Keith Jeffery appointed new ERCIM President
'ERCIM Needs Closer Cooperation'
Keith Jeffery, director of IT for CCLRC took office as ERCIM president on 1st January. His main message: ERCIM members must work closer together, on the level of the working groups, but also in management. Keith believes that is the only way to play a role in the European knowledge society.
With the election of Keith, ERCIM is led by a geologist not the most obvious choice for an ICT research consortium. His geology research, however, led Keith in an early stage to the subject of information systems. Since then he has worked on database systems, scientific computing and e-business. Keith has experience of all the major structures of ERCIM. He was a member of ERCIM's Executive Committee from 1994-1998 and a member of ERCIM's Board of Directors since 1998. He was also on the Director's strategy task force and he led the (now discontinued) Database Research Working Group from 1991.
Keith succeeds Stelios Orphanoudakis who had to resign for health reasons in October 2004. "Of course I am happy my collegues in the Board of Directors elected me as president, Keith says. "But I would have liked the circumstances to be different. I can speak for all directors when I wish Stelios a rapid recovery and return to ERCIM."
"I will carry on the main line of my predecessors," Keith responds when asked about his plans for ERCIM, "but with my own added flavour." During the November meeting in Malaga, just before his appointment, Keith already gave a small taste of that flavour. The Board of Directors agreed to his proposal to change ERCIM's management structure. The Board, supported by the Strategic Task Group, determines ERCIM's goals. This policy is then carried out by the Executive Committee with the help of four task groups, Projects, Finance, HR Management and Public Relations.
"My observation of ERCIM since 1991 was that the organization was somewhat fuzzy. Decision-making, priority-setting and resource management require clear lines of communication between organizational units with clear objectives and without significantly overlapping tasks. The new structure is clear and simple. It resembles the way a company is organized."
The new structure is necessary, Keith believes, for ERCIM to play a role in the realization of the Lisbon strategy (the European Council set out a ten-year strategy in March 2000 in Lisbon to make the EU the world's most dynamic and competitive economy). "Lisbon requires European cooperation on a scale and a depth hitherto unseen. ERCIM can and should be a leading player in its realization. However, currently we do not have this level of cooperation within our own organization."
Keith hopes the new organization paves the way for a common ERCIM strategy and more focused research. He confirms that this means more influence from ERCIM on its members' research activities. "However, no pressure or diktats are involved. I believe the members will realize the benefits of an ERCIM-wide approach. Of course not all institutes have to be involved in every ERCIM project. Depending on the individual institutional objectives members can decide to join."
Working groups will also be stimulated to expand their collaboration. "ERCIM has several successful working groups, but on the whole they are not doing as well as they could be. I would like to see each working group manage three projects, one of them together with another ERCIM working group. Furthermore, I am preparing a proposal to reserve funding to stimulate working groups to adopt more uniform procedures and develop PR material."
He realizes these ambitions depend on the willingness of the ERCIM members. "There has been a tendency for each institute to nurture its self-interests. It is my job to ensure everybody sees the advantages of belonging to ERCIM and participating to their full capacity. As a start it would be a good idea to try to gain an 'Integrated Project' from the EU, for instance on a combination of semantic web and GRIDs. That would definitely be an inspiring example."
Keith also wants to strengthen ties with ICT companies. "In my opinion ERCIM is oriented too much towards academic blue-sky research. I believe members can gain valuable experience and contacts by collaboration with commercial partners. This does not mean that commercial projects should dominate ERCIM research. My experience is every ICT problem has multiple aspects. ERCIM members can address predominantly basic research components, while companies deal with predominantly commercial components."
One of the issues that will undoubtedly be high on the agenda during Keith's presidency is the further expansion of ERCIM. According to Keith, the consortium will actively look for members in the new EU countries. "ERCIM was ahead of the EU in recruiting Central Europe. But since that time the Union has overtaken us. We are adressing this through the new Strategic Task Group."
Keith Jeffery was interviewed by Fedde van der Lijn, CWI, ERCIM local editor for The Netherlands.