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Information technology: A progress report
Since it was established in September 1983, the Council's Information Technology Directorate, under its Director Dr D B Thomas, has been establishing the framework of the new programme. SERC Bulletin has already carried reports on certain aspects, including research in Intelligent Knowledge Based Systems (IKBS) and Support for Education and Training, both in the Autumn 1983 issue (Vol 2 No 9). There have been many new developments; this summary highlights the more important of them.
The Alvey Programme
The Alvey Programme is a collaborative research programme for the UK involving the joint efforts of industry, government and the universities. The programme is managed by the Alvey Directorate, based at Millbank, which coordinates the contributions of the various participants and in which SERC is represented. The programme will concentrate on precompetitive research in four main enabling technologies, namely IKBS, Software Engineering (SE), Man-Machine Interface (MMI) and Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI). There will also be substantial investment in Large Scale Demonstrator projects, in computing infrastructure and communications, and in education and training. Each area of research is the responsibility of a programme director; in each area a statement of strategy has been or is being prepared which will guide the allocation of funds to individual projects, which themselves will normally represent a collaboration between industrial companies and the academic sector. Progress in these various activities is reported regularly in Alvey News, published for the Alvey Directorate.
The role of SERC
The Council will fund the academic component of each approved collaborative research project or, in exceptional cases, will fund stand-alone university projects, it is important, however, that assessments of the various components of collaborative projects should be consistent with one another. This argues for a method of assessing research proposals as a whole, rather than proposals from the partners in a collaborative project being assessed piecemeal. The Council has therefore agreed that there will be no separate SERC committee structure in the Alvey area; instead, funding will be approved by the Directors of the various elements of the programme following a process which will involve consultation with advisory groups representing the community as a whole and to which academic members have been appointed by the Council.
A strategy statement for IKBS has already been approved, and reference has already been made to the summary of the intended programme recently published in the Bulletin. SERC has agreed to accept particular responsibility on behalf of the Alvey Directorate for managerial support to the IKBS programme. Strategy statements for VLSI and Software Engineering have also been published and approved, and work on the MMI strategy statement is well advanced. Copies of the published strategy statements are available from the IEE. Summaries of progress on Large Demonstrator Projects and Infrastructure and Communications have been published in Alvey News number 2.
The VLSI programme will pursue research on individual process steps and techniques, including basic studies on materials and devices, and will also be concerned with the assembly of process steps into whole processes with tested process rules. There will also be a major investment in advanced CAD techniques and the development of CAD tools and languages. It is hoped to achieve one micron geometries within five years.
The starting point for the SE programme is the realisation that present ad hoc methods for software generation result all too often in products that are costly, inefficient and unreliable. The SE programme will focus on:
- improved quality: to develop methods to ensure that software achieves specific criteria relating to performance, reliability, security, on-schedule delivery and user requirements;
- improved productivity: to reduce costs, not only in the development of software but also in operation over its whole life-cycle, including maintenance and future evolution.
In the Large Scale Demonstrator programme, six projects have been approved to the project definition stage. The Infrastructure and Communications programme has embarked on an electronic mail service for programme participants. Discussions are also under way regarding a high performance test-bed network that could provide an Alvey Communications Environment (ACE) for those projects and services that require more advanced facilities than can be provided by the existing public networks.
|Intelligent Knowledge-Based Systems||Director for IKBS Dr D B Thomas||Alvey Directorate Millbank Tower Millbank London SW1 4QU 01-211 6108|
|Very Large Scale Integration||Director for VLSI Dr W Fawcett||Alvey Directorate 01-211 7866|
|Software Engineering||Director for SE Mr D Talbot||Alvey Directorate 01-211 0050|
|Man-Machine Interface||Director for MMI Mr C M Barrow||Alvey Directorate 01-211 5854|
|Large Scale Demonstrators||Director Mr S L H Clarke||Alvey Directorate 01-211 0299|
|Infrastructure and Communications||Director Mr D L A Barber||Alvey Directorate 01-211 5945|
|Information on SERC's role in the programme generally may be obtained from:|
|Dr D B Thomas||Director, SERC Central Office, Swindon||0793 26222 ext 2272|
|Dr M A Wilkins||Head of Secretariat Swindon||0793 26222 ext2252|
|Dr D L Johns||Head of Education & Training, Swindon||0793 26222 ext2105|
|Dr D M Worsnip||General advice on university participation in the programme||0793 26222 ext 2104|
|Copies of Strategy Statements and Alvey News may be obtained from Mrs Janet P Tomlinson, IEE, Savoy Place, London WC2R O8L.|