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LSCITS History

This page provides some information on how the LSCITS Initiative came to be...

In 2001, the Information Age Partnership (IAP), a UK Government Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) consultative body populated by senior executives from several major Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies having significant presence in the UK, published a report which, inter alia, recommended that a complex IT systems research institute should be established as a high-priority strategic investment in the UK science-base.

In February 2003, a team of consultants from The Smith Institute organised a two-day meeting in London‘s Bloomsbury district. The invited participants were senior UK academics and industrial researchers in ICT and related areas, gathered together to discuss how best to make the complex IT system institute a reality. At that point, the talk was of a total budget of £15m in the first instance composed of equal contributions of £5m each from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the DTI, and pooled contributions from the member-companies of the IAP.

In 2004, two major UK-focused reports were published on complexity in IT/ICT systems. The first, The Challenges of Complex IT Projects, was a 45-page report from a working group composed of seven Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and of the British Computer Society, including John McDermid, who subsequently became a founder member of the LSCITS Consortium. The RAEng/BCS Report sought to improve understanding “…of how complex IT projects differ from other engineering projects, with a view to identifying ways to augment the successful delivery of IT projects.” (ibid., p.5), and the main conclusion ending the report’s executive summary states: “The increasing prevalence of IT systems, coupled with overseas competition in this area, means that failure to improve the collective professionalism of the IT industry and strengthen the national infrastructure supporting project delivery is likely to have serious and ongoing economic consequences for the UK”. The second 2004 report, a a 25,000-word strategc briefing document, was commissioned and published by the DTI’s Office of Science and Technology and carried the title Complexity and Emergent Behaviour in ICT Systems. Dave Cliff, who subsequently became the founding Director of the LSCITS Initiative, was a co-author of this DTI report. The main conclusions of the DTI report were: that the primary challenges needing to be addressed in the UK are institutional and cultural obstacles to appropriately interdisciplinary research; and that there was an urgent need to address omissions in UK undergraduate computer science education. Copies of the DTI Report were distributed to each of the approximately 50 participants at a subsequent consultative meeting organised by EPSRC at the Lloyds of London building in October 2004. This meeting sought further opinion and advice on the prospects of starting an LSCITS Institute, primarily from potential industrial sponsors, and at that meeting there was a clear consensus that the proposed Institute should have a very strong emphasis on training.

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In April 2005 a two-day scoping workshop was organised by the EPSRC, at the BCS offices in London, again consulting with academics and industrialists in an attempt to gain some clarity on what the scope of the Institute should be. In August 2005, a third public document relevant to LSCITS was released, again by the BCS: the Case Study of Successful Complex IT Projects (BCS/LUMS, 2005), authored by researchers at the Lancaster University Management School (LUMS). This BCS/LUMS report attempted to identify positive factors in successful LSCITS projects, and at the BCS’s recommendation it contrasted and compared two successful major UK IT projects: one in public-sector (VOSA’s online vehicle-licensing system) and one in the private sector (VOCA’s automated payment clearance for retail banking).

Shortly before the release of the BCS/LUMS report, in July 2005 EPSRC had advertised for the post of LSCITS Institute Director. At this point the structure of the EPSRC finance for the Institute was fixed at £4m for a dedicated EngD training programme; plus £5m for a research programme, forthcoming in the expectation that an additional £5m in matching contributions (cash, or in-kind) would be found from non-EPSRC sources, taking the overall headline figure to £14m. Thus the final plan had a financial structure roughly as initially planned in the 2003 Bloomsbury discussions, but had also taken note of the outcome of the 2004 Lloyds meeting. Interviews were held in October 2005 and Dave Cliff was appointed Director (although the job-title Director-Designate would actually have been more appropriate, because until a consortium of researchers had been formed, proposals had been written for how the funds would be spent, and those proposals had been peer-reviewed and approved, there was no actual Institute or Initiative to direct).

Upon taking up the post of Director, Cliff engaged in a lengthy period of extensive and wide-ranging consultation with researchers and practitioners in industry, academia, and the public sector. On the basis of the findings from that consultation process, it was decided that a National Network Initiative would be more appropriate than the previously-planned single centralised national institute. The LSCITS Consortium was formed in Summer 2006, and the final Research Programme proposal documents were submitted in December of that year. The first tranche of £5.6m funding for the LSCITS Research Programme was approved in February 2007, for a schedule of work running from 2007-2012. The total headline budget for the Initiative thereby rose to £14.6m.

The final proposal for the £4m funding of the Engineering Doctorate (EngD) component of the LSCITS Training Programme is due to be submitted to EPSRC in December 2007, for review in Q1 of 2008, with first intake of students planned for October 2008.

Note: in the summer of 2007, the UK Government restructured the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), replacing it with two new departments: the Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform (DBERR); and the Department for Innovation, Universities, and Skills (DIUS).

Last update to this page: October 2007.

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