4. ACTS as an integrated programmeContents
As was previously the case for RACE, it is seen as extremely important that the ACTS Programme is drawn together as a coherent whole. The overall level of results and lasting impact of the Programme can be significantly increased beyond that achievable by a set of individual projects working in isolation, through the technical integration of projects' work. There are a number of aspects to this, but the most central is the concept of drawing common interests together in concerted actions, known collectively as the 'concertation mechanism'. The added value of concertation is of direct benefit to participants in the programme, but more importantly it ensures that ACTS results are presented coherently and in a form suitable for active dissemination to interest groups outside of the Programme. By this means concertation helps to present ACTS RTD in a way that is relevant to the needs of European society as a whole, and to the EU's wider policy objectives.
Administration of ACTS is entrusted to the ACTS Central Office in the European Commission DGXIII-B. Strategic guidance is provided by the ACTS Management Committee. This is made up of representatives of the Member States, and other countries that have an agreement to participate as observers.Contents
There are three primary concertation groupings: a plenary meeting of project managers, which takes place 3-4 times per year, domain meetings of projects working in a similar field, and chain meetings where projects in different fields of research pool their resources to address a specific objective and Programme result which has importance outside of the programme itself.
Domains have been formed around the main technical areas of the programme outlined in 2.1 Scope of RTD in ACTS. Here projects report results, undergo an informal 'peer review', exchange ideas, prepare workshops and carry out other activities of common interest. This increases the synergy between projects, and helps to avoid overlap and duplication of effort.
Chains consist of five or more projects drawn from different parts of the Programme which are mutually supporting a defined objective. They contribute to a specific result such as the achievement and dissemination of a 'guideline' or realisation of a complex demonstration, which is acknowledged to be useful to a wider community outside the ACTS Programme. Chains are formed as a need arises and are dissolved when their goals are achieved. Individual projects are frequently active in more than one chain at any given time.Contents
A key requirement of ACTS projects is that they should be carried out in the context of trials which have a broader basis than that supported by the Programme itself. Experimental applications demonstrate the capabilities of advanced communications in a variety of business and public service sectors. They permit evaluation of potential advantages in terms of efficiency, reliability, or in terms of providing an alternative to the dissipation of natural resources or to further damaging the environment. At a more specialised and technical level, it is helpful that common interest groups experiment with emerging technologies. In this way the requirements of potential users can be better understood. Structural and regulatory constraints may be brought into focus and re-examined. Ultimately, such interest groups identify "best practices" for applying the technology in products.
Projects conducted within ACTS are thus associated with trials of three main types:
ACTS supports the largest set of linked trials, experiments and demonstrations of communications services and technologies anywhere in the world. Following the principle of subsidiarity (described in 1.2 The role of European research and technological development (RTD)), a network of National Hosts from 21 countries has been established. Each is willing and able to support projects active in its geographical region. Some National Hosts offer a broad range of facilities; others are more specialised and act as a nucleus and centre of expertise for projects focusing on their particular interests. The pre-accession countries of Central and Eastern Europe have shown increasing interest in the concept of National Hosts. Several such countries are moving to establish permanent National Hosts in response to an increasing level of practical communications experiments with their research partners in the Member States.
Through interconnection of the individual testbeds and organisations within any one National Host, and then the interconnection of the Hosts themselves, practical experimentation in advanced communications is supported at national, European and even international level. Though each National Host is different in the way it is structured and organised, they all support:
National Hosts co-operate through discussions and informal agreements reached within their National Hosts Forum, and jointly plan major conferences and demonstrations.Contents
Much of the technical experience gained in the RACE programme was recorded in Common Functional Specifications and Common Practice Requirements. For ACTS the primary focus has moved from equipment towards practical implementation of trial systems and generic applications. The key findings and experience are to be summarised in Guidelines. Guidelines are essentially concise, carefully focused documents; each targeted on the needs of specific interest groups outside the Programme. They ultimately reflect a wide consensus on how and when new technologies and services can be deployed. Guidelines are thus an important part of active promotion of Programme results, complementing practical demonstrations and oral presentations that are also targeted at the same interest groups.
Guidelines provide the basis for detailed consultation, and systematic collaboration with related research and policy initiatives of the EU (IT & Telematics research programmes, TEN-IBC, TEN-Telecom etc), of the Member States and Third Countries (E.g. COST, G8 Pilot Projects, EUREKA etc.) and of leading international industry groupings and standards bodies (DAVIC, MPEG, TINAC, ETSI etc). Individual guidelines present either strategic or specific technical recommendations of the Programme on issues such as:
As ACTS reaches maturity, the process of results consolidation is accelerating further. Practical experimentation results are becoming available in greater numbers, and are contributing to guidelines. A number of new 3rd-Call projects provide direct support for the consolidation of guidelines, the integration of individual projects' experiments, and dissemination / promotion activities.
Each initiative to communicate programme results requires careful and specific preparation. With a wide diversity of target audiences, the most effective means of communication in one instance may well be inappropriate in others. In addition to the organisations and market sectors represented within ACTS itself (the "ACTS Community") there are many other key business sectors to be addressed, also standards bodies, policy makers, educationalists, the general public, etc. Due care is taken to use the appropriate "conveyor" of ACTS results, from the viewpoint of each of the targeted groups of recipients.Contents
To measure the value of work carried out under the ACTS Programme, all participating projects are periodically surveyed to assess the expected impact of their work, and their exploitation plans. The most recent measurements were taken during the first quarter of 1997, by means of a dedicated questionnaire and detailed analysis of projects' annual reports .
Despite it being only the mid-point of the Programme, projects already reported significant goal achievement in terms of knowledge acquired and results disseminated. Within three years they anticipate more concrete contributions such as influence on standards, new product development, service improvement etc. They also suggest that participation in ACTS has contributed to an improvement in corporate image.
Approximately one-third of all projects reported plans for the commercial exploitation of what amounts to more than 400 systems, sub-systems or components that are being developed under the auspices of the programme.
All projects were asked whether, as a result of their work in the project, the technological position of companies in the consortium had been significantly improved versus companies in other parts of the world. It must be remembered that these other companies are also undertaking R&D of their own, and are often very successful commercially. Just to keep abreast of world developments is an achievement, so it is very significant that more than half of all projects feel that their ACTS research has actually given them a lead over their Western European rivals, and more than a third feel that this lead also extends to their rivals in the USA and Japan (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Technological Leadership obtained from ACTS Research
The Projects were also asked specifically about the commercial impact of their ACTS research. Here reduced investment risk, faster product/service development and more focused business strategies came out as the most significant impacts anticipated of work carried out under the auspices of the ACTS Programme.
Figure 9: Projected Commercial Impact of ACTS Research