They’re on their way: JISC’s shared services for RDM!

JISC has moved a long way forward since my last post highlighting their survey on institutional requirements for shared and hosted Research Data Management services. They’re now finalising the requirements and asking suppliers to tender for providing parts of the solution. Development will start in earnest early next year!

There’s been some really interesting events recently looking in depth at this area. I co-chaired a workshop with Marta Temperek from Cambridge at RDMF14 that looked at what institutions might want from shared services and some of the challenges involved. The work done by our CREST RDMS project certainly provided some great input – including how a shared service isn’t just about technical infrastructure but also needs to include people who can provide advice, advocacy, support, integration and other skills that institutions need to get RDM embedded and working in practice within their environments.

JISC have also just run a two day event on their plans for RDM shared services  and I was at the second day which explored how suppliers could collaborate to deliver the solution that institutions so clearly need.

The good news is that there is strong interest and demand from the community for JISC to provide shared services for RDM. Over 70 people attended the first day where institutions give their input and help JISC refine their requirements. JISC now want to select 6-8 HEIs to try out new services around data repositories and research data storage. You can register your interest until the 7th of Dec. And the best bit – JISC will provide financial support to help you be involved!

Positive stuff – hosted services are sorely needed by many institutions, including CREST members, especially those who don’t have their own RDM infrastructure, don’t have the staff and expertise to build one, and don’t have the budget to invest in setting something up. JISC are targeting several key areas: data repositories, user interface and researcher experience, integration and interoperability, metadata and data exchange between systems, reporting and metrics, and last but definitely not least digital preservation. Crack all that in an integrated set of shared services and it’s a lot of boxes ticked and problems solved for UK HEIs.

But, it’s going to be some time before JISC’s service comes out of beta and into production, perhaps two years or more, and it does depend on there being a business case to sustain it at the end. JISC are getting a lot of encouragement to adopt a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach where something gets released as soon as possible to the community. Something people can touch and feel is essential to give people confidence that it’s real, it works, and it is a viable solution.

There was also lots of discussion on whether people want a ‘whole solution’ that works out of the box, or a ‘pick and mix’ approach of just being able to choose the parts they need. There will surely be the need for both. This ties in with perhaps the major topic of discussion at the suppliers workshop – interoperability. If JISC can drive the community and suppliers in how the various pieces of the RDM landscape can talk to each other in a standardised way then we’d all be a long way forward. Think CRIS, Data Repository, storage, DataCite, ORCID, IRUS, UK RDDS and more. If JISC can provide a set of framework agreements that allow institutions to procure solutions that are known to work with each other then that would be a huge step forward. JISC could then lead the way in providing these pieces as part of an integrated and hosted set of services for those that need it, but at the same time institutions could pick and mix the pieces they need to move them forward with their own deployments and infrastructures.

So where does this leave us and our CREST RDMS project, especially now we are hoping to get the next round of funding? Well, I think there’s a great fit between our Research Data Spring project and JISC’s shared services plan and we can complement what JISC are doing. Our small-scale MVP approach will deliver a lot of practical insights on how shared services might work in reality for small institutions. This insight will come at exactly the time that JISC is going to be asking their pilot HEIs to give their detailed requirements and expectations. I would hope that the work we do in the next stage of our project, subject to funding of course, could provide a lot of value to JISC in informing and refining their much bigger initiative. Likewise, we can learn a lot from the requirements JISC have already identified, which will be of great help to us in making our testbed productive and focussed on specific needs. So here’s hoping that we get more funding and that JISC keep up the pace with their good work too!

Matthew Addis, Chief Technology Officer, Arkivum