Improving research by creating reusable digital tools

Question:How do we make best use of our science and research strengths?
on 09/06/2016

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Once limited to traditional “big data” researchers in the hard sciences, digitization has led to the availability of large data sets in numerous research disciplines. This has greatly expanded the need for software to analyze and interpret this information.

Currently, researchers use a portion of their grants to develop software tools to support analyses of these data. This approach reduces the funding available for conducting the research, and leads to the creation of customized software that meets the narrow requirements of a specific research project. The result is a proliferation of research software with overlapping or duplicate functionality. This is not an efficient model, as less of the research funding goes towards the actual research, instead being diverted to the development, integration, testing and maintenance of software that may already exist. Researchers may also be faced with building and managing a software development team, with significant delays in the start of the actual research, while the support software is under construction.

Under this paradigm, research software developers spend time re-creating existing software components instead of expending their efforts on new and innovative functionality.

To limit such duplication and maximize the impact of research funding, the Government should encourage researchers to move to more collaborative models of software development and reuse. CANARIE has been funding the development of software components that can be reused across various disciplines, and encourages collaboration between software development teams competing for funds. We believe this model is a more sustainable and efficient paradigm for research software, and to date over 70 reusable software tools have been developed and are available for use by Canada’s research community.

Scott Henwood Director, Research Software, CANARIE Inc.

Credit: CANARIE Inc.

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