Johannesburg — Professor Jan Eloff, who has been appointed director of research at the SAP Meraka Unit for Technology Development (UTD) from 1 March 2009, intends to entrench the UTD as the first truly collaborative, multi-disciplinary technology research centre in South Africa.
“In the process, we aim to become a world leader in information and communications technology (ICT) research focused specifically on next-generation applications in an emerging context,” Eloff says.
Founded in 2007, the SAP Meraka UTD is a joint initiative between the CSIR’s Meraka Institute and the SAP Research CEC in Pretoria.
The Meraka Institute’s major objective is to promote national economic and social development through human capital development and needs-based research and innovation in the ICT sector.
The SAP Research CEC in Pretoria is the only one of global business software giant, SAP AG’s, research centres to be established in Africa – and is focused on contributing to the development of SAP products that are relevant to emerging economies.
The objectives of the SAP Meraka UTD are to find ways in which ICT can be applied to foster growth and development among very small enterprises.
“A by-product of achieving those aims will be the development of a critical mass of local research capability, particularly among graduate and post-graduate students from previously disadvantaged communities,” Eloff says.
“In fact, the UTD is already exposing 19 PhD and masters students, all studying at seven different universities – including one in Germany, to real-life research projects. So, we’re rapidly becoming bigger than most university-specific research units.
“But we’re not looking to poach students, staff, funds, or projects from universities. In a globalised world, no single institution can come up with all the answers or be relevant in all circumstances. Collaboration with both the private sector and academia is essential if technology is to properly serve the best interests of everyone concerned – including those without access to it now.
“Collaboration across academic disciplines is also vital because ICT research done without attention to its impact on socio-economic and cultural issues is quite pointless.
“My primary focus at the SAP Meraka UTD is, therefore, to create the circumstances and the incentives for students, academia, industry, and established networks such as the existing SAP research community to which we already have access, to pool resources, ideas, and focus – so that everyone benefits more.”
Eloff believes that that the living laboratory concept being put into practice by the SAP Meraka UTD is a good example of the collaboration he will promote. “The prototype technologies our students develop as part of their UTD projects are tested with real people in real life situations. There is no reason why technology companies can’t use the same facilities to test their next-generation products in the context of an emerging economy.”
The SAP Meraka UTD sees itself as a resource for product development for the Brics (Brazilian, Russian, Indian, Chinese and South African) economies, which, along with other emerging economies, analysts say, will be the important technology markets of the future.
Although Professor Eloff leaves his post as head of the computer science department of the University of Pretoria to lead the SAP Meraka UTD, he retains his title of professor. He will also retain his representation of South Africa on Technical Committee 11 (information security – his speciality) of the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) and his membership of the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Council of Natural Scientists of South Africa (CNSSA). And he will continue as guest lecturer at the International Institute of Management in Telecommunications at the University of Fribourg, Germany.
"We are delighted to have someone of Professor Eloff’s stature providing direction for the SAP Meraka UTD," says Danie Kok, director of the SAP Research CEC in Pretoria. "Clearly, he adds to the credibility of the organisation. But, just as importantly, his appointment now allows us to accelerate our research initiatives as well as our development of advanced human capital in the field of ICT research."
Professor Eloff has also been appointed to direct research at the SAP Research CEC in Pretoria, where he will provide input for the organisation’s applied research activities.
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