Monday, 17 May 2010

CRIS Event Cafe Society Write Up - Group 2: DIY v. Commercial Solutions

At the JISC/ARMA Repositories and CRIS event 'Learning How to Play Nicely' held at the Rose Bowl, Leeds Met University on Friday 7th May the afternoon was dedicated to a cafe society discussion session. Four topics were explored by delegates and over the course of four blog posts we are disseminating the facilitator reports from each session.

Please use the comment option below to contribute or comment on these discussion topics.

Group 2 - DIY v. Commercial Solutions
Facilitator: Anna Clements, EuroCRIS

Format of discussion
Introduction from each member explaining what systems/s had at moment – IR, CRIS or both ; whether DIY or commercial and whether considering going commercial if not already. Most had an IR but very view had a CRIS. Then discussed criteria to consider and other issues to think about when choosing DIY v Commercial – not in priority order:

Institutional requirements - Differ depending on size and particularly how research active the institution is [or would like to be] i.e. DIY may be fine for smaller, less research intensive institutions but larger, more research intensive institutions may find it easier to justify investment in commercial solution

Cost - Need to include total cost i.e. cost for in-house development and maintenance over lifetime of systems needs to be included. Senior managers often think a DIY system is ‘free’ as don’t see cost of internal resource.
Need to consider total cost across sector if we are all reinventing the wheel – one commercial product estimates they have spent at least 12 man years developing their product; also consider benefits in collaborative approach to development where several Institutions working with a commercial supplier to build/improve product collectively and therefore share costs and benefit from better overall product

Control/Scope Creep - Two views on this :
1. DIY allows full control and so get exactly what you want – whereas commercial may deliver 75%
2. DIY ends in continual scope creep as difficult to say no internally – whereas with commercial products boundaries are clearer

Link to internal systems - Is DIY better here ? … but issue more is that there should be a buffer between each system and the CRIS e.g. at St Andrews have a data warehouse which acts as a data broker between the source systems [e.g.. Human Resources, Registry, Finance] and the CRIS. If change made in source system then can reconfigure the views in the data warehouse to match the new source system but leave them unchanged as far as CRIS concerned. If this doesn’t exist then have problem of reconfiguring links whether DIY or commercial -> for latter, therefore, important that architecture of any commercial solution can cope with sync changes without major rewrites -> include this in your tender requirements.

Understand your data - Related to point above. DIY or commercial you need to understand what data you have in which systems at the Institutional level; which is the golden source where there are multiple and what keys/ids you can use to related data together when pull it all into the CRIS – this could mean considerable investigation, data tidying and work to review/improve data flows and related procedures to ensure good quality data going forward. At St Andrews we have found that such work leading on from the CRIS is beginning to feed through in an overall improvement in information management at the University. CRIS is ideal for this because so many stakeholders within University are involved [Researchers, Schools, Library, HR, Registry, Finance, Research Policy/Management, Senior Management] and NEED to be involved whether as users of the CRIS or as data providers for the CRIS. One benefit of commercial system could be that it insists on better quality data via business rules, such as always having a primary key (!) than a DIY solution.

Product coverage - Be clear what each commercial product offers compared to what your requirements are. An example being whether you are looking just for a publications management system or a full-blown CRIS with links to students, staff, projects, events and activities

Switching from DIY to commercial - At least two institutions are trying a simple DIY solution first to find out what exactly is needed … with a view to switching to commercial product later. Disadvantage of this approach is that may then be difficult to persuade senior management to, as they see it, throw away the internal investment, at a later date.

Open source CRIS? - Question was asked that perhaps there is a third way ;) - not commercial ; not DIY alone ; but DIY together i.e. an open source solution. Why hasn’t that been done? Possible reasons that no academic interest in pursuing this [unlike for open access]; CRIS seen as a management information tool , as Finance or HR, rather than a tool for individual academics.

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