A Letter from the Dean: Digital Transformation

A Letter from the Dean

Publicerad 2017-06-07

You cannot read a newspaper or a political statement, without encountering the term “Digital Transformation” of our society. The government’s research bill for 2017-2020 makes this a big item and the phrase, “digitalization” (in Swedish), is mentioned no less than 43 times in the bill. It also explicitly states that the strategic research areas (SRA) in the ICT-domain should form new key research centers for future technologies and infrastructures supporting the digital transformation of society. The bill puts specific emphasis on IT and control technologies emanating from 5G mobile systems. In the bill, the government allocates 150 MSEK for this purpose in 2020.

Meanwhile at KTH, the outcome of the evaluation of our Strategic Research Area ICT- the Next Generation (ICT-TNG) was positive, and we will continue to receive funding at the same level as now. The conditions were that we should demonstrate that we have a clear strategic agenda, and that we can show that the research in ICT-TNG has visible long-term impact on our educational programs.

Strategic research centers….

The strategic impact paths seem already clear – forming an academia-industry collaborative center on Societal Scale Cyberphysical System (SOCIAL+) with strong industrial partners like Ericsson, SAAB, Intel and others, would ensure strong impact and put us in an excellent position when the additional research bill funding is to be distributed in 2020. The work to define “SOCIAL+” is now ongoing and the plan is to launch the center in 2018. The scope is likely to be wide to cover many of the research fields of the CSC, EES and ICT schools. First sketches will be distributed this summer and we will need your input, as we now in collaboration with our industry partners will define the relevant research themes of the center. Another critical research at the heart of the new school is software technology where the CASTOR center is being launched this fall in collaboration between the ICT- and CSC-schools. These two centers, if we play our cards right, have the potential of providing new funding of more than 100 MSEK/year.

In my view, Rektor’s reorganization plans couldn’t have come timelier – provided that they now can become reality. As many of the digital transformation technologies cut across the school boundaries, creating a single school out of the current CSC, EES and ICT schools, will put SOCIAL+ and CASTOR right at the heart of a new school. Internet of Things, Real-time AI-decision making, Big Data, Autonomous systems, Cyber Security, 5G communication & computation infrastructures – just to mention a few of these technologies on the current school boundaries. If Rektor decides to create one school, cooperation will require less effort and we can avoid unnecessary bureaucracy, which will be highly appreciated by our industry partners.

… and their long-term impact on education

Regarding the second SRA objective, the impact on our educational programs, I share Rektor’s view that real progress in this area requires organizational change. In investigation after investigation over the last decade, the task forces of the previous Rektors and the Deans have proposed urgently needed curricula reform in the EE/CS domain, but with little avail. Meanwhile, the traditional E- and D- programs continue to drift apart content-wise, making it very difficult for students to move in the important boundary area between the programs. The current structure with schools “owning” their educational programs has created a “lock-in” which has prevented significant structural changes. That every school will “protect” its programs, is not a sign of malevolence of the involved parties, but a natural consequence of our organizational and financial models. With three schools crowding the “IT-area”, the result has become a complex mesh of overlapping educational programs that is hard to explain to our prospective students.

Where does the reorganization project stand?

The School of ICT has a long tradition of trying to bridge the Electrical Engineering/Computer Science divide, which is clearly visible in our educational programs. When it comes to discussing a prospective school merger, I think I can speak for a vast majority of our faculty at ICT, when I say that we have been more concerned with the organizational “how”, rather than the “why”. Unfortunately, the working group appointed by the Rektor, which I am chairing, now stands divided between pushing on with the group’s original mission to form one school, and a late proposal with two schools. The 2-school proposal would divide the School of ICT into an “EE-part” (COS & ELE) that would join EES, and a “CS-part” (SCS) that would join CSC. To me, the proposed 2-school solution doesn’t really address the issues raised in Rektor’s mission statement and, in addition, this particular proposal creates uncertainty about the KTH operations in Kista. The proponents of a 2-school solution maintain that a larger reorganization is not necessary to achieve the goals and will take our focus from our day-to-day activities. The question about what should be the future direction of the working group has now been put to Rektor for a ruling.

To me, the re-organization is about removing artificial barriers in research and education allowing for the rapid formation of new constellations within the school when needed. The mapping exercise of the operational principles and procedures of the schools that the working group has mounted, has clearly shown that the three schools combined carry lots of experience and plenty of interesting ideas on how to efficiently organize research and education. The exercise has also demonstrated that the differences between the schools are either small or manageable. However, a lot of “how”-work remains and time is scarce – regardless which decision Rektor will arrive at. The working group will need to present organizational proposal and an implementation plan by September 15th.

Till sidans topp