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The Great Plains Software Technology Initiative for the New Economy

  1. Executive Summary
    The most important issue for the future economy of Nebraska and the Great Plains is this: How will regions outside the nation's largest information technology centers participate in the new information-age economy?

    The University of Nebraska — Lincoln (UNL) proposes the Great Plains Software Technology Initiative to provide leadership in building the foundations for a competitive software industry onin the Great Plains region. UNL requests an appropriation of $6M over a three-year period to establish software development research, education, and technology outreach programs targeting regions at risk of being marginalized in the new economy.

  2. Need
    A new economy is emerging from the revolution in information technology. The President's Information and Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) noted that the information technology (IT) industry is already $700B in the US economy and accounted for a third of the economic growth in the previous decade. Estimates link 60% of recent economic growth to information technology and related productivity gains. Forecasts place computer and information science and engineering at the root of much of the job creation and wealth development in the next decade (source: [Newsweek)].[Newsweek].

    Regions such as Nebraska and theother Great Plainsstates risk missing out on the benefits of the new economy. Most of the growth has occurred within the nation's largest information technology centers. Nebraska and other Great Plains states constitute half of the bottom ten on the Milken Institute New Economy Index, ranking particularly low in measures of new business ventures. A recent survey of UNL graduates in computer science and engineering indicated that over half left Nebraska after graduation, with more than 70% of those indicating they left because of better job opportunities outside the state [UNL].

    Software is the "new physical infrastructure of the information age" (source: PITAC, Information Technology Research: Investing in Our Future. Available at http://www.ccic.gov/ac/report/, 1999) [PITAC] and will drive the nation's new economy. However, there are important problems with current software development technologies and limitations that impede wider regional participation in the industry. Compounding these problems, next-generation software, built on Internet and other network-based architectures, will be more complex, more difficult to manage, and larger in scale than today's software. The Great Plains and other such regions risk limited growth in the new economy without appropriate software development technologies and a workforce educated in these technologies. New tools and methods are critically needed to enhance the participation of Nebraska and the Great Plains in the software industry and the new economy.

  3. Requested Action
    UNL proposes the Great Plains Software Technology Initiative to lead the development and dissemination of technologies to promote and advance the regional software industry. As case studies of successful "smart communities" clearly demonstrate, a research university is an important core element of the foundation for developing a vibrant and innovative software industry. The Initiative will work with a consortium of university, industry, and government, to accelerate economic development of software related industries in the region with three main missions.
    1. Economic Development. The Initiative will stimulate economic development in the region by providing innovative solutions needed to compete in the national and international marketplace. Economic development will be enhanced by: (a) attracting new software development and IT companies eager to take advantage of the University's expertise and the pool of potential excellent employees, (b) identifying technologies with commercial potential, (c) providing visibility to existing software development and IT companies, (d) sharing development costs for solutions that can be used to stimulate growth among consortium members, and (e) facilitating the exchange of successful tools and methodologies amortizing the learning cost of their use and implementation.

    2. Education and Training. A major emphasis of the Initiative will be to help stem the region's "brain drain" of good students leaving the state. Students will be provided with challenging internships during their education to facilitate the transition to regional industry, and matched to high-paying and stimulating jobs in the region. The Initiative also will provide continuing education through classes and seminars that train IT workers in this rapidly changing field. The prestigious JD Edwards Honors Program (JDEHP) already is aligned to support this educational effort.

    3. Research and Technology Transfer. The Initiative will help bridge the needs of industry with University researchers capable of creating state-of-the-art solutions. Efforts will focus on software development methodologies and tools that accelerate the development cycle and improve software quality. For example, new techniques will be developed for handling server overload, improving web performance, and providing an edge for the regional e-businesses. Another example is the creation of software components that serve as building blocks that can be reused by the regional industry to produce larger systems, leading to shorter time to market. The Initiative will provide initial seed funds to stimulate the collaboration process and to transfer the most promising technologies to the local industry. It will also host a repository of tools, methods, and case studies for consortium members to use.

    Government funding is required to establish the Initiative. Industry is unable to invest in broad-based and long-range solutions capable of promoting increased economic viability for the region as a whole. Without additional funding, University-based research currently lacks the resources to address these problems in the necessary scale. Initial government "seed" funds will be used to establish a track record, after which industry funding will play a larger role.

  4. Institutional Uniqueness.
    This initiative builds on strengths at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln (UNL), especially faculty expertise and an innovative educational program in computer science and business.

    UNL conducts leading research in the areas of component software technology, knowledge management in software engineering, software quality, and distributed software systems. Faculty members at UNL are developing component-based technologies and knowledge management techniques for developing better software faster. The researchers use empirical approaches to software quality issues in order to find the most efficient testing methods at different phases of the development lifecycle. Research at UNL is developing new Internet-based software architectures with scalable network server-clusters that distribute to improve web application performance. These research activities span various disciplinary areas to improve software development tools and methods for the next-generation software applications and will have a direct impact when transferred to the regional economy.

    The Initiative will complement the JD Edwards Honors Program (JDEHP) in Computer Science and Business, established at UNL through an ongoing multi-million dollar donation by the CEO of a major software developer company. The JDEHP integrates computer science and business curriculums to educate students in technologies that are fast becoming the building blocks for the new economy. The integrated approach emphasizes entrepreneurship and leadership and features an innovative Software Design Studio, in which students work on projects with industry customers. The Great Plains Software Technology Initiative will build on the JDEHP with stronger ties between universities, industry, and government.

  5. Conclusion
    The ability to develop complex software systems is critical to the future development of the new information-based economy. The crucial need to improve software development tools and methods is particularly acute in regions such as Nebraska and neighboring states, which have an underdeveloped software industry. The Great Plains Software Technology Initiative aims to lead accelerated development of software related industries in the region and so enhance State and regional participation in the new economy.

Unviersity of Nebraska [Milken] Milken Institute, New Economy Index, 1997.
[Newsweek] Newsweek, 2/1/98.
[PITAC] PITAC, Information Technology Research: Investing in Our Future. 1999.
[UNL] UNL Career Services, 11/2/00.

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