The University of Southampton is planning on ditching its Sharepoint installation to publish equipment and asset data, after developing an interface with UNIT4 that connects to its Agresso ERP platform and publishes data into an online, open database.
This interface was developed in response to a number of mandates and cuts that have been made by Research Councils UK that promote equipment sharing both within and across educations institutions in the UK. Capital budgets have been reduced by 50 per cent across the Research Councils, and the aim is to get the best possible value from existing investments - avoiding needless duplication of equipment.
Adrian Cox, project manager at the University of Southampton, was speaking this week at UNIT4's customer conference in Birmingham, where he explained how the Research Council's cuts spawned the Uniquip Project.
"Uniquip is about looking at defining the standards for cataloguing and publishing information about research facilities and equipment within our databases. We have been working with Uniquip, because we felt it was a requirement if this sharing of data across institutions is going to work nationally," said Cox.
"The data we produce, along with a number of institutions involved, is going to be fed into the data.ac.uk community - a website that brings together a lot of the data sharing technical expertise from the UK. That should hopefully go live next week."
He added: "We have been working really hard with a number of consortia across the country to establish specifications and standardise how the data should be shared."
The idea is that universities across the UK will publish a standardised set of data online about the facilities and equipment that they have on site. This will then be fed into data.ac.uk, which will allow researchers to search for what facilities there are available at what universities.
Critically, this data is going to be linked. So it will not only be a list of facilities or equipment, but it will include fields like location, enabling researchers to search for equipment by distance. Other data that might be included are pictures and detailed descriptions.
Cox told Computerworld UK that he is planning to scrap the University's current approach of publishing data via Sharepoint, because this is cumbersome and isn't easy to feed the data into.
"Our Sharepoint system does use the Uniquip specification, but one of the biggest issues we had was the sustainability of that data. The system requires finance to align the data with Sharepoint, and if you are going through a major procurement exercise there is going to be so much data going through that it causes problems," said Cox.
"Most universities have a download of their finance system, in our case Agresso, into Sharepoint. However, this was becoming quite burdensome."
Cox, instead of always uploading the data into Sharepoint, engaged with UNIT4 to develop an interface for the Agresso system that allowed relevant people at the University to access the Agresso fixed asset module directly to provide better descriptions of asset data, which is then uploaded every 24 hours straight into an online Agresso database.
"The interface looks like a typical Agresso screen, but it has the Uniquip standardised fields that have been agreed across the universities - contact information, location information, building sites, publishing levels. Researchers, or finance people, at the university can now access the Agresso platform and input the data, which is then uploaded daily online to be searched by other institutions across the UK," said Cox.
"We are trying to make sure that we create efficiencies and that there is good equipment available."