Features

Focus on research

EBTIC is working to create a self-sustained ICT community in the UAE by encouraging a focus on research and innovation.


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BTIC is a jointly established research and innovation centre by Etisalat, BT and Khalifa University in the UAE.

EBTIC has had a successful first 2 years which is demonstrated through its numerous research and innovation projects with its founding partners, the number of published scientific publications and patents being filed, all in such a short timeframe and in a number of technical areas.

“It was a conscious decision that EBTIC should be operated from Khalifa university campus. We have tried to establish what we call ‘Khalifa University and EBTIC joint university programme’  to identify very capable graduates to join EBTIC. While they work at EBTIC, they can pursue their MSc research at Kahalifa University as well. This allows people with a good degree and credits to leverage both options, while enhancing their skills,” says Dr Nader, director of EBTIC.

EBTIC currently boasts 28 full-time UAE and ex-pat staff. Furthermore, EBTIC collaborates with and has the support of researchers from BT R&D labs in the UK, a number of UAE national students and interns, as well as a number of visiting international research fellows. EBTIC aims to continue growing its full-time workforce in the future. It also aims to advance intelligent systems technologies for Next Generation Networks (NGNs) and NGN-enabled ICT applications and services, in order to put in place the support infrastructure to facilitate, develop and enable the Digital Networked Economy in the UAE and beyond.

Following the success of the past two and a half years, EBTIC is currently planning to initiate a transformation programme that will see the centre growing to become a UAE-based national research and innovation organisation. Fundamental to this transformation is the expansion of EBTIC’s partner base and collaboration beyond the current three founding partners (Etisalat, BT and Khalifa University).

On the academic front EBTIC has already moved towards engagement with other universities in the UAE such as UAE University, Sharjah University and the American University of Sharjah. More work is underway to expand this collaboration further. EBTIC is now aiming to start constructive discussions with key ICT industry players in the UAE to extend EBTIC’s industry partner base and collaboration scope.

EBTIC has already developed a research and innovation programme to tackle key ICT industry challenges which is in addition to EBTIC’s programme to tackle societal challenges in the UAE such as education and healthcare. Therefore, EBTIC’s vision of being an enabler for innovation in the UAE is already well under way but can be more effectively achieved through increased collaboration and engagement with government agencies, academia and other industry players. This would enable a larger scale exploitation of EBTIC’s innovations resulting in a significant increase in realised benefits.

“We obviously in doing this research we work closely with our partners, identify key strategic objectives (Etisalat and BT), NGN, area of operational management, enterprise management services, green ICT etc. Important for other areas like public sector and government too. Well defined scope, and engagement with government bodies, identify societal challenges in the UAE but globally applicable as well such as health and education. For instance, working with Khalifa university on education to define next gen iCampus initiative and health authority AD, key issues and challenges they face and how tech can help. So through close engagement with partners and their networks and figure out what is important for the nation and industry,” says Dr Nader.

EBTIC research currently consists of three main themes and two initiatives that tackle societal challenges. These themes and initiatives are derived from EBTIC’s strategic founders’ priorities as well as an understanding of the UAE’s priorities and strategy.

EBTIC’s Enterprise and Distributed applications team is developing technologies for delivering and managing a new generation of applications and services to meet the future needs of SMEs, large corporations and government organisations. At the heart is the research in innovative solutions for differentiated customer service and business operations, in addition to ICT infrastructure and management capabilities needed to support the advanced customer service vision. More specifically, work is being carried out on a new breed of tools to discover, monitor and optimise the business processes of the enterprise, to effectively manage the underlying IT infrastructure that supports the business operations and to address security and architectural challenges of cloud computing platforms.

The second research theme of computational sustainability and green ICT aims to investigate and transform the relationship between information technology, energy management and environmental sciences.

Our medium-term objective is to provide EBTIC partners with guidelines and tools for the energy optimisation of critical facilities (such as data centres and mobile access networks). Our long term goal is to generate “know-how” and novel solutions to secure the role of ICT players as stakeholdes in a carbon-neutral economy.

EBTIC’s research theme on next-gen communication network architectures and optimisation focuses on two main areas: packet-based communication networks and network optimisation.

Packet communication networks have become the foundation for many fixed, mobile and converged networks. This acceptance has been equally driven by the cost-effectiveness of fibre access and IP/Ethernet/MPLS technologies, as well as by the ability to act as the uniform and unifying layer for many underlying transport technologies. Packet communication networks have gained wide acceptance because of their many advantages.

For network optimisation, different advanced optimisation techniques are explored to devise new solutions to practical network design and planning problems that are faced by service providers. Modelling real world problems and applying/combining different techniques, such as meta-heuristic, linear and non-linear programming to solve them efficiently, are the areas of EBTIC research.

“The Open Innovation Program allows EBTIC to work with third parties as well, and focus on current trends like cloud computing. We currently have work in progress in conjunction with two prominent cloud solution providers as well. Etisalat and BT have constant engagement with vendors and our topics of research are comprehensive and up to date with the industry as a whole,” adds Dr. Nader.

EBTIC initiatives

The educational landscape is changing; some have termed it the ‘climate change’ in education. The traditional landscape is often perceived as ‘formal’, ‘passive’, ‘direct’, and ‘push’ learning environments designed largely for the knowledge consumers; and the modern landscape is often perceived as ‘informal’, ‘active’, ‘collaborative’, ‘social’, and ‘pull’ learning environments designed not only for the knowledge consumers but also for the knowledge creators. The attempt to redefine the educational landscape has gathered a lot of interest among the academia and the industry. In recent years various terms, such as ‘School 2.0 Architecture’, ‘Virtual Campus’, ‘Education 3.0’, ‘Edutainment’, ‘Hyperconnected Learner’, ‘mLearning’, and many others, have been coined to signify and describe this paradigm shift in the campus environment.

To keep up with the changing landscape, the EBTIC’s iCampus initiative will address the various pertinent topics of interest, so as to adapt/create the next generation intelligent campus environment that is wellsuited for the 21st century. To do this, a new paradigm of thinking pertaining to a holistic intelligent campus (iCampus) environment will be investigated which encompasses several domains of intelligence.

The second EBTIC initiative is focused around healthcare.

Today’s health care systems are bound to big, unwieldy monolithic systems. Information is isolated in silos  (desktops of general practitioners) and health care entities (doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, crisis coordination centres, patients/victims) are disconnected.

Two of the biggest research challenges in ICT health care are a) to cope with the burden of chronic disease stemming from an aging population, and b) to manage and mitigate crises stemming from man-made and natural disasters. In both cases, the ICT in our current health care system is far removed from coping with these challenges.

To ensure the future of our health care standards, our current world of centralised “mainframe” systems need to be transformed into a world of intelligent, connected and autonomous enterprise services. In crisis situations, communication services need to be resilient and reliable to provide critical information to individuals and health care entities. In chronic disease management, services need to be smart in assisting health care providers to customise and execute complex collaborative long-term plans for a patient.

The EBTIC I-CARE program will advance ICT technologies on 21st century intelligent systems. One main aim of I-CARE is to create and extend software architectures and algorithms addressing the most urgent needs in the primary and preventive health care sector

EBTIC is currently in the process of initiating a constructive dialogue with the key industry players in the UAE to explore the potential for collaboration and to build an understanding of the required mechanisms for this planned expansion. These mechanisms will create an environment that encourages additional partners to join EBTIC and extend the reach of its research and innovation exploitation, while at the same time it needs to preserve the value of the initial and continuous investment of its original founding partners. The mechanisms will need to be fair and formulated in a way that encourages additional investment and involvement from new partners where appropriate and incorporate their strategies and objectives within EBTIC’s programme while continuously managing the alignment with the national interests.

 

Beyond research

“The main objective of EBTIC is to create skillsets and invest in people in the country. We want to train the next generation of innovators and researchers in the UAE. Future recruits of EBTIC can get a real taste of research and innovation in the organisation. Then it will provide them the opportunity to engage in on-the-job training, besides earning an MSc or PhD from Khalifa University. We want to create future technology leaders and build a self-sufficient local ICT industry,” says Dr Nader.

“EBTIC is thinking beyond research and development centre into a national research centre with more industrial partners and universities and turning the UAE into a regional innovation hub. We want to be at the forefront of value creation, to licence technology and to have more start-ups. The ultimate goal would be to create an environment for innovation,” he adds.

EBTIC is currently still working on its Phase 1 activities, and expects to start the second Phase in 2013.

“Our engagement with UAE nationals is not just for recruitment, the idea is to engage them in learning. So we far have had 14 Phd/Msc final year student internships, 12 of whom were UAE nationals. Etisalat sends some UAE national engineers to EBTIC as part of a secondment scheme for six months to work on relevant research subjects – another form of training. We work with them to create self-sustained skill sets, enable them to work independently or within organisations and pursue their own goals,” concludes Dr Nader.

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