Government needs more research funds to keep up with IT, NRC study says

Government needs more research funds to keep up with IT, NRC study says<@VM>How Uncle Sam should fund R&D

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

The federal government must increase its spending on research to match the pace of information technology development, a National Research Council report states.

'The future of IT and the society it increasingly powers depend on continued investments in research,' the council concluded.

'Despite the incredible progress made over the past five decades, IT is anything but a mature, stable technology. Revolutionary new technologies based on quantum physics, molecular chemistry and biological processes are being examined as replacements for or complements to the silicon-based chips that perform the basic computations,' according to the report, Making IT Better: Expanding the Scope of Information Technology to Meet Society's Needs.

The report proposes an increase in basic IT research funding by 'hundreds of millions of dollars per year,' along the lines of last year's recommendation from the President's IT Advisory Committee.

PITAC's proposals are on track, said Samuel H. Fuller, co-chairman of the Committee on IT Research in a Competitive World, which conducted the NRC study, and vice president of R&D for Analog Devices Inc. of Norwood, Mass. [GCN, Jan. 10, Page 31].

It is often impossible to determine which research will result in a payoff, Fuller said. Sometimes small research projects produce significant results.

Overall, the country's IT research base appears to be thriving, the authors said. Federal funding for IT research rose from about $1.4 billion in 1990 to $2 billion in 1998, the most recent year for which there is data.

Furthermore, combined R&D expenditures in the private sector also appear to be increasing dramatically, to nearly $45 billion in 1998.

'Nevertheless, current investments in IT research are insufficient to support an important expansion of the IT research agenda,' such as problems with design, deployment and operation of enterprise systems, and the social applications those systems support, the report stated.

'Neither large-scale systems nor social applications of IT are adequately addressed by the IT research community today,' the report said. Most research is directed toward components of systems, such as microprocessors, computers and network technologies that are assembled into enterprise systems, and the software that lets the components work together.

But research on components should be viewed as a part of an overall approach that includes research aimed directly at improving enterprise systems and the social applications of IT, the report said.

Enterprise systems contain many interacting hardware and software components, and tend to be heterogeneous, the report stated. Over time, the systems become so large and so complex they cannot be designed using current methodologies.

The report also noted that there should be research in social applications of IT, which NRC defined as systems that improve the effectiveness of geographically separate groups that work together on a project.

Check your stats

The report also calls for better statistics on government and industrial investments in IT research. The current data is inconsistent, said David G. Messerschmitt, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and co-chairman of the study group.

Specifically, the Census Bureau should develop better procedures for classifying data on federal and industry IT R&D that will account more efficiently for investment decisions, he said.

One problem has been that some agencies lack experience funding R&D, Fuller said.

More information about the report can be found at www.cstb.org.





How Uncle Sam should fund R&D
For government

• The federal government should continue to boost funding for information technology research, making it commensurate with the growing scope of research challenges.

• The National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency should establish significant programs to conduct research in enterprise systems.

• Federal agencies should increase support for interdisciplinary work on social applications, draw on the expertise of researchers from IT and other disciplines, and include users.

• The Census Bureau should develop more effective procedures for classifying data on federal and industrial investments in IT R&D that better account for the dynamic nature of the industry.

For universities

• Universities should take steps to increase participation of faculty members and students in interdisciplinary IT and enterprise systems research.

• Senior faculty members should direct pioneering research on large-scale systems and social applications.



For industry
• Organizations that have a significant number of users should seek opportunities to work with IT researchers.

• IT companies with established R&D divisions should develop ways to include users in the research.

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