Domenico Laforenza by Domenico Laforenza

The scientific and professional societies in ICST in Europe have a key responsibility in helping to understand and to shape the digital future. They should collectively identify the vision, needs and priorities, and offer their expertise to the entire discipline and to society as a whole.

A round table on the “Role and Strategies of the European ICST Public Research Organisations towards Horizon 2020”, was held in October 2012 in the framework of the ERCIM Fall meetings at INRIA Sophia Antipolis. The panel addressed how European public research organisations working in Information and Communication Sciences and Technologies (ICST) can contribute to the success of Horizon 2020 (H2020), and in particular to the strategic direction of the “Excellence in Science” agenda. Members of the panel were: Domenico Laforenza (CNR, ERCIM Vicepresident – panel moderator), Keith Jeffery (STFC-RAL, ERCIM President), Michel Cosnard (CEO and Chairman, INRIA), Jan van Leeuwen (Utrecht University, Chair of the European Forum for ICST), Jos Baeten (CEO, CWI), Matthias Jarke (Chairman, ICT Group, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft).

The initial presentation addressed the new challenges introduced by H2020. After an overview of the objectives and structure of H2020, focusing on the three pillars of the H2020 strategy (Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges), DG “Connect” (the new Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology created by the EC in July 2012 in order to manage the Digital Agenda for Europe) was presented.

The main question raised in the panel was: How can European public ICST research organisations contribute to shaping the H2020 work programmes? In the past, each organisation interacted independently with the EC; however, the lack of a single voice has seriously impacted on their ability to be heard by EC decision makers. The development of common viewpoints and strategies for ICST in Europe and, whenever appropriate or needed, a common representation of these viewpoints and strategies at the international level are the foundational principles of the European Forum for Information and Communication Sciences and Technologies. EFICST (http://www.eficst.eu/) was established in November 2011 by the joint action of seven leading organisations and societies in ICST in Europe: ACM Europe (ACM Europe Council), European Association for Programming Languages and Systems (EAPLS), European Association of Software Science and Technology (EASST), European Association for Theoretical Computer Science (EATCS), European Coordinating Committee for Artificial Intelligence (ECCAI), European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM), and INFORIE (Informatics Europe). The Forum is intended to be an open platform for cooperation among the scientific ICT societies in Europe.

As reported in an EFICST white paper (Shaping the Digital Future of Europe) under preparation, the advances in information and communication science and technology continue to dramatically impact on our economies and our society. Computational thinking and virtualization are revolutionizing both science and technology. Driven by the need for automation and the exciting opportunities that are emerging, the development of ICST must be accompanied by a sound and far-reaching vision of the way we will live, work, and do business in the years to come. This requires a permanent dialogue between ICST professionals and the many other stakeholders involved, aimed at understanding where future innovations will take us. In its strategy for 2013-2015, the European Forum for ICST is defining a set of actions intended to meet these challenges in view of the crucial role of ICST as a key driver of innovation and change. The strategy focuses on three areas: Software as the key enabling technology of Europe’s digital future; ICT as the catalyst of industrial and societal innovation, and Informatics as a scientific discipline in vocational and professional education.

It was observed in the panel that although software is worldwide considered a strategic key enabling technology, unfortunately “software” is not included in the list of the Key Enabling Technologies (micro- and nano-electronics; photonics; nanotechnologies; advanced materials; biotechnology; advanced manufacturing and processing) reported in official EC H2020 documents. In order to raise awareness that the lack of recognition of the strategic importance of software technology will lead to a significant reduction in global European competitiveness, an interesting ISTAG report, titled “The Missing KET: Toward a Strategic Agenda for Software Technologies in Europe”, has been released. The objective of this report is to create a sense of urgency in the European software industry and awareness of software as the prime industrial differentiator and basis for innovation.

An additional topic discussed during the panel was how to reinforce relationships with the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) of the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT), and in particular with the EIT KIC ICT Labs, in order to stimulate innovation through a more rigorous and dynamic link with higher education, research and business.

The final message of the panel was that European digital future is in the hands of many stakeholders, driven by different goals and needs. It is important to achieve coordinated thinking and actions so that society can benefit in the best possible way and not run the risk of missed opportunities or unwanted effects.

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