What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Let me pose a question: In your personal life, how often do you wrestle with data?
For the most part, data-wrangling is in the dustbin of history. When you log into Vueling or EasyJet, your passport and passenger data from previous trips is there waiting for you. Your bank app not only shows transactions and balances, but also allows you to categorise and analyse your spending. Rarely, if ever, do you copy data from one app to the other. And cloud services mean you can reach your contacts’ phone, email and even birthday info from any device.
Work, however, can be very different. Data is all too often stored across multiple, isolated systems, each with separate logins. In many cases, extracting data can be a painfully manual process, sometimes via connected spreadsheets which themselves become new, fragmented data sources.
So, next question: How much of your research time is spent connecting to systems, tracking down sources, or cut-and-pasting from one spreadsheet to another? Bonus question: How many times have you been frustrated by a formatting issue, such as U.S. vs international date styles, or a pivot table that won’t pivot?
Most of the commercial world has adopted integrated business management software (ERP, in the jargon). From finance to personnel, data is stored and managed centrally. If a business analyst explores the impact of raising prices, late payments, or personnel costs, all the data is at their fingertips (provided they have permission to access it).
While ERP and similar software initially resided on in-house servers in costly data rooms, the cloud now dominates the market. A single source of data is now available essentially from anywhere for immediate analysis, which itself uses the power and scalability of cloud computing.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should make clear that I work for Revvity, which produces Signals Research Suite, the cloud-based, integrated research platform. But the brutal truth is, the majority of research software has not yet joined the cloud party.
Cloud-based software and software-as-a-service (SaaS) have been available for years: Amazon Web Services since 2006, Google Cloud 2008, and Microsoft Azure 2010. Even with some bumpy starts and latecomers, the model matured rapidly. The ERP giant SAP, long famous for heavyweight on-site deployments, now offers all-cloud solutions. In our personal consumer lives we are all cloud users even if we don’t know it. And in commerce, services such as Microsoft 365 are near-ubiquitous.
If cloud and SaaS have been key enablers for so long, why is it generally not the case for chemistry research? Researchers surely deserve better…
To return to the original theme, time spent hunting for data is time wasted. Time spent locating and validating source data is time wasted. Time spent cut-and-pasting is time wasted. Messing about with spreadsheets, or pasting data from one system to another, is the least beneficial of activities. Many system interfaces are complex and user-hostile, and work can be perceived as (and probably is) difficult and dull; shovelling data from one system to another was not what you signed up for!
Put another way, “You earned an advanced, specialist degree, and now you’re staring at spreadsheet cells?”
Productive, rewarding research is enabled by getting the tedious administrative tasks out of the way, leaving you free to think, speculate and experiment. Essentially, quality time leads to quality research, and researchers could and should be rattling the cages to join the modern software world.
As I mentioned in the full disclosure, I represent Signals Research Suite, the leading cloud-based scientific data management and analytics solutions. To give you a flavour of what’s possible, all the Signals apps are available from the same browser window; no application-switching needed. For example, if you work with Signals Notebook and would like to use Signals Inventa, your administrator can authorise and provision access at the click of a button, and your data is available immediately to any and all of the newly enabled apps.
Though I would say this, wouldn’t I, Signals offers a clear, modern interface that feels like a consumer app, even though it is powered by some of the latest and greatest cloud capabilities. There are no deployment delays – you can sign up in minutes – and working with Signals Research Suite really does bring your research skills to the fore. Dare I say it, using Signals is actually enjoyable.
Somewhere in your youth, you chose to become a researcher: to specialise and explore, aiming to reveal something new about the world. Signals Research Suite is the digital enabler that helps you realise your ambition. Ultimately, the ability to do proper research, not wrangle spreadsheets, gets you out of bed in the morning.