A JISC-funded Managing Research Data project

Posts tagged software development

Part of the Orbital project governance is that I report to the university’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Committee. The Committee meets every three months and I send a short report to each meeting and attend every other meeting. Here’s my report for the February committee meeting.

The Orbital Project

Progress report to the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Committee

30th January 2012

Author: Joss Winn, PI/PM.

Progress since the last update to the RIEC on 13th December:

  1. The short-term focus for the project continues to be the development of the technical infrastructure for managing research data, while being mindful of the long-term requirements to develop policy and a supportive environment for research staff.
  2. Software development has begun. We have finished setting up the development environment for the Orbital system. This is a major software development project for the university and we have spent some time designing the server architecture and quality assurance procedures for development.
  3. Orbital will make use of ‘cloud computing’ and is working with ICT as a pilot project for integrating cloud computing into our local infrastructure. A meeting took place with Eduserv, a non-profit provider of cloud computing to the HE sector (running on Janet) and a further meeting is taking place with Rackspace, a major commercial provider of cloud computing services. This work sits alongside ICT’s need to refresh their server infrastructure next year and will provide ICT with a real opportunity to investigate the business case for cloud computing as well as issues around actual implementation.
  4. A full-time post for a Web Developer has been advertised and we expect the post to begin late March/early April. This is the second full-time Web Developer post on the Orbital project.
  5. We are pleased that Dr. Ling from the School of Engineering and his PhD student, Chunmei Qing, will work with closely with the Orbital project in the development of the software, policy and training materials. Similarly, we are working with Prof. Chris Bingham and Stuart Watson (Siemens), and have recently joined their fortnightly research meetings, which are extremely useful to the Orbital project. At this stage, we welcome involvement from any Researcher in the School of Engineering and further into the project intend to broaden our use cases to other research disciplines.
  6. A meeting has been held with Dr. Mansur Darlington from the University of Bath. Dr. Darlington led the JISC-funded ERIM project, which studied the Research Data Management (RDM) issues for the discipline of Engineering.[1] The meeting was very useful for the Orbital team, including partners at Siemens and Researchers in the School of Engineering, who attended. The ERIM project provides a very robust, theoretical basis, which Orbital will attempt to build upon and implement. Similarly, a follow-up to the ERIM project will provide prototype tools, which we hope to build on for Orbital.[2] This is a key external relationship for the Orbital project.
  7. One issue flagged by Dr. Darlington concerned national funding bodies’ RDM policies. Each funding body has an RDM policy which requires universities to have effective methods in place for managing, preserving and disseminating research data.[3] The EPSRC has told all universities that we must provide them with a RDM roadmap by 1st May 2012 and must be compliant with these expectations by 1st May 2015.[4]
  8. The Orbital project is required by JISC to produce an RDM Policy for the institution. A national meeting is being organised by JISC to assist with the development of such policy in March. Following this, I suggest that a workshop is held in March where the Orbital project and other key staff from the Library and Research and Enterprise Office begin to draft this Policy and the required EPSRC roadmap. This can then be presented to the RIEC for discussion and approval prior to submission to the EPSRC.
  9. A meeting has been arranged for March 7th, 9.30-12pm, to discuss the Business Case for Open licenses. This discussion will be of interest for anyone concerned with licensing research outputs (‘Open Access’), software development projects (‘Open Source’), and teaching and learning resources (‘Open Educational Resources’). Staff from the JISC-funded OSS Watch, University of Oxford, will present at this meeting. Andrew Hunter and James Murray will attend and members of the RIEC are also welcome. Please RSVP to Joss Winn by end of February.
  10. Joss is working with JISC to organise a national event focussing on issues around software development for Research Data Management, which will be held in May.

I am currently completing the Orbital Project Plan prior to submission to JISC next week. The writing of a Project Plan, using JISC’s template, which I think is a derivation of PRINCE2 documentation, is undeniably a useful exercise in defining the project we’re embarking on. It is also undeniably a tedious process, too, as it requires a particular style of thinking and writing: granular, incremental and forward looking, yet reflective; ambitious and creative yet restrained; serious yet mostly in a dumb tabular form. I find myself having intense bursts of concentrated writing and then having to step away from the document  to restore myself both physically and mentally.

I’m currently at the Quality Assurance section of the document, which is in a tabular format to aid both author and reader. However, what I really want to write is this, taken from the Agile Manifesto:

We follow these principles:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

Welcome changing requirements, even late in
development. Agile processes harness change for
the customer’s competitive advantage.

Deliver working software frequently, from a
couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a
preference to the shorter timescale.

Business people and developers must work
together daily throughout the project.

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

The most efficient and effective method of
conveying information to and within a development
team is face-to-face conversation.

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Continuous attention to technical excellence
and good design enhances agility.

Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount
of work not done–is essential.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs
emerge from self-organizing teams.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
its behavior accordingly.

I think I will print this on A3 and stick it to our wall.

What attracts me most to Agile methods of software development (I lean towards XP), is the emphasis on human interaction and the focus on values such as trust, respect, simplicity, autonomy and courage. All too often when running a project, the objective of delivering the product dominates and diminishes the creative and social process of producing something that improves our environment.

For me, as Project Manager, the Orbital Project is not only an interesting Research and Development project but also an opportunity to practise a method of human sociability and creativity over a defined period of time. Although I’ve tried to use attributes of Agile methods on projects in the past, this is the first time that I’ve started a project from scratch with this is as the principle method, and a project where I know the Lead Researcher and Lead Developer are likewise keen to work in this way.

This blog is a record of our project over the next 18 months or so. For my part, I’ll be reflecting honestly about the ups and downs of running the project and learning to work closely with people according to the principles quoted above. I’m sure we will fail at times and the process will get lost to the product, but we will learn, even during those times. And gradually, we’ll get better and produce better.

The Orbital project formally begins today and I’m pleased to be able to write that we’ve just advertised internally for the post of Lead Web Developer. If all goes well, the chosen candidate should be in place and working on the project by the end of this month. The Lead Developer role is key to the project and will be working closely with myself (Joss Winn – Project Managers) and Paul Stainthorp, Lead Researcher.

This post is established within the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD) to work as Lead Developer on the JISC-funded ‘Orbital’ project. The Orbital project has been funded to develop, implement and pilot a new infrastructure for managing research data at the university. Further information on the Orbital project can be found at: http://lncn.eu/t48

Working closely with colleagues in the ICT Online Services team and Library, CERD has been successful in leading a number of innovative research and development projects that improve the use of technology in higher education and the University of Lincoln in particular. The new post of Lead Developer will work alongside colleagues in CERD, ICT and the Library to build on this recent success and contribute to the delivery of the Orbital project objectives.

The role requires extensive knowledge of the web and its attendant technologies and the software development and analytical skills to put this knowledge to good effect. In particular, candidates for the role should have demonstrable experience as both a producer and consumer of RESTful web services for large data stores.