by Carol Peters and Martin Prime
What is the role of ERCIM in European IT Research and Development and how can ERCIM help strengthen the European IT industry? A panel session held on the 9 November this year at the ERCIM meetings in Budapest discussed these issues. The panellists were Alain Bensoussan, Vice-President of ERCIM, and George Metakides, Head of the EC IT programme at DG III. In his opening remarks Alain Bensoussan stressed the need for Europe to play a leading role in the world-wide IT market. Among the reasons why the US is currently so successful one can mention the strength of the scientific community and the excellent organisational and financial infrastructures that encourage the creation of new industry and stimulate industrial growth and development. Innovation is encouraged by ambitious government initiatives (such as ARPA-net, superhighway, and High Performance Computing) and by the world-wide dissemination of results originating from American research centers. The scientific community working in Europe must cooperate to meet this challenge. ERCIM is ideally placed to respond. It already unites the main R&D laboratories of the member countries and can thus act as a strong catalyst in IT research.
As a consequence, ERCIM is equipped to contribute substantially to the preparation of the 5th framework programme. In particular, a genuine partnership between science and industry is lacking for this preparation. An organized action is required to achieve successful synergistic collaboration.
European IT should also be active in Asia and in developing countries.
Creating new industry is a major challenge. Products developed by European "start-ups" are unfortunately considered as risky, due to their limited market share. The EU could help by fostering their take-up across borders. Furthermore, a financial market similar to NASDAQ is needed.
George Metakides said that we are moving fast towards an Information Society whose structure and specific evolution path is not predictable. This involves a broad effort including a legal and regulatory framework and an inducive financial environment within which R&D and pilot applications can bear fruit.
R&D can contribute to the reduction of costs for all applications. The accessibility to infrastructures as well as to training, and the development of standards are key issues.
He agreed that ERCIM's input will be a valuable contribution in the planning of the 5th framework programme which is just beginning. The structure and the procedures should be radically renewed. At the stage where the first specific activities are planned, ERCIM can be brought in.
ERCIM could help SMEs which try to survive in a global market by providing ready access to R&D results. To this end, ERCIM should be involved in the G7 Pilot Project "Global Market for SMEs".
A blueprint for the development of technology transfer centres will be prepared by heads of industrial programmes in Luxembourg. ERCIM will be invited to participate in this activity and should get involved.
The W3 Consortium provides ERCIM an excellent opportunity to develop strong links with industry at large, and specifically with SMEs. ERCIM labs should become the local nodes of the European Branch of the W3 Consortium.
ERCIM is well-placed to play a stronger role in the training of human resources - the key element in competitive advantage and for the realisation of successful projects - and should play a major role in the trainee scheme of the ESPRIT-LTR programme. Furthermore, it could study the launch of an important training initiative in coordination with DGXII and DGXXII. A training initiative that would go further than what the present academic programmes propose should be envisaged.
ERCIM's proposed Digital Document Repository is a highly positive initiative. This activity is extremely relevant to parts of ESPRIT, to the TELEMATICS Libraries and Linguistic research programmes and is to be strongly encouraged.
The issue of the Information Society in Developing Countries is of primary importance. The EU is co-sponsoring a meeting in May-June 1996 on this topic in South Africa. There is the Mediterranean programme where ERCIM should play a role in the IT related part. This involves R&D and training and ERCIM should start building contacts with local industry of these countries to prepare pilot projects.
To sum up, ERCIM can be an irreplaceable tool in the organisation and implementation of European research and technology transfer activities. As the strengths of ERCIM are becoming clear, its integration within EU programmes will increase.
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