RITS Case Studies

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How UCL’s new research equipment catalogue service was developed

3 July 2013

RITS' Research IT Applications team assisted the Office of the Vice-Provost (Research) in implementing a web-based catalogue of UCL’s major research equipment. The catalogue will support research grant applications, help maximise equipment usage and promote collaboration within UCL and beyond.

Background

Following sharp cuts in research capital funding and the recommendations of the 2010 Wakeham efficiency review, UK Research Councils require universities to identify all available research equipment, and verify that existing items are unavailable when funds are requested for new items. Although UCL Research Finance maintains a register of major equipment for insurance purposes, it is held centrally, updated intermittently and lacks the detail required for researchers to usefully evaluate existing assets.

To address this, UCL began a project in autumn 2012 to implement and populate an online, user-friendly equipment catalogue. Overseen by the Office of the Vice-Provost for Research (OVPR), with technical and advisory input from Research IT Services (RITS), the ISD web teams and stakeholders across UCL, the catalogue went live as a service in April 2013.

What we did

The best £6.99 we’ve ever spent!

Jacky Pallas, Director UCL Research Platforms (OVPR)

At the outset, a project board was formed with representation from OVPR, RITS and Research Finance. The board opted to use Loughborough University’s open source Kit-Catalogue software as the technical solution, because it can store and present a wealth of equipment information in a user-friendly manner, is already in use at several UK universities, and being open source, was available free of charge.

Prior to data collection, the board consulted a range of stakeholders – including faculty departmental administrators, facility managers, and representatives from estates, procurement and finance – collectively termed the ‘Experts group’, to advise on the most useful information to collect, and help form a strategy for doing so across the whole university.

OVPR recruited four temporary staff to collect equipment data. In liaison with departmental administrative staff and facility owners, this team systematically visited labs throughout UCL, meeting with item owners, explaining the project, and collecting data onsite. Information was captured using iPads running a data collection app called FormConnect. Priced at £6.99, this was the most expensive software purchase made in support of the project, and it allowed the team to gather reliable data in an efficient manner.

To get the catalogue installed, tested and populated, RITS provided essential liaison between the OVPR project board and the technical staff in the Information Services Division (ISD). ISD’s Web and Database teams delivered a low-cost solution for the hosting of test and live environments, and the Experts group assisted with beta testing. In April 2013 the catalogue was launched, and currently contains over 1500 items.

Results / impact of the work

Equipment at the UCL space science lab

The Research Services team in UCL’s Department for Finance and Business Affairs has incorporated the equipment catalogue into the grant application process; researchers submitting funding bids must now verify that existing assets are unavailable. In satisfying Research Council requirements, this helps to ensure UCL continues to be successful at attracting research funding. The catalogue also serves as a surrogate for the central insurance register, cutting administrative burden by reducing the need for departments to submit annual spread sheet returns.

Importantly, this new resource facilitates collaboration within UCL and with external partners. Details of around 400 items are visible to non-UCL users, including members of the Science and Engineering South (SES-5) consortium, whose five members are Cambridge, Imperial, Southampton and Oxford Universities as well as UCL.

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