Relations Associate
Kathi McMullin, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Publication Announcement

Information Technology Research Should Attack
A Broader Range of Issues

Information technology (IT) has gone mainstream. The frenetic pace of innovation is creating an assortment of new IT systems and services that are being integrated into a variety of important business and societal functions, such as commerce, health care, education, manufacturing, and personal interaction. These technologies undergird the nation's economy and have altered daily life. But for society to benefit fully from these developments, the scale and scope of IT research must be expanded to address the additional challenges created by them.

Research is needed to extend the remarkable advancements in basic computing and communications technologies, and should be complemented by expanded research that addresses large-scale systems and social applications of information technology, says a new report from a committee of the National Academies' National Research Council. Making IT Better: Expanding Information Technology Research to Meet Society's Needs examines the research challenges fueled by the integration of information technology into society and discusses ways to involve a broader range of IT researchers, social scientists, and institutional users in the financing and conduct of research.

Today's IT systems are larger and more complex than their cousins of the past, making them challenging to build, deploy, upgrade, and maintain. They also are deeply integrated into many activities -- from banking to processing taxes to manufacturing aircraft. The maximum benefits, however, accrue only when business processes and systems development go hand in hand, the committee noted.

Although federal and industrial spending on IT research have increased notably since 1995, a greater share supports applied research with near-term, incremental benefits, rather than fundamental research that could lead to breakthroughs in the long term. In addition, current research has focused on advancing the technological capabilities of IT components -- such as microprocessors and network switches. Work on components is important and should continue unabated, but it should be augmented by an expanding set of research programs in large-scale systems and social applications, the report says. Doing so will require the combined efforts of government, industry, and universities.

To fill the gaps, government investments should be increased in keeping with current projections, the report says. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in particular, should enlarge their research programs to include large-scale systems. They should involve other federal agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration, that operate large IT systems.

Federal agencies also will need to step up interdisciplinary research motivated by social applications of information technology, such as providing health care on the Internet. This can build on existing research programs, which include NSF's Digital Government Initiative and Computation and Social Systems program, but additional initiatives also are needed, the committee said. They should explicitly involve multidisciplinary collaboration among researchers and should include organizational users of IT systems to shape the technology's evolution, as well as its context and application.

To support sound policy-making, the U.S. Bureau of the Census should develop more effective procedures for classifying how money is spent by government and industry on information technology, distinguishing investments in research from those in development. Improved data will allow government and industry leaders to make better-informed decisions on the direction of IT research and provide greater consistency in determining trends. Current statistics are highly variable, inconsistent from year to year, and fail to adequately differentiate between sectors of the IT industry.

Universities can contribute to significant advances in large-scale systems and social applications, the committee said. They employ a broad range of researchers -- from computer scientists and electrical engineers to experts in law, business, and the social sciences -- who can make significant progress by working together. Universities should exploit this advantage by taking steps to increase the ability of faculty members and students to participate in interdisciplinary IT research. They also should find ways to provide researchers with access to operational large-scale systems, so they can better understand the challenges such systems present and develop suitable solutions.

Major users of IT systems, such as financial and manufacturing firms and government agencies, should become more actively engaged in IT research, the report says. Since they stand to benefit directly from advances in large systems and applications, and appreciate the nuances of their organizational missions and constraints, their participation and insights can contribute to quality research.

To that end, the committee urged representatives of major corporate users of IT systems to serve on advisory boards to research programs, laboratories, or academic departments. These companies should become more involved in research, and fund work on IT solutions that directly address their needs. Some financial services firms have begun to support IT research, an encouraging trend notes the report.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Read the full text of Making IT Better: Expanding Information Technology Research to Meet Society's Needs for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board

Committee on Information Technology Research in a Competitive World

Samuel H. Fuller* (co-chair)
Vice President of Research and Development
Analog Devices Inc.
Norwood, Mass.

David G. Messerschmitt* (co-chair)
Roger A. Strauch Professor
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences
University of California
Berkeley

Paul Baran*
Chairman of the Board
Com21 Inc.
Milpitas, Calif.

Linda R. Cohen
Professor and Chair
Department of Economics
University of California
Irvine

John A. Copeland
John H. Weitnauer Chair
School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta

Albert M. Erisman
Director of Mathematics and Computing Technology
Phantom Works
Boeing Co.
Seattle

Daniel T. Ling
Vice President
Microsoft Research
Microsoft Corp.
Redmond, Wash.

Robert L. Martin
Chief Technology Officer
Lucent Technologies
Murray Hill, N.J.

Joel Moses*
Institute Professor, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, and
Professor of Engineering Systems
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

Norine E. Noonan
Assistant Administrator
Office of Research and Development
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Washington, D.C.

David A. Patterson*
E.H. and M.E. Pardee Chair of Computer Science
Department of Computer Science
University of California
Berkeley

Stewart D. Personick*
E. Warren Colehower Chair Professor of Telecommunications
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and
Director
Center for Telecommunications and Information Networking
Drexel University
Philadelphia

Robert F. Sproull*
Vice President and Sun Fellow
Sun Microsystems Laboratories
Burlington, Mass.

Mark Weiser†
Chief Technologist
Palo Alto Research Center
Xerox Corp.
Palo Alto, Calif.

Patrick H. Windham
Consultant
Windham Consulting
Atherton, Calif.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger
Vice President of Technology and Strategy
Enterprise Systems Group
IBM Corp.
Somers, N.Y.

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Jerry R. Sheehan
Study Director


* Member, National Academy of Engineering
† deceased