Some reflections on EPOS from the UiB Team in Bergen

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Karen Tellefsen,

Kuvvet Atakan

UiB, Norway

The EPOS Newsletter
Special issue 04
2019 | Article 10

The Norwegian part of the EPOS IT Team - University of Bergen - UiB

The Norwegian part of the EPOS IT Team is situated in the city of Bergen, where it rains for more than 200 days per year – lots of time to sit inside and develop a research infrastructure! The EPOS-IP project is now finished, and we have asked the team at UiB to describe their efforts over the course of the project, point out the challenges for the future and to give their best advice to anyone wanting to launch a grand research infrastructure.


What was your contribution to the EPOS-IP project?

Kuvvet First and foremost, I have been the leader of WP6: ICS-TCS integration and Interoperability, which involved a great deal of coordination and collaboration with WP7. Together with Keith Jeffery, Matt Harrison and Daniele Bailo, we have led the ICS development team. I have been a member of the PDB, SCB and BNSR, involving a range of meetings, discussions and reporting. I have also participated at BGR meetings together with the Norwegian representative. My contribution in EPOS has involved a lot of strategic work and coordination. As a WP leader you always need to be one step ahead of the process, with constant thought of what comes next. This must then be conveyed to your co-workers, reminding them of the next steps and the bigger picture.
Jan I have mostly managed the DDSS master table and coordinated with the different TCSs in updating the table. I have also been involved with the coordination of the metadata collection. Together with WP3 (Harmonisation) I have collected the consortia agreements and associated information. I have also been checking the integration of the master table and then pushing it to the GRDB (Granularity Database) for deployment and for public use. For the last year I have been heavily involved in the ICS-TCS workshop organization, as well as for the UFG (User Feedback Group) workshops. This of course included preparing reports from the workshops. Other than that, I have contributed to the reports and deliverables of WP6 and 7.
Terje I have years of experience from working with a range of international projects, and I have tried to contribute by providing my advice in the many discussions we have had throughout the EPOS-IP project. I was involved with the drafting of the first use cases and user feedback groups, and I also contributed to the CREW testing facility in relation to WP9: Near Fault Observatories. We did IT testing on early warning systems and real-time acquisition of data.
Christian From the beginning I was never dedicated to a specific task in the IT team, but mainly helping out where assistance was needed. Later, I joined the GUI development team. I have also developed the TNA (Trans-National Access) and TCS portals. Currently, maintenance of the GRDB (Granularity Database) is my main task. Of course, I have also joined meetings and discussions and contributed to the reports and deliverables of WP6&7.
Karen When I started EPOS, I was mainly involved as administrative coordinator of the Norwegian node of EPOS (EPOS-Norway), but I have become more involved with EPOS-IP over the years. My tasks here include organising and editing the ICS Technical Bulletin, I am part of the editorial board of the EPOS Newsletter, I help out with organising meetings and workshops, writing reports and deliverables, and act as contact person for WP6. I have also acted as substitute member of the IPC.     

  What made you want to join the EPOS-IP project?

Kuvvet 000 I have been involved with EPOS since the Preparatory Phase (EPOS-PP) Project, and as we were planning the proposal for EPOS-IP, I noticed that there was one WP on integrating all of the thematic data into a central IT system. This was considered to be among the most challenging tasks of the whole project, so – naturally – I went for that one. The most difficult task would definitely be the most interesting one in my opinion, so if I was going to join EPOS, I wanted the biggest challenge! And in retrospect I can honestly say that I made the right decision, thankfully. It has been challenging, but very rewarding. If I had chosen something else, I might have gotten bored.
Jan Firstly, it fit my life at that point. Secondly, I had made the decision to try to branch out from the pure research and do something more technical. EPOS was at a European scale with the possibility of meeting new people and learning new things. It was a challenge, but at the same time very exciting. I liked the idea of bringing all these different datasets together in one environment and getting to see how it would all work out in the end… I learned a lot of things completely outside of my original field, which is great!

What is – in your opinion – the greatest future challenge of the EPOS project?

Kuvvet There are many future challenges. The one big challenge is making sure that what we have built can continue into the future. The time horizon for EPOS is up to 50 years, which is different to any other projects I have ever been involved with. In order to sustain such an infrastructure for that amount of time, there are three pillars that must be in place: finance, IT resources (developers and data providers) and users. Engaging users is arguably the biggest challenge, however, if we manage to engage users, the other elements will follow naturally.
Jan The challenge is of course to keep the project running, which involves two important aspects. Firstly, we need to maintain a high technical implementation level. The system must work smoothly and therefore we must keep on constantly maintaining and improving it. Secondly, we need to keep people involved and interested, especially the data providers. Most importantly, we need to actually teach the young scientists how to use the system.
Terje There are several aspects here, but the most important ones are the maintenance and further development of the systems based on user feedback. It is important to develop this system for the young scientists who are getting started, keeping in mind their wishes and needs for functionalities. For this, we need to be visible and available to train them in using the software.
Christian The greatest challenge is sustaining the project moving forward. Continuity is important, as well as the knowledge and experiences acquired during the development phase. Our product will never be finished as both science and technology is changing constantly. We need to get procedures on how to handle the implementation of new features and how to share the work between the different working groups.
Karen In my opinion, the greatest challenge is keeping people involved and engaged in the project. We have done so much during this phase, yet I feel that we are just getting started. The real challenge begins now: engaging users to actually use EPOS on their own – not just testing during our designated workshops. This of course means more challenges in terms of IT resources, but the management is also hugely important. They need to motivate us all to keep up the pace and remind us that we are not done yet!

What is your best advice to anyone wanting to start a similar project?

Kuvvet There is no set recipe for this kind of work. What works in one project might not work for another. We might have done things more efficiently knowing what we know today, and designating enough time for the different tasks is certainly key. However, before you even get started you need to have a clear vision for the project: what is the goal? Human, technical, financial and governance issues are all challenging, but having a common vision or goal is perhaps the most important driving force for building something as complex and nuanced as EPOS. Our vision for the future was to integrate geoscience in Europe and to break the barriers that separate the different geoscientific disciplines. This will create a way for scientists to do more innovative research in the future. This is still a major challenge in EPOS, but without this challenge and motivation, what would be the point of putting in all this effort? Have a clear vision for your project and remember it – you will need this motivation for the challenging tasks ahead.
Jan That is a difficult one, because there are so many aspects. You really must have a management on top that are always thinking one step ahead, keeping track of the progress and milestones, pushing people forward while constantly reminding them why they are doing what they do by presenting the bigger picture. I think we have been lucky in that sense. Another aspect is the technical bit, where it might have been a good idea to have a closely located team of developers that could work together for longer periods of time. The distance could be a challenge, although it is also good to have separate discussions and then sharing them at the bigger meetings.
Terje Face-to-face meetings are key! At least in the beginning of a project. The interaction and discussions are on a completely different level, which is important to strengthen the collaboration of a working group that may have members from all over Europe. Video meetings are of course great for smaller discussions and updates, but actually meeting and getting to know your colleagues has been essential for this project in my opinion.
Christian Planning takes time! In particular, the harmonisation of data, but also simply making people understand the necessities for the different implementations. Dedicating enough time for the different processes is key.
Karen You need a lot of passionate people who believe in the project, and you need to place those people in strategic roles. Passionate and motivational leaders and co-workers are a driving force in major projects such as EPOS.