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Information technologies and the information society, industry and cooperation with third countries

The Information Technologies programme (ESPRIT) plays an important role in the development of the information society, strengthening industry's competitiveness and broadening cooperation with third countries. In a recent conversation with RTD-News, Mr. Metakides, Director of ...

The Information Technologies programme (ESPRIT) plays an important role in the development of the information society, strengthening industry's competitiveness and broadening cooperation with third countries. In a recent conversation with RTD-News, Mr. Metakides, Director of the Commission's Information Technologies programme under the Fourth Framework Programme for research and technological development and demonstration (1994-1998) outlined how the programme relates to the information society, industry and cooperation with third countries. - Information technologies and the information society: "The priority for the Information Technologies programme is to provide the components of the information infrastructure needed by the information society. For example, take one of our focused clusters: technologies for business processes. A 'focused cluster' in the IT programme is a group of RTD projects and related activities bound together by a common industrial goal, drawing upon a number of disciplines and technology areas, and involving a wide range of organizations. There are four focused clusters in the programme: the Open Microprocessor Initiative, High-Performance Computing and Networking, Integration in Manufacturing, and Technologies for Business Processes. This is a totally new part of the programme. It aims to provide the technologies needed for an enterprise to restructure and re-engineer, and to supply whatever is required by an enterprise to participate in the information society. One way to understand the likely development of the information society is to use the analogy of electricity. Look at what happened in factories when electricity was first introduced. The steam engine was replaced by electric motors equipped with pulleys and gears. These increased productivity, though it took over 30 years to get to the point of having small motors spread out over a shop floor. It was impossible to have small steam engines distributed everywhere. This is where the real revolution took effect. The Commission is involved in many specific aspects of the various themes undertaken in the information society, as well as in related initiatives and research networks. 'A network for universities and research centres - Networking Europe's brain power' is one of the ten target applications to help launch the information society recommended last May in the Bangemann report, 'Europe and the global information society'. To further this, DG III and DG XIII recently held a call to support the interconnection of European national research and university networks at 34-155 megabits per second. This initiative was an integral part of the first calls for the Information Technologies and Telematics Applications programmes under the Fourth Framework Programme, published on 15 December last year. The outcome of the networks call is being evaluated against a budget of ECU 30 million available to fund selected projects." - The Information Technologies programme and industry: "The main new feature of the programme with respect to industry is its orientation towards users and markets, where our focus now very definitely lies. I should stress that we do not want to be responsible for producing technological white elephants. There are too many cases in the past of successful technological projects where the people responsible for marketing in the companies concerned did not even know of their existence. The R&D people got money from the outside; management was happy - but nobody used the results. For this reason, one of the main criteria for proposal selection under the Information Technologies programme is having a credible exploitation plan. This is one aspect that is absolutely central to our thinking. As 70% of all software is now produced in user companies, what sense does it make to differentiate between "supplier" and "user" in this case? Banks and insurance companies have armies of software engineers who do their own thing. User orientation is a sound strategy, not only for production but also because we can see that information technologies are now part of all industrial sectors. This is why the programme has established industrial advisory panels which bring together managers responsible for steel, food, power, chemical pharmaceutical and other industrial sectors. We have asked them what they think they want from the information infrastructure, information technologies and upfront suppliers. We have used their views as input for the current programme. We will convene them again later this year and will want to know if they feel we have respected their original recommendations." - International cooperation: "In the area of international cooperation, I don't think there's any doubt any more that the information society is a global affair. Vice-President Gore talked at February's G7 Ministerial Conference about the GII [Global Information Infrastructure], while the Bangemann report had already referred to the GIS [Global Information Society]. The G7 meeting showed that the important "G" was not the "G" in "G7" but the "G" in "Global". As Mr. Thabo Mbeki, the South African deputy president, indicated at the G7 meeting, we have to think long and hard before talking perhaps too glibly about the global information infrastructure. In Africa less than 10% of people have ever used a telephone. However, what should not be overlooked is that many countries that were lagging behind in traditional voice telephony are now leapfrogging straight to wireless digital technologies. A global information society must have a globally interconnected and interoperable information infrastructure. Interoperability is not like a coat of paint. It is not just the interoperability of connecting the 'pipes'. It's the compatibility of the databases that counts. And if libraries, for example, are to be connected worldwide and made accessible by compression algorithms and search and navigation tools and protocols, it follows that we must carry out our R&D globally. For these reasons, database architecture and interfaces are a main aspect of the work of the programme in relation to international cooperation. And of course the programme is open. It is open to Central and Eastern European countries, like all the programmes of the Fourth Framework Programme. In addition, it is one of the two programmes that has the so-called 'Article 8' in the legal text that defines its basis and scope. This is a key difference: the Information Technologies programme along with the Advanced Communications Technologies and Services (ACTS) programme, allows participation by essentially any country, though on a non-financed basis, of course. One of the results of Mr. Mbeki's presence at the G7 meeting is that an agreement was reached with President Santer and Commissioner Bangemann that South Africa would take the lead in an African information society information meeting, which will probably take place in 1996. There is also a planned event in Latin America, for which a date has yet to be confirmed. As for the PECO countries, we're trying to help as many teams as we can, especially from universities and research institutes, to get in contact with our activities. This is a key tool for controlling a brain drain that might otherwise deplete both the reservoir of trained human resources and the productive capabilities for these countries. With the rise of information society related activities, and with the broadening of the information market, people trained in these areas are becoming much sought after. We're conducting within the Information Technologies programme a lot of pilot actions, which in addition to producing technological results, should help maintain a healthy reservoir of expertise."