Data-driven Infrastructure Report Launched

The JISC Observatory team has published a report entitled Preparing for Data-driven Infrastructure which offers institutions an overview of approaches they might wish to consider when working towards the better handling of their enterprise, research and other data.

Paul Walk, Director of the Innovation Support Centre at UKOLN who wrote the foreword to the report, commented:

… if our institutions are to exploit an emerging data-driven infrastructure, they will need to understand what this entails. This report, the third of the JISC Observatory’s TechWatch series, is a very good place to start.

This report was commissioned by JISC Observatory due to its recognition of the increasing demands that are being made upon Higher and Further Education institutions to manage their data more effectively from a wide range of agencies and communities. Recognising that the effective management of ever-growing amounts of data constitutes an increasing challenge to institutions, this report provides an overview of some concepts, pragmatic approaches and tools that can help them to address what is both a strategic as well as a technical problem.

In his summary of the report, the author Max Hammond points to the growth in the amount and type of data that institutions will be sharing, influenced by an increasing number of drivers. He explains that, while universities have already begun to address these data management demands by creating a variety of architectures, one concept that is emerging is that of data-centric architecture which focuses primarily on organisational data rather than systems, and is designed to facilitate the sharing of data between the processes handling institutional data.

Dr Hammond makes it clear that adopting such an approach is not lightly undertaken but that there are a number of approaches and pragmatic choices that can advance institutions sensibly in the right direction of effective data management and which form the body of his report.

In his foreword to the report, Paul Walk notes the institutional move in systems design towards data-centric architectures. He illustrates this observation both with the requirement by HEFCE for institutions to publish Key Information Sets (KIS) data to encourage greater transparency in institutional business processes and the detailed reporting required in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Within this context of increasing regulation from government and changing requirements from HE agencies and other stakeholders, Further and Higher Education institutions need to find a sustainable approach to managing data. To meet the new regulatory requirements in an efficient and sustainable way, the sector has seen the emergence of innovative approaches to data-driven infrastructure where it is access to data (from institutions and agencies) that determines the shape and function of that infrastructure.

This report highlights approaches that institutions can take in responding to these strategic drivers in order to adopt a more data-centric approach. The report includes a description of data-centric architectures and an overview of tools and technologies (including APIs, Linked Data and NoSQL) together with a review of architectural approaches which institutions will need to consider.

The author commissioned by JISC Observatory, Dr Max Hammond, is a consultant who has worked widely across the education and research sectors, focusing on how technology supports business at a strategic level. He has extensive experience of how new technologies are adopted by institutions as well as the wider perspective of developing Internet information systems. More information is available from his Web site.

As part of our extensive editorial cycle applied to the production of JISC Observatory reports, Preparing for Data-driven Infrastructure was put out for public preview and feedback part-way through the process. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all correspondents for their responses, many of which have served to strengthen and clarify this report.

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The JISC Observatory Session at IWMW 2012

UKOLN’s annual Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2012, featured a 90 minute workshop session entitled “Identifying and Responding to Emerging Technologies” which was delivered by Brian Kelly and Thom Bunting of the Innovation Support Centre at UKOLN and Mark Power of JISC CETIS. As described in the session abstract:

Understanding whether new or emerging ideas will be thwarted or become embedded when subjected to the “acid test” of the real world that is the educational system – and also the perpetual change of technology use – relies on an understanding of the patterns of cause and effect in that system.

This session, which will be facilitated by members of the JISC Observatory team at UKOLN and CETIS, will use a mixture of group exercises and discussions to understand potential enablers and disenablers of emerging new technologies. Having developed a better appreciation of how new technologies may or may not be adopted can help to develop appropriate strategies for preparing institutions – and members of the institution – for exploiting innovative developments in an appropriate and effective manner.

The session will explore how such approaches can be used for developing strategies for innovations which have become mainstream in recent years – such as mobile access and the social web – as well as provide an opportunity for participants to identify other developments which may be as yet under the radar’.

The session attracted a full house with 30 people registering for the session, thus indicating the importance placed on informed future-watching activities. The feedback we received also demonstrated the value of the approaches which we have been taking, with an emphasis on evidence-gathering to inform discussions, planning and decision-making:

liked the interactive nature, and forcing us to concentrate on evidence gathering

Excellent, really useful to to hear the worries of other people. I love these ‘open’ sessions as they throw you in at the deep end and I think you get allot more out of them that way.

Thought this was a really good summary of the issues for someone with a tenous grasp of mobile particularly.

A good session to start, great way to get to know other delegates…

The 90 minute session was structured as follows:

Part 1: Providing the Context

Introduction: Aims of the session

Participants interests: What they hoped to gain from the session

Importance of evidence gathering: The importance of going beyond advocacy and ensuring policy-making was informed by evidence.

Part 2: Group Exercises

A series of group exercises took place in which participants were asked to select a scenario (e.g. open data, structured metadata, online conferencing, etc.) and describe how they would go about gathering evidence on the implications of the chosen area to present to senior managers in order to inform strategic decision-making.

Part 3: The Mobile Environment: A Case Study

Following the group exercises Mark Power described the processes used by the JISC Observatory Team in responding to the significantly-changed technological environment in light of the acknowledged importance of the mobile environment. Mark’s talk highlighted ways in which trends could be detected and key areas of tension (e.g. the Mobile web vs the Mobile app debate) identified and appropriate responses provided for key target audiences (in this case the Delivering Web to Mobile JISC Observatory TechWatch report).

Part 4: The Role of the JISC Observatory

The session concluded with a summary of the work of the JISC Observatory team and a review of forthcoming TechWatch reports, including the Preparing for Data-driven Infrastructure and Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of eBooks in Education reports which will be published shortly.

Resources From the Workshop Session

The slides used in the workshop session are available on Slideshare and embedded below. In addition video recordings of the workshop introductionMark Power’s ‘Mobile to Web’ presentation and the session conclusions are available on Vimeo. The JISC Observatory session page on the IWMW 2012 web site contains additional links, together with embedded content of the slides and videos.


Identifying and Responding to Emerging Technologies: [Slideshare]


Delivering Web to Mobile: [Slideshare]

JISC Observatory: Horizon Scanning for Higher and Further Education: [Slideshare]





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Preview: Draft of TechWatch Report on Data-driven Infrastructure Available for Comments

The JISC Observatory is pleased to announce the publication of this preview version of our Preparing for Data-driven Infrastructure TechWatch report, written by Max Hammond.

Managing data is a strategic problem for institutional managers as well as a technical  problem for IT staff. To address this challenge, this report provides an overview of key data-management concepts and approaches as well as practical tools available to Higher Education and Further Education. This report can be used to help organisational planning and to inform data-management strategies. Specifically, this report:

  • describes data-centric architectures;
  • gives some examples of how data is already shared between organisations and discusses this from a data-centric perspective;
  • introduces some of the key tools and technologies that can support data-centric architectures as well as some new models of data management, including opportunities to use “cloud” services;
  • concludes with a look at the direction of travel;
  • lists the sources cited in a References section.

This preview report is being made available for a period of two weeks (from 29 June through 16 July 2012) to allow for public comment and feedback. A final version, taking into account all feedback received, will be published in early August 2012.

Please use the comments facility below to send us your feedback. We welcome comments of any nature regarding this report’s content (including your views on topics or examples included or omitted, relevance to your work, etc). Comments of appreciation are also welcome!

We hope you enjoy access to this preview version of our forthcoming TechWatch report. If referring others to this preview draft, please use a link to our web page linking to this report rather than directly to the PDF file of the report (which is subject to change).

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