Costing data management

There have been a few events of late on costing research data management. Two that I’ve attended are:

Roles and responsibilities were a key theme. Is data management the concern of researchers, their institutions, funders or disciplinary data centres? At the RDMF, Jeff Haywood, Vice Principal for Knowledge Management at University of Edinburgh, described the institution as the place of last resort for preserving data. They hope to direct researchers to external data centres where possible but are concerned to keep a register of the data so they know where their assets are and can act to secure these if external services are under the threat of closure.

A breakout session at the RDMF on institutional solutions versus national data centres reached a similar conclusion. It isn’t a matter of choice – we have to live with a mixed landscape. It was argued there should be more services at local level: a sort of first step data management service. A series of handovers could then scale up to various levels as appropriate based on the nature of the data, the available infrastructure and the specific requirements of each case. Jeff’s argument holds well in this scenario – HEIs don’t need to provide a complete infrastructure, just add to existing provision where required and most importantly know what they own and where this is.

At the JISC workshop, Andrew Bush of KPMG addressed how costs can be built into research funding bids when there’s a gap in provision.  He recommended that data management support costs should be recovered through indirects, as this is apparently where research councils see them being placed. He advised not to class data management infrastructure as research facilities, as the cost of these should only be applied when the facility is used by a project – not on every bid – so you need to work at capacity. Also, as projects typically draw on data management infrastructure once finished, it’s better to include this as an indirect cost. It seems research funders are willing to meet data management costs but it’s quite an untested area so examples of how people have costed in support would be welcome.

One aspect where headway has been made is in defining some of those costs. The JISC MRD projects have been asked to identify researcher needs and pilot services to address these. At Leicester they’ve been investigating the provision of ‘good enough’ data centres, which provide robust but cheaper storage to researchers. The cost comparison was £400 per Tb per year versus the usual £1 a Gb a day on university SANs. Jonathan Tedds reported that the reception to this has been overwhelming, as researchers often struggle to manage their own storage and back-up efficiently. Comparable charges were noted by other JISC projects too.

More work is underway across the MRD programme on defining benefits and business models for sustainability. This will be presented at the International workshop in Birmingham in March 2011.

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