Research software solutions for the new Centre for Transformative Innovation

Yesterday I had a meeting with the Swinburne ITS Project Management Office (PMO) and the Director of Swinburne's new Centre for Transformative Innovation (CTI). The centre was founded in 2014 as part of Swinburne's Faculty of Business and Law. Directed by Prof. Beth Webster (formerly at the University of Melbourne and incidentally a relative of my PhD supervisor), CTI was launched with the aim of better informing public debate on public and corporate policy on innovation. The centre is largely made up of research economists and data scientists (some with backgrounds in particle physics and astronomy). Many of their research projects exploit large datasets (of the order of Terabytes), and require setting up data access portals and collaborative research platforms which also needed to be regularly backed-up securely. This may seem trivial but if you add up the number of large datasets, the network bandwidth required to effectively make use of the data, and the cost of IT infrastructure, what started out as a small set up can quickly escalate into something much larger. In some cases this can includes high-performance computing.

The meeting was to help set up  the centre's data and software from the University of Melbourne. One of my responsibilities as an e-Research Consultant is to help Swinburne ITS understand the specific needs of individual researchers and research groups and figure out how systems can be set up and supported by Swinburne ITS. Ongoing development and support is a big issue at Swinburne, especially for projects. More often than not these types of research systems fall outside the scope of standard ITS support. So last year Prof. Leon Sterling (PVC - Digital Frontiers), Dr. Rajesh Vasa (Head of R&D - Software Innovation Lab), Julie Madjarevic (Manager - ITS PMO) and I set up an e-Research Triage group to  find solutions for the more complex research IT requests that the ITS Help Desk can't solve. We field requests for general software training (e.g. R & Python, Intro to HPC or Linux), assistance with the installation and maintenance of open source software, modification of existing research software tools (e.g. Inquisit), development of new research software tools or applications, database development and web applications, software requirements analysis for research projects, assistance with software budgeting for general research and projects, queries about software for data visualisation, and anything else relating to computing for research and advice on setting up data storage and access portals.

We can’t always find solutions, but most of the time we can help researchers get 90% of what they need. Fortunately Swinburne has a have a pretty responsive ITS Project Management Office that understands (mostly) what large research projects require and has resources to scope projects and assign tasks. We also have the new NICTA Swinburne Software Innovation Lab that we sometimes call upon for solutions.