On the new organizational structure of HIIT and the HIIT community support
The HIIT SAB convened in November 2020 to provide support in strategic planning of HIIT and its activities. Since the previous HIIT SAB meeting in 2016, we have witnessed a lot of new developments in the landscape of information technology research in the capital area. Most importantly, HIIT has actively supported the creation of several new joint units:
- Helsinki Centre for Data Science (HiData)
- Helsinki-Aalto Institute for Cybersecurity (HAIC)
- Finnish Center for AI (FCAI)
It is natural to ask what the exact relationship between these units and HIIT is, and for the SAB, the (new) organizational structure of HIIT was presented as follows. Unlike in the past, HIIT does not any more maintain research programmes with clear research agendas and lists of research groups who have been selected to run the research programme. Instead, HIIT maintains strategically chosen research focus areas that are open so that all researchers of the HIIT community working in that area can regard themselves as a member of the HIIT focus area. The HIIT (Helsinki ICT) community is currently defined as the research groups working in the following departments:
- Computer science (University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science),
- Computer science (Aalto, School of Science),
- Communications and Networking (Aalto, School of EE),
- Signal Processing and Acoustics (Aalto, School of EE).
The current focus areas of research of HIIT are Artificial Intelligence, Computational Health, Cybersecurity and Data Science. In addition to the focus areas, we acknowledge the existence of the joint units that heavily overlap with the focus areas, but they are not considered directly part of HIIT for several reasons: first of all, many of the units coordinate teaching in the relevant area, and this is not in the scope of a research institute like HIIT. Secondly, HIIT is an institute for information technology research, while some of the units have broader mission: for example, in FCAI not all research is information technology research, since for instance ethical, societal and legal aspects of artificial intelligence require contributions from different disciplines. For HIIT, collaboration with other sciences outside the ICT community is highly desirable, but HIIT supports only ICT research while FCAI has a broader mandate. Thirdly, HIIT as a joint institute of Aalto University and University of Helsinki operates in the capital area, while FCAI as a national flagship has a broader mission, and besides, has VTT also as a third founding organization.
For these reasons, the above units cannot directly be seen as HIIT departments or programmes, although whenever ICT research is concerned, they are very much aligned with the HIIT focus areas. In the new organization chart below, these units are presented as “affiliated units” (FCAI is listed as an affiliated unit of Computational Health as health is one of the most important application areas in FCAI).
The organization of HIIT is built to make the alignment of the HIIT focus areas and the affiliated units as seamless and synergistic as possible: the HIIT focus areas are led by key people in the affiliated units, and the third host organization of FCAI, VTT, has been taken into account by inviting a VTT representative in the Board so that HIIT and FCAI can share the same Board, and what is more, HIIT and FCAI also share the Scientific Advisory Board. For FCAI with its flagship status, it was vital to get the SAB feedback before the Academy of Finland flagship evaluation taking place next year. As the HIIT SAB meeting was due this year in any case, it made a lot of sense to take the very high-profile SAB of HIIT as a starting point and add new members so that the same SAB can assess both HIIT and FCAI. This was of course a somewhat risky move and demanded a lot of the SAB, in particular considering the fact that in the current situation, the event had to be organized fully remotely, but the SAB did a remarkable job and provided valuable insights for both HIIT and FCAI.
The SAB was quite happy with the new organizational structure and the line of thinking supporting interplay and the synergies between the HIIT and FCAI: “The SAB also praises the successful collaboration between the two entities, set in a complex and dynamic ecosystem including the University of Helsinki, Aalto University, and the VTT Technical Center of Finland.” The organizational setup was accepted in the Board meeting on December 4th as part of HIIT’s annual action plan.
What does this mean in practise? First of all, special focus is given on recruitment in strategic focus areas where the impact potential is considered to be highest, but HIIT wishes to be able to support the broader HIIT community, taking into account the fact that as a strategic initiative of two universities, the HIIT funding cannot be used just as an extension of the department funding, but it has to produce clear added value. In the next open postdoc call (December 2020) the recruitment policy is defined as follows:
- The mission of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT is to enhance the quality, visibility and impact of research on information technology and support cooperation between ICT researchers, researchers in other fields, industry and public organisations. All excellent researchers in any area of ICT will be considered, but
- priority is given to candidates who support one (or more) of the strategic focus areas listed below.