The Australian Federal Government has invested $97 million for the development of eResearch infrastructure in recent years. This infrastructure being rolled out through NeCTAR and RDSI programs in 2013-2014 – together with 200-300 associated eResearch services.
AeRO (Australian eResearch Organisations) is an informal coalition of national and state-based eResearch service providers* aimed at advancing the application of eResearch towards research excellence and collaborating on a number of aspects regarding the provision of eResearch services nationally.
With funding from 37 Australian universities (as well as NeCTAR, RDSI, and other AeRO member organisations), AeRO commissioned an ICT Support Project to establish a comprehensive national approach to meet services support demand.
The ICT Support Project aims to create a framework for cost-effective services support across the eResearch sector, focusing on benefits for three key stakeholder groups:
- Supporting researchers in their use of eResearch services by allowing them to “self-help” more of their support needs,
- Helping eResearch service developers (including institutional help desks) increase their understanding of eResearch services to more effectively triage help requests, and
- Establishing a framework for institutional IT support groups to support an eResearch services portfolio for local researchers
Due to the complex relationship between eResearch stakeholders it is apparent that a “one size fits all” solution is impractical for the sector. The project also needed to avoid potential scenarios where services are developed and implemented and then subsequently “orphaned” by limited or no support. Preventing the potential chaos of 100’s of service development projects attempting to establish individual service agreements with multiple universities was also a key consideration.
The three main strategies of the project are to:
- Minimise the need for support via improved self-help resources for researchers and establish good User Experience (UX) practice to simplify the use of eResearch services and provide consistent access to self-help information,
- Define a common multi-tier support framework with consistent mature service documentation and support tools for incorporation by service developers and help desks, and
- Evaluate a ticketing hub and associated support integration services to enable the “joining up” of eResearch service and support providers within the support framework.
Stage 1 of the project demonstrated the potential cost savings of a lightweight model for integrating cross-provider service support. A framework was tested with 9 representative eResearch service providers that included researcher-facing services (such as the Genomics Virtual Lab and Quadrant) as well as research infrastructure services (such as the AAF and CloudStor). A ticketing hub was also evaluated as part of the framework to help manage support workflows and issue escalation.
The framework includes simple checklist assistance for service providers to improve their support maturity, through targeting different support needs, improving knowledge base article quality and creating user self-help forums. Basic user experience (UX) guidelines and expertise were also used to review and improve selected researcher services.
To demonstrate ease of reuse in institutional support systems, the framework’s knowledge repository was republished in University of Sydney’s implementation of ServiceNow – a common self-help package widely implemented in universities.
The project developed a Generic Tier 1 Support Package containing service protocols, templates, knowledge bases, and training material (available on the AeRO Wiki website: https://sites.google.com/a/ersa.edu.au/aerowiki/home ).