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MAKING IT BETTER: EXPANDING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH TO MEET SOCIETY'S NEEDS
three areas—components, systems, and social applications—will make IT systems better able to meet society's needs, just as in the medical domain work is needed in biology, physiology, clinical medicine, and epidemiology to make the nation 's population healthier.
Research on large-scale systems and the social applications of IT will require new modes of funding and performing research that can bring together a broad set of IT researchers, end users, system integrators, and social scientists to enhance the understanding of operational systems. Research in these areas demands that researchers have access to operational large-scale systems or to testbeds that can mimic the performance of much larger systems. It requires additional funding to support sizable projects that allow multiple investigators to experiment with large IT systems and develop suitable testbeds and simulations for evaluating new approaches and that engage an unusually diverse range of parties. Research by individual investigators will not, by itself, suffice to make progress on these difficult problems.
Today, most IT research fails to incorporate the diversity of perspectives needed to ensure advances on large-scale systems and social applications. Within industry, it is conducted largely by vendors of IT components: companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Lucent Technologies. Few of the companies that are engaged in providing IT services, in integrating large-scale systems (e.g., Andersen Consulting, EDS, or Lockheed Martin), or in developing enterprise software (e.g., Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft) have significant research programs.6 Nor do end-user organizations (e.g., users in banking, commerce, education, health care, and manufacturing) tend to support research on IT, despite their increasing reliance on IT and their stake in the way IT systems are molded. Likewise, there is little academic research on large-scale systems or social applications. Within the IT sector, systems research has tended to focus on improving the performance and lowering the costs of IT systems rather than on improving their reliability, flexibility, or scalability (although systems research is slated to receive more attention in new funding programs). Social applications present an even greater opportunity and have the potential to leverage research in human-computer interaction, using it to better understand how IT can support the work of individuals, groups, and organizations. Success in this area hinges on interdisciplinary research, which is already being carried out on a small scale.
One reason more work has not been undertaken in these areas is lack of sufficient funding. More fundamentally, the problems evident today did not reach critical proportions until recently. There has been no crisis to motivate the research community or to compel a broader set of companies to fund research, no compelling set of visions to inspire broad-based interest. From a practical perspective, conducting the types of research