As I begin my term as IEEE Technical Activities Vice President, I reflect upon the many ways IEEE Societies and Technical Councils have adapted their activities in the past year to meet the occasion of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around this time, in 2020, IEEE was just beginning to understand how the health crisis would impact the way we conduct business and interact with our volunteers and members. Within a very brief period of time, members, volunteers, and staff were tasked with transposing entire portfolios of planned activities to a new virtual landscape. We were asked to successfully meet the current needs of our constituents, while also addressing the challenges of a global pandemic. Our resilience and energy to adapt was tested, as we were forced to “think outside the box” – and, in many cases, out of our comfort zones.
IEEE and IEEE Technical Activities met this challenge head-on, and I would like to acknowledge the successful efforts across IEEE, and especially in our Societies and Technical Councils. This dynamic, in a way, mirrors the approach we need to take each day as we work together as an organization to “advance technology for the benefit of humanity.”
Technology, and the needs of our members, are constantly evolving. And while we are beginning to see some signs of a return to normalcy, I challenge us to continue to embody the flexibility, adaptation, and collaboration that have been demonstrated over the past year. By learning from our ability to shift quickly, scale efficiently, and adapt significantly, we will be better prepared to meet new challenges as they arise, attract a more diverse group of members, and reach technologists on a significantly larger scale globally. It is IEEE’s ability to adapt that will ultimately engage existing and potential members, and we must remain forward-thinking and collaborative to ensure that IEEE is well-positioned for a successful future.
In Technical Activities, cross-disciplinary collaboration drives success. Our Societies and Technical Councils must work together to address emerging technologies, identify future sources of new products and services, and tap into segments with whom we’ve not historically engaged. They must be ahead of the curve and proactively identify future trends and technology roadmaps, while staying rooted in the foundational principles of their respective fields of interest.
To bring visibility to the exceptional work of IEEE Societies and Technical Councils, I will be sharing major accomplishments from them that embody the spirit defined above. At present, I would like to highlight two examples: how IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) has strengthened industry relationships via their corporate engagement program and how IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) has worked to reduce the digital divide.
IEEE Power & Energy Society Strengthens Relationship with Industry Partners
One of PES’ primary strategies in 2020, while continually looking for ways to engage with new members, was to develop a strong liaison with industry. PES made notable progress throughout the year by expanding activities provided to the PES Corporate Engagement Program participants to include five organizations, with plans to offer the partnership beyond North America.
By participating in the PES Corporate Engagement Program, companies gain access to a host of “collaboration benefits,” such as access to the PES Resource Center, participation in cooperation initiatives with regulatory and government entities, networking opportunities with industry leaders, online training around topics of interest, and company-facing education around guides and standards development. A full list of collaboration benefits can be found here. In 2020, multiple professional development online events were offered to program participants. Close to 400 people participated. The final materials were made available in the PES Resource Center.
The Corporate Engagement Program has yielded benefits beyond what it offers to companies. PES members from Corporate Engagement Program participants were key contributors to the “Sharing Knowledge on Electrical Energy Industry’s First Response to COVID-19” white paper released in May 2020. The paper drew upon input from global energy industry stakeholders. It was made available free via the PES Resource Center and has been downloaded close to 1,000 times since its release. This quick action to share knowledge on the industry’s first response has helped ensure the reliable and safe distribution of electricity to communities worldwide.
IEEE Communications Society Works to Reduce the Digital Divide
ComSoc has recently engaged in efforts to reduce the digital divide, which has been widening in the past decade, creating economic and informational inequities, but which has become especially pronounced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This gulf denies disadvantaged populations access to timely and useful data on the internet as they are unable or less able to obtain digital information, work from home, access remote learning, receive health care services, schedule online appointments, or learn and share skills.
This divide, which has been increasing, has been greatly amplified and accelerated by the pandemic, which induced heavy reliance on remote learning, tele-work, e-commerce, banking, and medical consultation. As we strive as a society to return to some normalcy, the divide prohibits those who have difficulty using the internet and/or devices (due to economic, age, disability, and other factors) from accessing valuable information such as the ability to schedule vaccination appointments.
ComSoc is currently exploring efforts to reduce the disparities and equalize opportunities – which will require creating and introducing new infrastructure, financing, policy, regulations, and education on how to use the medium. This is a much larger effort than simply giving computers and network services to people without access; there is a sociological aspect that must be addressed, and in order to foster this dialogue, ComSoc is creating opportunities to raise visibility.
As such, ComSoc hosted a workshop in October 2020 at which a major topic was the need for underserved communities to have sufficient bandwidth access to participate in the digital economy and live a lifestyle that enables digital aptitude.
ComSoc is also planning an October 2021 hybrid workshop with a focus on global reach and regional promotion. The goal of the workshop is to produce a set of recommendations that influences public and private efforts to drive digital inclusion around the globe and address it from the technical, economic, and social aspects including policies legislations, public and private financing, with the intention of creating a sustainable effort giving the sociological aspects of the problem the proper emphasis. ComSoc welcomes all interested IEEE entities to participate. More on this subject will be shared in a future TA Technical Community Spotlight issue.
Throughout the rest of my tenure as Vice President, Technical Activities, I will charge Society and Technical Council leadership to approach their work with the same tenacity that fueled their ambition at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and that these Societies have demonstrated. I extend an open invitation to all TA Societies and Technical Councils to send me impactful accomplishments of your organization so that I can highlight your accomplishments in future Spotlight articles. I encourage the rest of IEEE to join me and look forward to seeing how we can create new opportunities together.
Roger U. Fujii
2021 Vice President, IEEE Technical Activities