I’ve just been to the JISC Managing Research Data Programme Workshop in Birmingham which focussed on, amongst other things, the challenges the different projects in the programme have faced in their work over the last 18 months. This caused us all in the SWORD ARM team some pause for thought.

The development of the ADS-easy tool hasn’t been without its teething troubles but nothing that anyone developing a new web based tool won’t be horribly familiar with. Many of the issues have not been to do with the technologies but more to do with the people involved, the developers, the ‘visionaries’, the ‘nay-say-ers’ and the users. When starting to discuss the possibilities of the online tool we have had to manage people’s expectations; the expectations of people who wanted to expand the remit of the tool to include some sort of reporting element; the expectations of those who envisaged an ‘add-to-cart’ functionality with an integrated online payments system; while trying to ensure the special requirements of the discipline and the variations within the sector were not forgotten.
But we have managed to keep close to our original vision of a simple online tool which guides users through a number of steps to upload information on their project; uploads their files and understand the costs involved, document their files and submit the archive with the required permissions. Internally we have similarly been modifying our Collections Management System to mirror the structure of ADS-easy; this should man that at a click of a button data can be moved from the online system into the archive, significantly reducing the time our archivists need to spend on each archive.

So in theory all is rosy in the garden; but I wonder if the larger challenges lie ahead? I can see that by removing the ‘human-face-of-digital-archiving’ we run the risk of reducing the perceived support to our depositors which may have a negative effect on the quality of data deposited. To try and get a handle on whether this is going to be a problem, or if indeed we have found a technical proxy for our hitherto human guidance, we are planning a series of ‘time and motion’ studies. We are asking three archaeological units to deposits two archives of a similar size each; one by ‘traditional’ means on a CD, and one using ADS-easy. When they do this we will be asking them to time how long it takes them to use the different methods. Similarly on receipt of data we at the ADS will measure the time it will take us to accession and preserve the collections. We hope that we will see a huge difference in time (and cost) but understand that we may be replacing some depositor fallibilities with a different set of issues.

A continued level of vigilance in terms of the time we take working with deposits from ADS-easy is going to be required if we are to be prepared for what may be an inundation of data. Getting the balance right between the increase in collections and the reduced costs per deposit will be vital in ensuring we have the correct staffing level to service the demand. But perhaps this will be the best measure of success!


ADS Easy and our Collection Management System

The ADS Easy interface will undoubtedly streamline our processes for the acceptance of files and file-level metadata. Ultimately, this data will be stored in our internal Collection Management System (CMS) which is based on a java web application and an Oracle database. Hence, a major part of the ADS Easy project has been to develop the CMS in order to reflect the improvements brought about by the ADS Easy interface. This work, which started in August, has already significantly increased the efficiency of our workflow processes and has resulted in a lowering of the time spent on ingesting collections. Moreover, the CMS itself has been greatly enhanced by the changes necessary for the acceptance of the ADS Easy data for accessioning. Some specific examples of the way in which the CMS has been improved are:

  • In making sure that the ADS Easy data will migrate seamlessly into the CMS when the time comes, a new database structure has been designed. This database which stores information on file level metadata, is based on the ADS Easy tables which request the metadata, and changes have been made to the CMS code in order to simplify the integration of the new structure into the final dissemination route within the ADS front end.
  • e-Licences have been introduced to the CMS in order to reflect, for archives deposited by CD or DVD, those processes developed in ADS Easy. This has resulted in a substantial time-saving when notifying the licence holder and on receiving their acceptance; our quickest response has been 5 minutes, just enough time to read and agreed to the terms of the licence!
  • An expanded financial section has been added to the CMS which will accept the transaction data entered in the ADS Easy interface. Enhancements will allow us to track payments by Financial Year and allow us to more easily predict future income.
  • In preparation for the acceptance of ADS Easy data, the current section of the CMS which deals with geographic coordinates has been streamlined and simplified.
  • In order to further streamline our processes, our checklists which detail the workflow for ingesting collections have all been moved on-line in the CMS. Not only is this more efficient but it has made the checklists more available to all our archivists.

The above examples point to the fact that the ADS Easy project has provided us with a great opportunity to look at our internal processes and to think about how they can be improved. Further developments are currently in the pipeline and we will be spending more time in the coming months updating the CMS interface so that the ADS Easy data can be displayed and modified during the process of archiving and preservation. We hope to share these exciting developments with you in future blogs.

ADS Easy Workshop

Last week marked a significant milestone in the Sword-Arm project with the first demonstration of ADS Easy to a group of invited stakeholders and project partners. It has been our intention from the outset that the views and requirements of those who have a vested interest in the outcomes of Sword-Arm, and particularly the use of ADS Easy, should have an opportunity to feed into its development of the system from the earliest possible juncture in order that we can engage with and more effectively link in with extant workflows within the wider archaeological community. With this in mind the workshop focused on two facets; the morning focused primarily on the wider implications of the system, whilst the afternoon session involved a demonstration of ADS Easy.

The morning session began with a brief overview on the Sword-Arm project, before moving on to consider the ADS Easy system. A principle area of discussion was the costing calculator which allows users to create formal quotations for the cost of digital archiving at the outset of their projects, allowing these charges to be factored into project proposals and funding applications at the outset (for an overview see ‘the dark art of costing for digital preservation’ post). Whilst the calculator allows for much clearer costing of projects, the discussion certainly suggested that more transparency was needed to enforce the value of archiving using ADS Easy. Some noted that the structure of payment envisioned within ADS Easy, based around the project, might not fit into the workflows of larger organisations and suggested a much greater degree of flexibility might be more useful. Surprisingly, our concerns over the levels of project and file level metadata required within the system were seen as less of an issue than expected, with any impact seemingly offset by the ability to download metadata templates and upload them directly into the ADS Easy; an avenue which offers huge potential for in real terms.

Following lunch those present were given a sneak preview of the ADS Easy interface and the workflow of the system. As one would expect with a system only halfway through its development phase there are still a number of technical ‘teething problems’, but those attending were given an impression of how the system will work from registration through to the accession of the project. This provided some useful feedback on the reuse of project metadata, the uploading of files and the creation of file level metadata. It was also possible to demonstrate some of the functionality of the costing tool and the e-license, both of which will lead allow for greater streamlining of the accession process for the depositor and ADS staff.

The general consensus amongst those who attended was positive, suggesting that our conception of what ADS Easy should be and what it should do are not too wide of expectations amongst the wider community. Many thanks to all those who took time out from their busy schedules to attend the workshop; your input is most appreciated and will feed into the development of the system.

SWORD ARM: What’s in a name?

There seem to be two very important questions that need to be answered when creating a new web resource or tool; what colour is it going to be and what shall we call it?
The first is often resolved by a quick staff poll overruled by the one person who isn’t colour blind, or the one who is acknowledge to have a modicum of taste. The second is a different matter.

We have recently played host to two colleagues from the Netherlands. Data Archiving and Networked Services, DANS, is an organisation well known to many of you; they have worked at the forefront of digital preservation for many years and have deservedly built a reputation as one of the leaders in the field. DANS have pipped us to the post in establishing an online tool for the submission of archives by practitioners. DANS’ Electronic Archiving SYstem, or ‘DANS EASY’, allows upload of research data into the DANS servers in a structured fashion, associating the deposited files with the appropriate metadata and incorporating access management and licensing into the process too.
The similarities to the tool that we have been developing in the SWORD ARM project are so strong that we couldn’t help appropriating part of the DANS name. And so ‘ADS easy’, ADS’ e-archiving system, has been born.

We think that the younger sibling has managed to evolve a little though and can boast a couple of additional useful limbs; a charging module and an area to sort and organise your archive which helps in selecting, and deleting, those files that may not add to the archive and also allows for a more ordered way of creating metadata.

We plan to demonstrate ‘ADS easy’ to project partners at a workshop in August … I hope they like the colour!