The mission of the Computing and Network Services Group is to provide the technical resources necessary to support ICPSR's mission: the preservation, acquisition, and distribution of social science data and the education of the social science community in its use. Computing and Network Services (CNS) has four major areas of responsibility:
- CNS consults with users at ICPSR member institutions regarding software and hardware selection and works to resolve any technical problems encountered in the data delivery process.
- CNS supports the hardware and software used in the routine operations of ICPSR's member services, archival development, educational, and administrative groups.
- CNS participates in the assessment and evaluation of ICPSR's operations, providing technical input into the ongoing improvement of processes and procedures. CNS also participates in the development and acquisition of innovative systems.
The high-level mission of the Computer and Network Services team hasn't changed: It continues to support other parts of the organization. However, it also plays a much larger leadership role than perhaps it did 10+ years ago, selecting technologies and services that enable capabilities that were heretofore unavailable. For example, no one asked the CNS team to "use the cloud"; evaluating, selecting, and adopting cloud technologies and cloud infrastructure providers was one of the leadership activities we undertook.
- In the long term, CNS is responsible for developing and promulgating a vision of the technical future, for anticipating the impact of new technologies on services, and for ensuring that ICPSR is well-positioned to take advantage of these new technologies.
If we dig into the bullet-points, things have changed a bit more, however.
Bullet #1 : I insisted that we change this responsibility soon after arriving at ICPSR in 2002. Based on past experience I felt it was important that the customer-facing portion of the organization own the relationship with the customer, and while the IT team would provide second-level support to our front-line folks, there was no way we could routinely engage with customers and be effective. The team just wasn't staffed to do that sort of thing.
Bullet #2 is still true today, but the scope also includes the vendors and virtual infrastructure that we use to deliver services both to internal clients and external customers.
Bullet #3 has been one of the main areas of focus for the team, and continues to be a high priority even today. I might describe the work we led between 2005-2008 as analyzing and documenting the existing business processes at ICPSR, and then automating the heck out of them wherever possible. The next phase - starting with FLAME - will be to re-invent business processes at ICPSR so that they are more in harmony with standards like TRAC and OAIS, and then adding automation where it makes sense.
Bullet #4 is definitely still true today, but I think there is room for improvement. It is too easy to get caught up in the demands of the "next big project" and to stop looking further over the horizon at what's coming next.