The Move to Laxenburg:
A Personal Recollection of Events


Plamen Nedkov
IFIP
Administration Manager

On 16 September 1994, I touched ground in Vienna after being appointed as Administration Manager of the Laxenburg Secretariat at the September 94 General Assembly meeting in Hamburg. I was just about to turn 40. During my previous employment with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, I worked closely on IFIP affairs with the Acad. Bl. Sendov, President of the Academy and also President of IFIP for the period 1989-1992. Since 1989, I was IFIP Contracts Officer and recently I was named IFIP-UNESCO Liaison Officer. My IFIP involvement and my duties as Head of the Academy's Department for International Organizations gave me a significant international experience in working with specialized agencies of the UN system and non-governmental organizations. However, I had a lot to learn about IFIP's administrative affairs and the sunny and shady sides of Austrian administration. To sum up, I considered this appointment as a challenging new beginning and I was dedicated to make the best of it.

Before my arrival, several important arrangements were made and agreements were signed with the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science, Research and the Arts, the Austrian Academy of Sciences and our Landlord, Mr. Hartl for the premises of the IFIP Secretariat in Laxenburg. The Ministry had agreed to support IFIP's operations in Austria by providing a subsidy and rent-free premises. The Academy was requested to act on behalf of IFIP as the formal employer of the Secretariat's staff and to deal with salaries and social security matters. In Laxenburg, an elegant village comprised mainly of a baroque palace and park which lies to the south of Vienna, IFIP joined a small community of international organizations with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the International Federation for Automatic Control (IFAC) as close neighbors.

The implementation of IFIP's plans to transfer its office from Geneva to Laxenburg was just starting and I made the following important promises to myself:

On the other hand, I had to perform under a very tight schedule with established quality requirements by IFIP. Deadlines were set for everything- negotiating contracts, recruiting an assistant, furnishing the office, buying equipment, arranging the transfer and conversion of files and archives, i.e. everything associated with moving house from one country to another. Almost no provisions were allowed for unexpected circumstances and delays.

In the beginning, temporary office space was provided to IFIP at the premises of the Austrian Computer Society (OCG). With OCG assistance, telephone lines, furniture and office equipment were ordered and contacts with our future suppliers were established. An administrative assistant was identified, donations of computer equipment were arranged and the legal implications of associated matters with the establishment of our Secretariat and Headquarters in Austria were further investigated. The network of IFIP friends and supporters grew quickly after a series of meetings with the Federal Ministry for Science, Research and the Arts, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the University of Vienna, IIASA and IFAC.

By the end of January 1995 everything seemed to be falling into place and our premises were turning into a modern Secretariat of which IFIP could be proud of. It looked as if the first phase of the transfer to Laxenburg was successfully completed. Mr. Melbye, the Management Consultant and I evaluated the progress in February and the developments were reported to the March 1995 Council meeting in New York.

Alas, soon after the Council meeting several unexpected developments occurred which returned us to square 1. The promised donations of equipment to the Secretariat were delayed, there were problems with the conversion of the Geneva databases , the administrative assistant who started work at the IFIP Secretariat resigned, and so on.

The months of April, May and June were strenuous. I was alone, working over 14 hours 7 days a week, trying to cork leaking holes. We had to be careful in selecting a new assistant; she/he should have an excellent command of English and German, be experienced in office work and computer systems, feel comfortable in a rather secluded village 17 kms from Vienna and be motivated to work for an NGO with world-wide operations and a staff of only two fully employed persons.

By early June, I was under serious tension and began to doubt whether I could meet the expectations of IFIP in getting the Secretariat quickly in a full operational mode. I shared this with the IFIP President, Prof. Asbjorn Rolstadas and the IFIP Secretary, Mr. Graham Morris. Their support and trust gave me the vital energy to continue. I am also indebted to many other Austrian and international friends who supported me in this critical moment. Among them were Dr. W. Grafendorfer, Secretary General of the OCG, and indeed the whole OCG Secretariat, Prof. H. Zemanek who reassured me to have faith and confidence in myself, my boyhood friend R. Kaminker who works at the UN in Vienna, colleagues from the Vienna University, IIASA and IFAC.

We reassessed the situation and broke down the originally ambitious and somewhat complicated plan into easily achievable and comprehensive stages to follow. First priority was given to the preparations for the Opening Ceremony of the IFIP Secretariat in Laxenburg, scheduled for 6 July. The organization was excellent, greatly due to the support of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science Research and the Arts. Minister Scholten and other Austrian dignitaries, representatives of IFIP and international organizations contributed to this memorable event which announced IFIP's presence in Austria.

In parallel to the preparations for the Opening Ceremony, work for the establishment and maintenance of the IFIP communication and information network was in progress. Gerald Quirchmayr, the Director of the Institute for Applied Informatics and myself devastated the Secretariat's coffee reserves during many working sessions. With donations of computer equipment from Sun (Switzerland), Compaq (Switzerland and Austria), NEC and DEC the backbone of the network was formed. An Internet communications link was provided via IIASA and the Vienna University. Jürgen Stöger, a student of Prof. Quirchmayr, started work on the Secretariat's LAN and databases. Several list servers were quickly established and by mid-July the IFIP Homepages were up and running.

"A shoe maker always wears shabby shoes", Past President Sendov often repeated in the past. Luckily, with these simple achievements IFIP was in a position to start harvesting the fruits of IT. Communications with GA members, IFIP member societies and technical committees improved tremendously. The Secretariat became more transparent in its everyday work, its problems and future plans and the cost-effectiveness of IFIP information deliverables steadily improved.

Following the Opening Ceremony, all efforts were directed towards the preparations for the IFIP General Assembly Meeting in Calgary, Canada, 6-10 September 1995. This was the first GA of the Laxenburg Secretariat and, in a sense, its baptism by IFIP. With the new communications capacity and Ken Chapman from CIPS Alberta as a partner nothing went wrong, nothing was forgotten.

July and August are hot vacation months in Austria and quite inconvenient for recruitment of personnel. Luckily, Mrs. Elfriede Schrott, a former employee of the IFAC Secretariat was available to temporarily help me with the routine Secretarial work. In addition, we had "kitchen" sessions on "the Austrian Way of Life" in which patience, understanding and respect were fundamental principles. This was complimentary to what I have previously heard from Dr. Norbert Rozsenich, Section Chief at the Federal Ministry for Science, Research and the Arts, a supporter and friend of IFIP and a leading Austrian policy maker in Science and Technology who shared with me on a number of occasions experiences in the field of Austrian decision making.

Friday, 25 August was a lucky day. An appointment for an interview was scheduled with Mrs. Dorothy Hayden. 5 minutes after she came I was quite sure that I wanted her to join the Secretariat. Dorothy had significant experience with Avis, Bank Austria and Brother and on top of that she was full of charm. We talked about the importance of trust and TCs and now she sometimes jokes that during this first interview I had a TC feather in my hat. She had scheduled another interview and we agreed to meet once again which would give her time to think it over. We met next week. Graham Morris was also at the Secretariat finalizing with me the arrangements for Calgary. We were both delighted that Dorothy confirmed her willingness to start work and the three of us rushed to Vienna to request the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the formal employer of the Secretariat's staff, to start the employment procedure. Dorothy joined the Secretariat on 11 September.

In addition to the excellent arrangements for Calgary, the Secretariat was proud of several important achievements which were reported to the General Assembly. Among these were the substantial progress in the development of the IFIP Address and Events Databases, the IFIP Homepages and the extensive use of e-mail communications. Many GA members expressed their satisfaction with the Secretariat's communications capacity and urged it to consider further development and improvements. At the Technical Assembly, I was invited to demonstrate the new IFIP Homepages. Howard Funk, IFIP Vice-President and a former Internet Executive Director, who for a long time encouraged IFIP to make better use of E-mail showed his appreciation by exclaiming "IFIP finally moved into the 20th Century". Another communications professional, Ron Uhlig, former Chairman of TC 6 and President of ICCC, expressed his satisfaction by requesting the IFIP Secretariat to create a link for the ICCC Homepage and to assist the new ICCC Office in New Delhi with respect to electronic communications.

The Secretariat was still far from the perfect prototype of a fully operational international office but such compliments were quite encouraging.

Returning from Calgary, I was happy to share the positive reactions of GA with Dorothy and Jürgen. The outcome gave us additional stimulus. Now, it was more pleasant and redeeming to break further ground. We developed a concrete performance schedule vis-a-vis the requested actions by the Executive Board and General Assembly. We were eager to prove that we can do better. This helped us develop a strong sense of responsibility and respect for one another and resulted in a good working team which was capable of serving the interests of IFIP.

In October 1995, the IFIP President took the initiative to form a Steering Committee with the aim to prepare and submit for funding by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science, Research and the Arts with an agreed sum of ATS 600,000 a project proposal with a working title "IFIP Communications Infrastructure". The project aims to provide an easy to use communications infrastructure, addressing the needs of the IFIP Secretariat and the IFIP network of member societies, technical committees and working groups. The prime objective is to further develop the database environment for supporting IFIP's administration which in turn would serve the construction and maintenance of our Internet services. A multilevel approach would be initiated, so that information could be sent out and retrieved using appropriate technology, from WWW at the top level, file transfer and electronic mail at an intermediate level, down to fax and traditional paper mail. A second project phase is envisaged to develop a modern Multi-Technology Electronic Conferencing system, a cornerstone of which will be document management. The spin-off effect of the project would be to create a model for the communications infrastructure of interested IFIP member societies and other international organizations.

In operational terms, the project work started soon after the GA meeting in Calgary and the IFIP Events and Address Databases were significantly improved. Mail Servers for GA, Council, EB, Publications Committee, Activity Management Board, IFIP Member Society Editors and the Project Steering Committee were established and the IFIP WWC Homepages were further enhanced with links to existing Homepages of IFIP Member Societies, TCs and WGs . The IFIP Bulletin, Newsletter and various other important IFIP information materials were made available on-line.

Another project to develop Homepages of IFIP member societies which did not have their own WWW sites was initiated by the Secretariat in January 1996 in cooperation with our GA representative from Sweden, Dr. D. Khakhar and Gerald Quirchmayr. The project was targeted at giving further exposure to the activities of IFIP Members via the Internet and arrangements were made so that Lisbeth Swenson , a Swedish student who was in Austria with an EU Erazmus grant, could assist the Secretariat in this important endeavor.

By the end of January 1996, Dorothy had overcome the initial stage-fright in joining a new organization and was fully involved in operational matters. Routine administrative activities became easy to handle. Event administration was no longer a serious bottle-neck as long as information came from IFIP conference organizers. The communications flow soared but, thanks to E-mail, the 1995 communications expenses were remarkably low as compared to previous years. This was also true in respect to other expenses and it turned out that the Secretariat had greatly assisted the consolidation of IFIP's financial foundation during 1995.

With the magic power of electronic communications, we were able to demonstrate that the Secretariat can serve the various needs of IFIP as a focal point of an open, responsive and productive community. All queries and assignments were handled promptly. From our contacts with IFIP Members and volunteers we were pleased to find that they were happy and satisfied with the services and performance of the IFIP Secretariat. This is our greatest recognition.

 

References:
"Who's Who: Mr. Plamen Nedkov"
				Vol. 12, no. 1: March issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"New IFIP Secretariat in Austria"
				Vol. 12, no. 1: March issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"IFIP Council Meets in New York"
				Vol. 12, no. 2: June issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"Support for IFIP"
				Vol. 12, no. 2: June issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"New IFIP Secretariat Opened Officially"
				Vol. 12, no. 3: September issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"Description of IFIP Supporters"
				Vol. 12, no. 3: September issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"General Assembly Meets in Calgary"
				Vol. 12, no. 4: December issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"Communication Technology for IFIP"
				Vol. 13, no. 1: March issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"IFIP Bulletin On-line"
				Vol. 13, no. 2: March issue of the IFIP Newsletter
"Laxenburg als Metropole"
				Die Presse, 10 July 1995
"IFIP-Sekretariat in Laxenburg"
				Computer Kommunikativ 4/1995
"Österreich ist Zentrum der weltweiten Aktivitäten"
				Computer Kommunikativ 5/1995