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Keeping the U.S. Computer Industry Competitive: System Integration
industry, academia, and government. Toward both ends, colloquium participants urged that universities pay more attention to systems integration in devising educational and research programs in computing and communications.
The technological challenges encompassed in systems integration are formidable, but for the moment they play to U.S. strengths. For example, much of systems integration depends on the development of sophisticated and often highly specialized software—a difficult process but one in which the United States is preeminent. Other key abilities essential to successful systems integration, also abilities in which the United States excels, include creative problem solving and management of complex, often one-of-a-kind processes.
One area in which the U.S. record is mixed is that of standards setting. The continued development of systems integration as an industry depends fundamentally on the compatibility of component technologies. Therefore standards of interoperability are indispensable. Colloquium participants were uniform in urging that more attention be paid to the standards-making process—by government as well as by industry.
Systems integration involves more than technology: its highest-order task is integrating people—helping them assimilate information, create, collaborate, and, in sum, work more productively. While networks of machines and devices are the ostensible manifestations of the trend toward distributed computing and communications, the most significant connections, according to colloquium participants, are those between people and organizational units using linked devices. For this reason, systems integration technology, and in particular the successful building and operation of networked computer applications, is considered key to the emergence of an information infrastructure for the nation (and the world).
Colloquium participants expressed both hope and concern for the anticipated information infrastructure. The quality of that infrastructure, as well as its timely development, hinges on leadership and vision; this was a principal area of agreement among participants. It also hinges on constructive collaboration among industry, government, and academia. The federal High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) program was recognized by participants as a key step toward developing this infrastructure and as a valuable mechanism for fostering interactions among government, industry, and academia. Other federal projects, including systems modernization at government agencies, could also serve to demonstrate applications of systems integration and options for cross-sectoral collaboration.
The United States faces a peculiar challenge in the evolution of its computing, telecommunications, and broadcast media infrastructure. The quality and availability of U.S. telephone service, entertainment, and business computing are unparalleled. But because it was the first country to embrace