Towards a joint current research information system for Dutch higher education and research

By Marc Ch. Dupuis

For over 10 years the 13 research universities in the Netherlands have used a current research information system (CRIS) developed by the Radboud University in Nijmegen. Over time this system, called Metis, has been adapted and expanded in order to fulfil the needs of the universities. Originally built in the nineties, the system —in particular the user interface— has gradually become out-dated. So in 2008 the research universities started to consider possible alternatives for Metis, even more so because several commercial rival systems had become available.

SURF, the collaborative organisation for ICT in higher education and research in the Netherlands [1], was asked to organise a number of activities that would: 1. Help the universities to specify their functional requirements for a new CRIS; and 2. Provide them with an overview of the currently available systems. In 2008 SURFfoundation [2], the SURF-organisation aimed at initiating and coordinating innovation in Dutch higher education, organised laboratory sessions focusing on a comparison of Metis with a small number of commercial CRISes, in order to get some insight in the advantages and and disadvantages of the different alternatives.

Following the lab sessions, in 2009 SURFfoundation —together with several Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)— carried out a MoSCoW analysis resulting in a draft list of Must have, Should have, Could have and Would like to have functionalities and features for the system. Although the original aim of the initial activities coordinated by SURFfoundation was not to reach consensus on a CRIS model serving Dutch higher education at large, the HEIs in the Netherlands, led by the universities using Metis, gradually started to realise that the need to select a new CRIS might provide a potentially useful opportunity to reduce cost. It was therefore decided that the exploratory work should continue. Thus, after the MoSCoW analysis investigations were carried out into possible issues that could arise when connecting the various CRISes to, for example, the different systems for human resource management used in the HEIs.

During 2009 a formal working group was set up to define a full list of specifications and requirements for a new CRIS. The working group consisted of representatives from the research universities, the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and SURF. By this time it was obvious that the research universities wished to combine their efforts to find a suitable successor for the Metis system. As yet, however, no executive decision had been made as to a possible migration towards a joint new CRIS.

It was not until the various umbrella organisations for Dutch HEIs had expressed provisional support for a joint new CRIS approach that the Executive Board of the SURFfoundation e-Research programme made two important decisions in spring 2010. First, it was decided that the Dutch HEIs would aim at the selection of a single CRIS. Second, it was decided that for the selection process SURFfoundation would go to European tender on behalf of the HEIs. A formal tender procedure would further allow a fair comparison between Metis and other, commercial CRISes.

It is interesting to note that with the executive decision the scope of the new CRIS initiative was no longer restricted to the circle of the research universities. The Executive Board based its decision to go to tender after having been given approval by three umbrella bodies, representing the interests of the research universities, the universities of applied sciences and the university hospitals. Potentially, therefore, the number of HEIs that could join the CRIS initiative increased to 65, as there are 43 universities of applied sciences and 8 university hospitals in the Netherlands in addition to the 14 research universities (including the Open University).

Notice that, at least by number, the largest population is that of the universities of applied sciences.  Currently only one or two such universities have a CRIS. However, from the turn of the century many universities of applied sciences have appointed researchers whose publications need to be registered in a similar way as the publications by their colleagues at the research universities.

The decision made by the Executive Board of the SURFfoundation e-Research programme based on the supporting intentions expressed by the umbrella organisations marks a both important and challenging milestone in terms of collaboration among and across the HEIs in the Netherlands. The widely approved decision to go to tender for an important ICT system that must support the administration and registration of scholarly, scientific and professional research output reflects an unprecedented willingness and sense of urgency among the Dutch HEIs to collaborate in order to synchronise administrative processes and reduce cost.

The board’s decision laid the foundations for a new working group, the Tender Working Group (TWG), whose task was to finalise the list of specifications and requirements. This proved no easy task. Whereas it had taken significant time and effort to compile the draft list just for the research universities, the TWG was now facing an almost impossible job. Since the university hospitals, in particular, have their own procedures, workflows and obligations, a serious risk arose of there being produced a long list of specifications and requirements primarily representing needs of individual institutions and groups of institutions rather than a commonly accepted strong and large kernel system. It took six months for the final list to be successfully compiled and accepted by the three types of HEI.

At the request of the Executive Board a separate Steering Group, closely related to the board, was installed. After frequent consultation sessions with the HEI communities the TWG advised the Steering Group to invite the HEIs to sign up for participation in the envisaged European tender. Note that the three umbrella organisations were once more asked to give their full support, this time in writing.

Of the HEIs 13 out of 14 research universities, 6 out of 8 university hospitals, 7 universities of applied sciences (relatively large institutions with substantial research tasks) and a few other institutions signed up for the tender, after having been shown that the costs of migrating towards, or introducing, a new CRIS will not be allowed to be higher than the current costs over a seven-year period.

The European tender for a new CRIS in Dutch higher education was published just before Christmas 2010. By then roughly two and a half years had passed since the first occasion when the idea of possible collaboration among the academic universities was originally expressed. We are now still in the process of dealing with the results of the invitation to tender. If the current tender reveals a winning supplier, the winning system is to be implemented in the majority of the HEIs who have signed up for the tender within two years after signing the contract.

[1] SURF is the collaborative organisation for higher education institutions and research institutes aimed at breakthrough innovations in ICT.

[2] SURF consists of three organisations that each have their own field of activity: SURFfoundation, SURFnet and SURFdiensten.

Marc Dupuis is e-Research programme manager at SURFfoundation which is part of SURF. SURF’s mission is to improve the quality of higher education and research through ICT innovation. By collaborating within SURF, higher education institutions achieve innovations that go beyond the interests of the individual institutions. See

Marc Ch. Dupuis
e-Research programme manager

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