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The Greek Interoperability Centre: Enabling Research in the Interoperability Domain

Final Report Summary - G.I.C. (The Greek interoperability centre: Enabling research in the interoperability domain)

Executive summary:

Interoperability has been recognised as the key issue for achieving high productivity of enterprises, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and their information systems but also as the main driver for delivering effective pan-European electronic government services towards citizens and businesses. Promoted by the i2010 Strategy Framework and recently also by the Europe2020 as being a key area of the e-government and e-business European Commission research roadmaps, but also being a hot issue for all governments of the 27 member states and the third countries, interoperability is recognised as an inter-disciplinary research topic with high political and technological value.

The Greek Interoperability Centre (G.I.C.) is a Support Action project carried out under the 'Research Potential' theme of the FP7 Capacities Programme with the aim of establishing a new research centre targeting e-government and e-business Interoperability Research, within the National Technical University of Athens. During the project duration, the goal has been to establish the G.I.C. as a premium research centre in the field of Interoperability in Greece, cooperating with local universities across the Greek regions but also institutions from the Balkans and the Mediterranean - thus forming a strong regional pole of research and technology.

Towards this goal, the project has focussed on:

the creation of a national research pole of interoperability which cooperates with enterprises, governmental organisations and research centres, in order to achieve high quality interoperability research results
2. the interaction and networking with relevant organisations and research centres, at regional, European and international level, so as to mutually gain benefits, i.e. exchange experience and knowhow, as well as communicate results and assist neighbouring countries in the region
3. the contribution of multi-disciplinary research on interoperability, tackling research challenges at organisational, semantic and technical level but also within various vertical thematic application domains (e.g. e-government, e-business, network of the future etc.)
4. the contribution to policy making and standardisation in Greece and the European Union (EU), thus assisting the implementation of European policies and interoperability-related initiatives
5. the creation of a new generation of young and qualified researchers, capable of tackling emerging interoperability issues in businesses and governments
6. the active dissemination of research results towards the scientific and business community in Greece, in the neighbouring countries, the EU and internationally.

Project context and objectives:

Project rationale

Nowadays, the shift of the traditional businesses and governments towards e-business and e-government models is inescapable, shifting accordingly the focus of management and information sciences. In order though to take full advantage of the opportunities promised by the envisaged new models of work and service provision, a number of research issues must be addressed with interoperability having a key role.

Interoperability reaches all enterprises and governmental organisations at national and international level and constitutes a thriving research domain from all aspects - scientific, entrepreneurial, societal and political. Lack of interoperability appears as the most long lasting and challenging problem for enterprises and governmental organisations, a problem that has emerged from the proprietary development or extensions of applications, the unavailability or oversupply of standards and the existence of heterogeneous hardware and software platforms. Legacy enterprise applications often hinder cooperation endeavours, since they require complex system integration efforts, while international research estimates claim that around 40 % of system implementation budgets are spent on system integration with other (legacy) systems within an enterprise.

To meet their business objectives, enterprises and public organisations need to collaborate with other organisations: for many enterprises, doing business globally has become critical to their survival, while others (mainly governmental organisations and SMEs) discover new opportunities by focussing their business in a local setting. The situation has become more critical and important through new business paradigms like extended enterprises and networked organisations that require organisations to work together to achieve further benefits. Therefore, today an organisation's competitiveness is to a large extent determined by its ability to seamlessly interoperate with others.

From a policy point of view, the importance of interoperability has been recognised and stressed in the EU policy framework (e.g. the i2010 Strategic Framework and more recently the Digital Agenda for Europe/Europe 2020 Strategy). Being the logical link between the high-level goals of the Lisbon Strategy and more operational information and communication technologies (ICT)-related actions, the i2010 Framework has pointed out that 'businesses are getting productivity gains from ICT but still face a lack of interoperability, reliability and security, difficulties to re-organise and integrate ICT into the workplace and high cost of support' and has thus explicitly identified interoperability as one of the key bottlenecks that should be tackled by i2010 in order to create a single European information space and make the European Union more competitive. On the other hand, the more recent Digital Agenda for Europe, a flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 Strategy, also highlights the importance of interoperability, as it identifies seven priority areas for action, among which 'Interoperability and Standards' focuses on the necessity for new information technology (IT) devices, applications, data repositories and services to interact seamlessly anywhere and specifies improved standard-setting procedures and increased interoperability as the keys to success.

The importance of interoperability of organisations and systems has been furthermore recognised by the European Commission through the creation of the European interoperability framework (EIF) and respective e-business interoperability framework (eBIF) as evolving tools for guiding administrations and industries.

From the Greek viewpoint, the Greek Digital Strategy acknowledges interoperability as a core pillar towards the Information Society of 2013, while recent reports of the 'interoperable delivery of European e-government services to public administrations, businesses and citizens' (IDABC) underpin this thesis by stating that interoperability is a vital issue in Greece, where there is a plethora of governmental organisations, citizens and enterprises that need to interact, though they do not have such a potential since in most cases they have been focussed on their own requirements and have already defined their specific, inflexible information systems according to their own assumptions and interpretations. Throughout the resent years, the Greek government has undertaken several projects for achieving an e-government infrastructure the soonest possible -e.g. the e-government interoperability framework (e-GIF), the national governmental portal (HERMES), the Greek e-procurement system, the ministries and municipalities portals and the back-office systems of the districts and the prefectures and has allocated more than five billion Euros, originating from national funding schemes or the community support frameworks (CSFs) to the modernisation of the public administration, thus making the need for interoperability standards, research results and prototype implementations at national level as important as ever.

Project results:

Main scientific and technological (S&T) results / foregrounds:

The following paragraphs present the main S&T results and foregrounds of each project component, highlighting the specific working objectives considered and methodological approach carried out for this purpose.

Enhancing know how and experience
% The purpose of the project's component 'Enhancing know how and experience' has been to strengthen the researchers' ability to conduct innovative research by enhancing their scientific background of knowledge and experience in order to constitute the basis for G.I.C.'s potential research staff. At the beginning of the project, the G.I.C. core team had already extensive experience and capacity level in various key fields of interoperability, acquired over the years through participating in significant interoperability projects, research activities and policy initiatives. Thus, the main aim of the G.I.C. has been to methodologically train the members of the G.I.C. team and to extend and further enhance the expertise level of the research team by covering in a balanced and coordinated manner critical interoperability dimensions.

The training requirements analysis and the development of the training plan regarding the training seminars, activities and training visits have been based on a combined elaboration of the interoperability knowledge map (I-KMap), a three dimension categorisation of interoperability issues, the knowledge gathered from consulting research leading research centres and experts and a prioritisation of the knowledge and expertise needs of the G.I.C.

Organising short term training sessions with invited experts

The project team has contacted along the project duration acknowledged experts and managers in the domain of interoperability, as well as in other relevant scientific fields, in order to organise a series of regular short-term training sessions in Greece. These experts have all been part of a broader list of prominent experts, scientists and researchers in the field, with whom the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) collaborates in the scope of various national and international initiatives. The final selection was determined during the course of the project according to the training needs of the project team, the current status and evolutions of the interoperability research and the experts' availability at the time.

At the end of month 48 of the project, more than 60 national and international experts covering the various interoperability dimensions had been identified as main contributors to the training goals of the project, either as trainers in three to five day seminars organised by the G.I.C. or as partners in ad-hoc training and dissemination activities. Accordingly, more than 20 training seminars and related activities were organised or attended by G.I.C. members during the four years of the project duration and mainly during the first half of the project.

Organising short term training visits to international research centres

A number of research centres and institutes were identified in international, regional and national level and their research expertise was mapped against the scientific areas specified in the I-KMap. The criteria for choosing the following centres have been their collaboration with NTUA on a series of research projects, their participation in prominent research projects and initiatives in the interoperability domain and their worldwide acknowledgement by the scientific community and the industry as centres of excellence.

More than 20 international research centres have been identified throughout the course of the project as sharing G.I.C. research scope and training targets. A series of Greek and regional centres have also been identified, with which G.I.C. members have already established communication links on the ground of research as well as training cooperation initiatives.

In total, more than 10 organised training sessions or ad hoc visits to national and international centres took place along the project duration under the umbrella of the training component or that of the research and dissemination components, surpassing the target of six visits to be organised during the first half of the project.

At the end of the project, the G.I.C. team fulfilled the goals of the project's 'Enhancing know how and experience' component and managed to boost substantially its expertise level in a variety of scientific areas and fields, in which interoperability has a central and essential role. The training activities performed resulted also in the collection of significant presentation and training material that remains available to the research team for future reference or further use and exploitation within the frame of training purposes.

Advancing human resources

The goal of the project's 'Advancing human resources' component has been to invigorate the team's human resources capacities by bringing new experienced staff, capable of helping the team to manage its increased research activities and reach out to new districts and scientific fields that could constitute potential application areas for the G.I.C. In particular, the objective of this component has been twofold, targeting:

1. the recruitment of high level experienced staff to help deal with the increased management demands of the G.I.C. in order to establish its future operation and penetrate new markets in the region;
2. the approach, training and incorporation of young researchers into the team.

Recruiting high-level managers

The purpose of this component has been to determine G.I.C.'s present and potential future needs and conduct a 'market search' in order to identify high-level personnel capable of helping G.I.C. to manage its research activities, establish its operation in Greece and expand to new geographic regions (Balkans, eastern Europe, south Mediterranean) and scientific fields (e-health, e-learning, network of the future) and thereby of contributing in the development of deliverables and outcomes of strategic importance, namely the G.I.C.'s regional penetration strategy, technology evaluation and selection scenario and business plan.

Once the core management team of G.I.C. was established and mobilised, requirements for the recruitment of experienced management experts to support the running and the strategic development of the centre were analysed and high-level ICT managers and strategists were approached. As a result, a team of senior experts, complementing each other in terms of advanced ICT skills, research capacity, strategic management and business planning competencies, project management skills etc. was formed and gradually familiarised with the centre's mission and objectives through a series of management meeting/roundtables on the preparatory activities for developing a sound and sustainable bussiness plan of the centre.

During the third year of the project, the G.I.C. management experts started elaborating and developing the key strategic documents to guide the centre's operation throughout the forthcoming three-years period. More specifically, the project team have developed the G.I.C. regional penetration strategy, a report identifying the needs for the G.I.C. services in the nearby geographic regions and planning a strategy for entering these potential markets.

Along with the regional penetration strategy, the project team developed the G.I.C. technology evaluation and selection scenario, a report assessing the status of the centre in relation to the technology domains, as identified and defined in the emerging structure of the enterprise interoperability science base, developed by the Seventh Framework Programme's (FP7) Coordination and Support Action 'Ensemble', an initiative coordinated by NTUA-G.I.C. with the purpose to select those domains, in which G.I.C. should focus in terms of further developing its capabilities, expanding its range of services and pursuing research and development (R&D) opportunities to ensure its sustainability. The analysis performed showed that G.I.C. should focus on the domains of software systems, social networks, services and knowledge interoperability for providing services, while developing its capacities and ameliorating its status in the areas of objects, cloud and electronic identity interoperability.

G.I.C. technology domains of focus

The regional penetration strategy and the technology evaluation and selection scenario provided thence input for the elaboration of the G.I.C. business plan, i.e. the strategy for establishing and operating G.I.C. as a premium research centre after the end of the project, setting also the details of specific activities and the relevant time-schedule to be followed within the next two to three years.

Recruiting and enabling young researchers and offering two way secondments

Addressing the need to increase the centre's human resources in number and quality of researchers, in order to meet its advanced research activities, the G.I.C. team has proceeded throughout the project duration in the recruitment of a number of qualified researchers (senior, medium and junior) that have been thoroughly selected to support the establishment and the operation of the centre. These researchers have been involved in the development of the interoperability applications and demonstrations, in the research proposals within FP7, ICT and national initiatives, in regional and national studies carried out to measure, benchmark and support the role of interoperability at an ICT policy level, in managing the technical infrastructure of the centre, in supporting international and regional cooperation research initiatives at a national, regional and international level etc., assuming thus key role in the project activities.

The researchers' recruitment, engagement and training has in fact been supported through the development of dedicated courses on interoperability and interoperability related fields, the organisation of student contests and the organisation of secondments with international research centres and companies with which NTUA is cooperating in the scope of international projects and initiatives. To this direction, GIC during the project duration has done considerable work. Three courses on Interoperability have more specifically been developed by G.I.C. and are included in the academic undergraduate and postgraduate curricula of national universities.

Additionally, with the objective of attracting students of high calibre, with innovative ideas and creative spirit in the field of e-government, e-business and interoperability, the centre has established and successfully co-organised for two successive years the 'WeGov Awards' competition, a Panhellenic student contest for innovation in electronic governance, addressed to students of Greek universities and technical education institutions and targeting to encourage and promote young innovation in the specific area. The first Panhellenic student competition for innovation in electronic governance (WeGov Awards 2010) was launched in April 2010 and attracted the interest of more than 50 students representing more than 20 higher education institutions. The second WeGov Awards (2011) was announced on 30 March 2011 and met equal acceptance.

To further enhance the capabilities of its already existing human resources the project team also organised a series of research secondments, targeting the exchange of researchers for a limited period of time (indicatively two to three months) among G.I.G. and international centres/companies active in the interoperability, e-government and e-business domain, with the objective to enable knowhow transfer and sharing of research experiences under an on-the-job training scheme.

All the secondments carried out resulted in fruitful cooperation and mutual benefits, yielding in most of the cases high quality research outcomes and material and putting the foundations for the further collaboration in the future.

Creating the G.I.C. technology lab

Besides enhancing knowhow and experience and advancing human resources, G.I.C. has targeted as well the creation of the necessary technological capacities with the objective to establish a fully equipped technological laboratory, capable of creating scenarios, running interoperability tests and simulations, providing training and promoting in general research in the field of interoperability. This component has focussed therefore on establishing the G.I.C. technology environment and hence on procuring and setting up the required infrastructures, a process which has been carried out in two phases and following a scalable approach, so as to allow for a balanced development of the centre and gradual installation of the necessary equipment according to the arising requirements during the project course.

Already from the early stages of the project implementation, the G.I.C. team has been mobilised so as to define the centre's needs in technological infrastructures and to contact suppliers and industrial vendors of the targeted hardware and software components for investigating opportunities of achieving favourable pricing policies. The project team has in fact developed the G.I.C. lab technical specifications and infrastructures procurement plan, specifying the necessary technological infrastructures for supporting the G.I.C. functions and provided services.

By the end of the first procurement phase (M20), an operational modern technological environment was set up, capable of serving in an efficient manner the multi-faceted functions of the centre during its initial operation and thereby functioning as a demonstration area, a meeting room, as well as a working space for G.I.C. researchers. The decision support systems (DSS) lab as the hosting environment for G.I.C. operations, contributed also own server and networking resources to support G.I.C. infrastructure smooth running and incorporation in the laboratory technological environment.

Following this phase, the project team carried on identifying additional and changing requirements for the operation of the centre and monitoring state-of-the-art technological developments, so as to define and meet the infrastructural needs of the centre at a more mature point of its development and consequently to incorporate and take into account relevant findings and considerations from the work implemented within the context of the development of two key documents, namely the G.I.C. technology evaluation and selection scenario and the G.I.C. business plan.

Today, the G.I.C. physical infrastructure includes the demonstration area, a server room, a meeting room to serve the needs of the centre for internal meetings as well as for meetings with various G.I.C. stakeholders and finally, additional working space for G.I.C. researchers, G.I.C. visitors and students. Furthermore, it is equipped with state of the art hardware and software infrastructures, allowing for the hosting and demonstration of commercial components and research prototypes, the creation of real-life scenarios, the conduction of interoperability tests, the launch of web applications and the provision of on-line training.

Enabling research

Within the frame of this component on enabling research, the project team has pursued to ensure the participation and contribution of the G.I.C. in a number of research projects and cooperation initiatives in the domain of interoperability, as well as in the work and activities of international research groups. Therefore, it has focussed on identifying the centre's research priorities with respect to the objectives of relevant European Community (EC) research work programmes and on developing strong links to research poles - i.e. international research clusters and centres, European technology platforms, standardisation bodies - in order to foster potential synergies and cooperations in FP7 and other EC research and standardisation initiatives, by inviting them to participate in proposals or by participating as a partner in their project schemas, as well as by actively contributing in their research work and activities.

Already from the early stages of the project, the G.I.C. team has been closely following the work programmes of the competitiveness and innovation programme (CIP), e-participation and FP7 calls as well as the national ICT and e-government programmes, putting significant effort into analysing the research opportunities arising, fostering ideas and pursuing research cooperations with partner research centres, targeted to the conceptualisation and implementation of interesting interoperability-related projects. Accordingly, participation of the G.I.C. team in national initiatives has also been strong, with more than 10 proposals having been submitted throughout the project course for projects, relating to interoperability topics.

Efforts under the 'research activities and international cooperations' axis have also been placed on ensuring cooperation and synergies among running research projects, implemented under the coordination of or with the participation of NTUA, in order to transfer knowhow on the interoperability aspects of the research carried out, to strengthen the interoperability considerations in the project design and implementation, as well as on establishing research cooperations with qualified research centres and making research contributions to interoperability standardisation bodies and policy actors. The research work that G.I.C. has been implementing in the framework of these projects and research collaborations has been in turn documented in the G.I.C. research reports, a series of annual reports, outlining the centre's research activities, i.e. presenting the projects' and initiatives' objectives, main findings and results, partnerships with international centres, next steps etc. As a result, the G.I.C. - DSS laboratory of NTUA is currently following and participating in more than 10 projects on interoperability related topics, or on fields where interoperability plays a major role directly or indirectly.

Contributing to the work of international poles of research

Following up on the work performed under the 'research activities and international cooperations' axis, towards the direction of approaching international poles of research, the G.I.C. team has established cooperation with international research clusters and centres, European technology platforms, standardisation bodies and national policy actors, in order to contribute to policy making and assert the necessary influence - in the form of research consultation - for ensuring that interoperability will maintain a high scope and remain a strategic priority at EU as well as at national and regional level. Throughout the project duration, G.I.C. has more specifically followed and has contributed through its members in the works of international research poles and initiatives.

Steering national research

The goal of the 'Steering national research' component has been to narrow the gap in interoperability research between Greece and Europe and to align the national research priorities with the European ones. To this end, efforts throughout the four years of the project implementation have been oriented towards two directions, namely:

1. associating national research centres, with the objective to create a national and regional research pole and thereby to foster research collaboration on interoperability related issues
2. aligning national research priorities to international guidelines, a direction that has been addressed by establishing, updating and maintaining a mechanism for monitoring and benchmarking interoperability in the national and regional digital strategies, as compared to the relevant European digital policies.

Associating national research centres

During this task, the project team has associated a number of actors and research centres in the interoperability domain and relevant scientific fields from different geographic regions of Greece as well as the Balkans and eastern Europe, in order to create a research pole and provide thereby the grounds for exchanging know how and experience, fostering collaborations in national, regional and international projects and exerting influence as a collective body towards the state regarding the policy and funding of interoperability research in Greece.

To this end, G.I.C. has addressed research centres, ICT policy actors, central, regional and local administrations, industry actors, software houses, ICT consultants, universities etc. and involved them in a networking scheme with mutual benefits. Beside the cooperation in national and international research projects and initiatives, such benefits have included special reference in the G.I.C. website relevant section, access to the centre's interoperability barometer and interoperability knowledge base, comprising the centre's publications and training material, policy documents and project deliverables, as well as preview of the demonstrators, scenarios and interoperability evaluation studies, developed by the researchers of the centre.

At the end of month 48 of the project, G.I.C. has managed to establish a national research pole comprising more than 10 Greek universities and research centres, the R&D departments of more than five ICT industry actors, various national policy actors as well as regional research centres and carries on fostering cooperation in national and international research projects and initiatives, so as to promote the benefits of interoperability to administrations and enterprises at both national and regional level.

Aligning national research priorities to international guidelines

Following on the work performed towards the creation of a national research pole, G.I.C. has pursued to exert influence at administrative level in order to ensure that interoperability maintains a high scope in the Greek information society vision and secure the necessary funding for conducting European level research in Greece.

To this end, the centre has issued along with the contribution of other Greek institutions, the comparative analysis of the Greek Digital Strategy 2006-2013 to the enterprise interoperability research roadmap and the i2010 strategy framework, a periodical study aiming at highlighting the relevance of the Greek ICT policy document in question to the European guidelines and policies, focussing on the interoperability scope. The first version of this study has evaluated the current ICT situation in Greece, presented the overall status of these three policy documents, related the distinct directions of each one and pointed out the main gaps among them that should be bridged in order to gain a cohesive strategic plan for interoperable digitalisation. It has further provided sectoral analysis of the national ICT policy aspects and challenges under the EU i2010 perspective, focussing on the interoperability related issues that apply in the case of Greece and concluded on the needed characteristics and extensions of the national digital strategy in order to adopt the interoperability challenges. The second version has additionally elaborated on the considerations and reflections that are presented in 'Digital commitment', a preparatory document identifying new ICT policy directions/proposals for the Greek digital agenda, as well as on the preliminary guidelines of the post i2010 strategy formulation process. Finally, the third version of the comparative analysis presents the latest developments towards the direction of aligning the national policy landscape with the European/international one - currently described through Europe 2020 Strategy and the Digital Agenda for Europe and elaborates therefore on key reflections, expressed within the Digital Greece 2020 forum, a recent initiative, aiming at formulating policy proposals for the digital strategy of Greece in the next decade in the context of the national economic/fiscal environment, national skills and resources and of the Digital Agenda for Europe/Europe 2020 Strategy. On the research domain, the comparative analysis has focussed on the enterprise interoperability research roadmap (EIRR) and its continuation, the future internet enterprise systems (FInES) research roadmap.

Additionally, G.I.C. issues the 'Interoperability Barometer', a periodical report of key performance indicators (KPIs) on interoperability-related factors, aiming at providing up-to-date, reliable information with regard to the status of interoperability at local and regional level, i.e. mainly in the countries of southeastern Europe and the Balkans, which are found within the range of influence of the G.I.C. The latest version of the Interoperability Barometer includes the interoperability profiles of 21 countries and is complemented by a web processing and reporting system which supports user-friendly navigation, simple data entry and management through standardised data forms, user management, automatic generation of reports, tables, charts and comparative figures. The system is hosted at the G.I.C. website and may serve as a collaboration platform, allowing multiple authorised users to contribute to the Interoperability Barometer. The Interoperability Barometer is a mechanism that is anticipated to develop and grow further with the collaboration of the centre's partners in the region.

Last but not least, throughout the project duration G.I.C. has been working towards enhancing its contribution to policy making and standardisation in Greece and the neighbouring region, thus assisting the implementation of European Policies and interoperability - related initiatives, such as the e-government interoperability framework (eGIF).

Integrating and communicating knowledge

The goal of this component has been to aggregate and diffuse knowledge and research results in interoperability and relevant scientific fields in national and regional level (Greece, Balkans and Eastern Europe). Work under this component has been structured in two interdependent axes, namely:

1. integrating knowledge and
2. communicating knowledge.

Key tasks have included the development of the G.I.C. website from the early stages of the project, the establishment of a mechanism for the collection, elaboration and organisation of its content, so as to operate as an informational portal for the target region, as well as for its regular updating, so as to include project and interoperability news, the issuing and dissemination of the Interoperability Guide series of publications and the constant enhancement of the website services and functions according to the target user group.

Integrating knowledge

Already, from the early stages of the project, the G.I.C. team established a mechanism for collecting and organising on a regular basis reliable and up-to-date information and material on interoperability, namely research results, scientific papers and publications, public deliverables of projects and initiatives, interoperability research surveys of national, regional, European or worldwide scope, books, commission policy documents, public consultation documents, statistics, best practices and guidelines, standards, whitepapers, interesting links, audio-visual material etc. This material has been organised and made available through the project's Interoperability Knowledge Base, created to serve as the central information repository, as well as through a dedicated section on the G.I.C. website and it has been continuously enriched along the course of the project, comprising currently more than 150 documents and referenced links.

Communicating knowledge

Following on the work performed under the previous task, G.I.C. has pursued to diffuse the material aggregated in order to create awareness around interoperability and its benefits at national and regional level. To this end, the G.I.C. team has primarily put effort into the creation of the project website, one of the main tools set from the early stages of the project to support the dissemination of knowledge. The G.I.C. website, hosted on the web server of the DSS Laboratory of NTUA, is accessible at http://www.iocenter.eu and is currently structured in nine main areas.

Towards the objective of communicating knowledge, G.I.C. has been contacting interested partners (academic institutions, governmental organisations, industry players), in order to created an extended 'stakeholders group' to receive informative material and participate in workshops and networking events. In this respect its target group for online dissemination through the project website has comprised registered users, collaborating organisations/associated members as well as an extended list of more than 150 contacts from the national and international research scene, ICT policy actors, university representatives, ICT companies representatives etc. gathered through G.I.C. project cooperations, networking initiatives and individual experts' contacts.

Finally, the G.I.C. team has elaborated on the material collected in order to issue the Interoperability Guides, a series of publications released on a regular basis with the objective to provide a volume of concise and comprehensive information on interoperability that can help its targeted audience, mainly decision makers of enterprises and policy makers of governments, as well as contributing researchers to design their strategies and find solution tactics on specific interoperability problems. Integrating state of the art material on interoperability from a multitude of sources, e.g. research results, deliverables and reports, national, EU and global best practices and strategies, reports on standards, legal and statutory frameworks and documents and whitepapers, each one of the six versions of the Interoperability Guide has focussed on a specific aspect/dimension of the interoperability field.

Disseminating and networking

The G.I.C. team has put throughout the project duration particular emphasis on 'Disseminating and networking', using various forms and mechanisms such as publications, workshops, seminars, information days, conferences and dissemination material, so as to raise awareness about interoperability in national and regional level to all potential interested parties, to cultivate the image of G.I.C. as a premium European research centre in interoperability and to foster potential cooperations. In this context, within the sole task of this component, planning and conducting dissemination activities, G.I.C. has worked out on a regular basis a dissemination plan.

The G.I.C. dissemination strategy has focussed in particular on the following activities:

1. the development of the project newsletters
2. the development of the G.I.C. brochures and promotion material
3. the development and promotion of informative leaflets on each demonstrator as well as event and activity specific brochures to target the needs of its audience
4. the participation in conferences and other events
5. the organisation of workshops
6. the authoring and preparation of academic and research publications.

Establishing G.I.C. operation

Building on the activities carried out in the rest of the project's work packages, this component has focussed on launching and sustaining the G.I.C. operation according to its objectives and thereby on creating an added value offering for the target group of the centre and establishing a successful and efficient mechanism for communicating it to the potential beneficiaries. Within the sole task of this component, entitled running the G.I.C. the project team has put effort on the realisation of the core operations of the centre, i.e. the provision of support to the government and the industry.

Running the G.I.C.

Since the beginning of the centre's operation, G.I.C. researchers have been elaborating and developing demonstration and evaluation scenarios, prototypes and test-beds to serve as a proof of concept of the interoperability dimensions and to highlight technology solutions and research directions in the areas of e-government, e-business and e-participation as well as in other application domains. G.I.C. proof of concept activities, demonstrators and test beds have targeted more specifically to:

1. promote and advance interoperability research in the region and in the wider European Research Area (ERA)
2. facilitate the decision making procedures on behalf of businesses or governmental organisations, whose personnel may not have the necessary know how to evaluate them or is not even aware of such solutions, by clarifying the choices at hand.

G.I.C. has in fact developed either in its own capacity as a research centre or in collaboration with interoperability-related projects novel interoperability methodologies and solutions and is in place to demonstrate currently a rich service offering, which enumerates among others prototypes, scenarios and commercial solutions' evaluation studies.

Additionally, G.I.C. has made thorough and steady steps towards penetrating the national e-government 'market' by offering scientific services on purely interoperability aspects or on interoperability-related dimensions for ICT e-government projects and initiatives. Through the NTUA-DSS Laboratory, it has more specifically been involved in a series scientific R&D and consultancy projects offering scientific and technical services to numerous governmental bodies and national administrations.

Last but not least, G.I.C. has established strong relations with major players in the ICT industry, indicatively Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Google, IBM etc., as well as SMEs active in the development of interoperability solutions and the provision of relevant services. G.I.C. has signed a Memorandum of Understanding ('MoU') with Microsoft Hellas S.A. setting the framework for a continued and expanded cooperation between the two entities.

The centre's activities and achievements since the beginning of the project have been consolidated in the G.I.C. Activity Report (D8.1 - Summary reports of G.I.C. operation), a publication released annually to promote the operation of the centre and to enhance its visibility to the wider public.

At the end of month 48 of the project, G.I.C. constitutes a premium research centre in the field of interoperability across the entire Greek region, capable of conducting innovative EU level research and supporting the government and the industry in achieving the benefits of interoperability. It further serves as a show case laboratory demonstrating the results from research and development projects such as prototype e-business and e-government systems and acts as a consulting organisation, offering scientific services to public bodies in need for interoperability solutions, while it has established cooperation with more than 20 private sector enterprises and organisations.

Potential impact:

During the 48 months of its implementation, G.I.C. has gained significant momentum and has managed to establish itself as a premium research centre, capable of conducting innovative EU level research and supporting the government and the IT industry in achieving the benefits of interoperability. Additionally it has given visibility and raised awareness about the importance of the interoperability research and application domain through an active contribution and presence in all facets where interoperability is involved. In conformance with its objectives and thereby in order to stimulate the transfer of knowledge, to contribute to really interoperable one-stop services and to catalyse business and government innovation, G.I.C. has focussed its activities on shaping the interoperability best practices guide, testing and demonstrating interoperable solutions in real life situations, becoming an active member in interoperability standardisation bodies, contributing in interoperability-related research projects and ensuring its research alignment with European directions and policies.

The G.I.C. impact with respect to specific efforts and activities undertaken along the course of the project are discussed in the following paragraphs under three perspectives, namely scientific and research impact, standardisation and policy impact and sustainability building, while a more thorough view of the project's contribution to broader developments in business, economy and society is presented under the G.I.C. socioeconomic impact.

Scientific and research impact

G.I.C. emphasis has been laid on advancing research in the domain of interoperability and building research capacity, by actually getting involved in relevant projects and initiatives, as well as by fostering knowledge transfer. Positive impacts towards this direction have included the following activities:

1. targeting and achieving participation in research projects in relevant interoperability related calls within FP7, CIP, eParticipation and other EU research programmes, as well as in national initiatives and programmes within the Greek Digital Strategy
2. facilitating research synergy among ongoing projects of the NTUA-G.I.C. team on interoperability issues through exploitation and further promotion/dissemination of interoperability related results to the community of interoperability stakeholders in the target region
3. organising and participating in targeted interoperability related training events, seminars, workshops, as well as organising training visits to international research centres for G.I.C. members
4. implementing the research secondments programme in cooperation with international research centres/stakeholders
5. strengthening of the training curricula in Greek universities, through the incorporation of dedicated courses on interoperability related topics in postgraduate and undergraduate university programmes as well as through further promotion of relevant training initiatives
6. authoring numerous research and scientific publications and delivering presentations in academic, training and networking events
7. preparing and publishing six issues of the Interoperability Guide, a publication promoting interoperability best practices and providing key recommendations to targeted stakeholders.

Standardisation and policy impact

In the G.I.C. project, contribution to standardisation has been a fundamental part of its mission, since in order for research results to have a meaningful impact on standards; research and standardisation efforts should go hand-in-hand. G.I.C. has additionally contributed in policy making and asserted the necessary influence in order to ensure that interoperability will maintain a high scope in the Greek Information Society vision and will remain a strategic priority at EU level. G.I.C. impacts on standardisation and policy have been made possible through the following activities:

1. contributing in and following the work of international interoperability networks, standardisation bodies and policy actors
2. contributing in and even co-ordinating the work of national interoperability endeavours and policy actors, indicatively including currently the Digital Forum 2020
3. establishing and coordinating the Greek Interoperability Council, an initiative devoted to promoting interoperability benefits to administrations and enterprises in Greece
4. monitoring and studying the EU policy framework, as well as the underlying legal framework with regard to electronic transactions and issuing comparative studies assess the degree of readiness of the respective policies at national level
5. establishing, maintaining and updating the Interoperability Barometer, a mechanism developed to support the monitoring of the interoperability status at a national level, for a number of countries in the target region.

Sustainability building

During the past 48 months, G.I.C. has created all the necessary capacities in order to conduct innovative research as well as to provide consultation, scientific and technical services to public administrations and enterprises. Within the project, emphasis has been put on both the procurement and installation of the infrastructure and equipment, in terms of hardware (i.e. servers, audiovisual equipment etc.), as well as on the advancement of the centre's human resources in terms of the researchers' qualifications and knowledge, spanning a variety of interoperability-related areas. Efforts have also focussed on associating relevant research centres at national, regional, European and international, as well as on promoting networking and establishing collaboration with public organisations and enterprises. The project impact towards building and ensuring the centre's sustainability can be more specifically assessed against the following activities and measures:

1. strengthening of the G.I.C. research capacity through the organisation of and participation in targeted interoperability related training events, seminars, workshops, as well as through the organisation of training visits to international research centres for G.I.C. members
2. implementation of five research secondments in cooperation with international research centres/stakeholders
3. staffing of the centre with high-level managers, experts and researchers with high academic credentials
4. development of the centre's regional penetration strategy and design of its strategic business plan
5. establishment and ongoing upgrading of the G.I.C. technology environment to support the research operations of the centre and of the affiliated synergy projects of NTUA
6. development of interoperability demonstrators, studies and reusable interoperability scenarios in e-government and e-business
7. organisation of and participation in national, regional and international workshops/conferences presenting the research work of the G.I.C. team, as well as publication of papers in established journals, conference proceedings
8. establishment of a dissemination mechanism targeting a large extended informal network of collaborating research centres, universities, ICT industry and public administration actors, extending over Greece, the region of southeastern Europe, the EU and the Mediterranean
9. provision of support to governmental organisations and public authorities.

G.I.C. socioeconomic impact

The potential medium to long term impact of the interoperability centre in the region of southeastern Europe goes beyond the above presented implications to much broader developments in business, economy and society and is in fact of particular importance especially nowadays that enterprises and governmental organisations seem to be, more than ever, challenged by the financial crisis and globalisation that put increasing pressure on their operational efficiency and demand decrease in their integration costs, bringing in the limelight the multi-disciplinary issue of interoperability. The G.I.C. effect at the wider scale of economy and society is found in the following directions:

1. strengthened competitiveness of enterprises in Greece, in southeastern Europe and the EU in all sectors of the economy
2. improved, efficient and cost-effective interoperable public sector services
3. interoperability research alignment with relevant European directions and policies
4. enhanced regional interoperability research capacity
5. enhanced visibility and awareness of the interoperability importance.

G.I.C. main dissemination activities

Networking and collaboration, awareness raising about interoperability, dialogue among stakeholders, impacting policies and strategies and community building were identified already from the beginning of the project as key priorities of the G.I.C.. Dissemination in G.I.C. was therefore attributed great significance in order to enhance the visibility of the interoperability domain as well as to cultivate the image of G.I.C. as a premium European research centre, promote networking activities and foster potential cooperations. In brief, dissemination policies and activities for spreading awareness on the G.I.C. and its outcomes across target groups along the course of the project have included:

1. the creation of the G.I.C. website, predestined not only to present the project's vision, objectives and outcomes, but also to be a referenced site containing demonstrations of interoperability solutions and tools, as well as interoperability-related scientific/research and policy material and links and to be regularly updated
2. the design and production of attractive - printed and electronic - dissemination material on the project's results, progress and anticipated benefits, tailored to the objectives of the project itself and to the goals and outcomes of affiliated projects, as well as of marketing material and the distribution of the former to a wide range of target audiences and channels
3. the G.I.C. dissemination and marketing material includes: GIC information folder; GIC brochure; posters and roll-up stands used in events; project research brochures that create awareness on the research activities of the centre within the projects that it is involved in; GIC demonstrators' brochures that describe the business case and the benefits of applying interoperability solutions, as highlighted by each demonstrator developed
4. the issuing and distribution of the project newsletter on a quarterly basis (12 newsletters have been created and issued during the project lifetime), containing news on the project's activities and results, events' agenda, interoperability scientific news and projects developments etc.
5. the issuing on a regular basis of the interoperability guide (enumerating at the end of month 48 of the project six issues), a best practices guide, consolidating in-depth and useful information and recommendations on various interoperability-related problems or dimensions and providing thus a reference point for the knowhow and experience acquired during the project
6. the issuing and distribution of the G.I.C. activity report, an annual publication, summarising the centre's activities and achievements since the beginning of the project and promoting its visibility towards the wider public
7. academic/scientific publications in targeted distinguished scientific journals as well as in national and international conferences, diffusing the research and scientific work of the G.I.C. team towards the academic community
8. participation in various events (counting more than 40 events until month 48 of the project), e.g. forums, conferences, workshops, information days, training seminars etc. with presentations on the project's objectives, activities and results, creating awareness among enterprises, governmental and intermediaries' bodies, policy makers and the IT industry about the potential impact of the G.I.C.
9. organisation of workshops/events within the context of conferences or other occasions of either international or national/regional scope, attracting respectively worldwide attention and research interest in Greece, as well as communicating knowledge and experience in the interoperability domain across the entire Greek region and the eastern European vicinity
10. networking with experts and scientists, research centres, governmental organisations and the industry, stimulating their involvement and engagement in the rest of the project's activities and collaboration with related projects, encouraging information exchange.

G.I.C. exploitation of results

Since G.I.C. has been a support action, there are no patents, trademarks, registered designs or any traditional exploitation plans. Nevertheless, there is rich and remarkable research, training and networking activity, which is to be sustained after the end of the project.

In order to ensure that G.I.C. efforts and outcomes will be properly reused and exploited beyond the completion of the project and thereby that the G.I.C. will sustain its operation as a premium European research centre, capable of conducting high level research on interoperability and supporting the government and the industry in achieving the benefits of interoperability, the G.I.C. team has developed the G.I.C. business plan, which provides the main directions for exploiting and building up on the project's results in order to ensure the sustainability and viability of the research centre, as has been the main objective of this action.

Besides being a mere deliverable, falling within the 'advancing human resources' component of the project work plan, it outlines the strategy for establishing and operating G.I.C. as a premium research centre after the end of the project. Such a strategy builds on the project's preparatory activities with regard to enhancing know how and experience, advancing human resources, creating the G.I.C. technology lab, enabling research and steering national research, integrating and communicating knowledge, disseminating and networking etc. to ensure through the proper design and planning. In this context, exploitation of results in G.I.C. lies in sustaining and extending the project activities, so as to secure and feed the centre's operation in the years to come. In particular, G.I.C. outcomes/deliverables are expected to be exploited and G.I.C. activities are envisaged to be sustained beyond the completion of the project as follows:

1. training, including the organisation of seminars both in the form of training sessions with invited experts or training visits to research centres, as well as the participation in seminars and workshops, organised by G.I.C. partner organisations will be a constant process even after the end of the project
2. the training material collected within the frame of former training activities will be used as reference material and will be exploited for training new members of the G.I.C. research team, while the educational material, comprised within the two dedicated interoperability-related courses, developed during the project will be further promoted, so as to enhance the academic curricula of national institutions. Potentially, training and educational materials will be further adapted and exploited to address and support the needs of specific stakeholders
3. recruitment of researchers or high level managerial personnel will take place as per the potential needs of the centre in the years to come
4. the G.I.C. bussiness plan itself and the G.I.C. regional penetration strategy, related to the latter will be reviewed and properly updated, if needed, so as to further reinforce the centre's visibility and reputation, as well as its position and presence in the regional market
5. infrastructural developments of the centre will keep up with the mandates of the centre's operation and activities as well as the G.I.C. development prospects as reflected in the G.I.C. business plan
6. G.I.C. as part of the DSS Laboratory of NTUA will continue to pursue its participation and contribution in interoperability-related projects, as well as in relevant standardisation efforts and initiatives. Involvement in such activities and initiatives is anticipated to enrich the centre's expertise in interoperability-related domains, enhance interoperability considerations in the projects' design and implementation, foster new ideas for further research or the development of interoperability scenarios and demonstrators, inspire the authoring of more publications, while also enabling the establishment of links with research and standardisation poles, enhancing thereby the centre's competitiveness
7. additionally, G.I.C. will carry on monitoring and actively participating where possible in the formulation of the interoperability policy developments at national level and therefore issuing the comparative analysis of Greek ICT policy documents to the European guidelines and policies, in order to ensure that interoperability maintains a high scope in the Greek information society vision and is granted the necessary funding in order to flourish as a research domain, as well as to be able to provide scientific and technical services, tailored to the specific needs and the policy and regulatory framework that transpires public administrations
8. in the same context, the Interoperability Barometer mechanism, initiated with the goal to provide consolidated information on the degree of interoperability readiness at regional level, will continue to be regularly updated, while effort will be put on reinforcing its collaborative nature through the participation of partner organisations that will contribute by adding and validating content on the countries' interoperability status
9. the G.I.C. website, being also one of the main dissemination tools of the project, will continue to hold value beyond the end of the project, by presenting key interoperability-related news and developments as well as the G.I.C. activities and achievements in interoperability-related fields and projects
10. integrating and communicating knowledge on interoperability-related issues will also be a continuous process, the outcomes of which will be mainly presented through the Interoperability Guide series of publications. The latter will be released beyond the end of the project on an ad hoc basis, on the occasion of the collection of sufficient material to be communicated to the appropriate stakeholders, enabling them to tackle specific interoperability issues and providing relevant recommendations, but also fostering for the G.I.C. prospects for future collaborations
11. dissemination and networking in terms of participating in national and international conferences and other events, organising workshops and information events, authoring publications and preparing and distributing dissemination material will carry on as mandated by the needs of the research projects implemented by the centre, its cooperations and the G.I.C. business plan
12. G.I.C. has managed to establish a reliable, efficient and recognised by its stakeholders networking/dissemination mechanism which will be exploited beyond the end of the project. This mechanism includes among others a set of regular activities
13. finally, G.I.C. will continue to issue the G.I.C. Activity Report, an annual release, summarising the centre's activities and achievements.

In brief, the specification of the work provided within the 'establishing the G.I.C. operation' component of the project, extending in the axes of creating training material and interoperability courses, issuing guidelines on interoperability problems, developing interoperability scenarios and demonstrations of real life applications, conducting high level research and providing management and consultancy services in interoperability related projects, ties all project work packages together and renders the work performed so far as a representative, yet also rich, sample of the G.I.C. activities beyond the completion of the project, revealing therefore the way in which project outcomes will be exploited.

List of websites:

Project website: http://www.iocenter.eu

Contact details: gic@epu.ntua.gr

Scientific Representative: Assoc. Prof. Dimitris Askounis, Tel: +30-210-7723639, +30-210-7723583, Fax: +30-210-7723550, E-mail: askous@epu.ntua.gr

NTUA, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, DSS Laboratory