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The data infrastructure team


Sharing marine research through the IMOS Ocean Data Portal

Since 2006, the Integrated Marine Observatory System (IMOS), hosted by the University of Tasmania, has been observing Australia's coastal seas and oceans.

Using a variety of technologies – including floating sensors, animal tracking, underwater vehicles and ocean gliders – it monitors the physical, chemical and biological variables of Australia's marine environment. All of the data is accessible through the IMOS Ocean Data Portal.

share spoke to the Director of IMOS eMarine Information Infrastructure, Dr Roger Proctor, about the history of the portal and what part teamwork has played in its success. 

How did the idea of an IMOS portal arise, when and why?

The portal is the principal access point for all IMOS data. With a few clicks it is possible to either download an entire data collection or a single data point. It has been designed to be intuitive to use and styled on commercial websites.

There have been two major upgrades since the first portal in 2009, to accommodate the increasing volume and complexity of the data collections and to benefit from new developments in web technology.

The target users are the marine and climate science researchers in Australia, however, users also include the public and international scientists.

IMOS teamWho is the team involved in developing the IMOS portal?

We have a great team of 17 staff, some part-time, although this number has fluctuated over the life of the program. We are a mix of software engineers, data scientists, oceanographers and administrators working together. We have Australians and overseas recruits – although most of these recruits are now permanent residents or Australian citizens. 

What challenges did your team overcome in creating the portal and getting it up-and-running? Were there any lessons learned?

The first challenge was time. We were given roughly ten months to scope, design and build the first portal, underlying infrastructure and data flows in order to meet the official program launch. It was a challenge we met successfully with a small team of new recruits.

As time has progressed, the scope of IMOS has grown substantially and with it the requirement for a larger data infrastructure team. Therefore it has been necessary to revise our team management and approach. Sure, we have got a few things wrong, mostly associated with miscommunication. The lesson learned was to ensure frequent communication and review.

What is the value of teamwork in creating the portal?

Good teamwork is invaluable. It is vital the team functions as a team; that is, the data scientists transmit their understanding of the different data structures and user requirements to the software engineers, and the software engineers transmit their understanding of the technology possibilities to the data scientists. These are critical components for development, as is the managed execution and monitoring of the implementation plan.

The close association with the IMOS Director's Office, which is co-located with us, has also proved extremely valuable. We benefit from direct involvement in the science planning and the Office benefits from immediate access to data specialists and quick responses on data related issues.

What is the best advice you can give to teams that are undertaking a data discovery service project?

Scope as much as possible the requirements and expectations of your target audience and study existing data discovery services to see if they meet your needs. Reinventing the wheel is costly in time and effort. Build a team with complementary expertise but ensure there is overlap so there is no single point of failure. And listen to your audience and respond to feedback.

Image: Members of the IMOS eMarine Information Infrastructure team and the co-located IMOS Office. (Photo courtesy of Brendan Davey, University of Tasmania). Roger Proctor is front row,second from left.