New web portal bridges tech tool gap for researchers

Whether it’s software to analyze or manipulate data, extra computing power for a short period of time, or hands-on instruction that helps a researcher select the best tool, researchers at Illinois have always sought out tools and trainings that enable, further or enhance their work. Yet investigation into the needs of campus researchers uncovered a gap between available resources and the means to find and use them.

Members of the Research IT team at Technology Services conducted their own research during an initiative called the Year of Cyberinfrastructure and discovered, importantly, that campus researchers often were not aware of technology tools or training opportunities, and that when they did know, those resources were difficult to find.

The solution was a brand-new portal at researchit.illinois.edu. The website is organized simply by resources, research news and trainings, and is a gateway to those resources, events, and research news that can enhance any researcher’s knowledge and work at Illinois.

Karen Hogenboom, Head of the Scholarly Commons and Associate Professor of Library Administration, was part of the group that assisted with the portal’s database design. She was involved from the beginning of the project and indicated that the site will have immediate benefits for her work and throughout campus.

"We have a specific goal for the Scholarly Commons of trying to connect people with help in methodologies like digital humanities or things that involve a lot of computing power. It will be a great tool for us. We’ve tried to keep up a list ourselves of where to send people, but this is going to be much more robust.”

Researchers can be confident that when they visit researchit.illinois.edu that they will have a wide range of services and tools available to them in only a few clicks, Hogenboom noted.

"It is comprehensive. Any help with research technology on campus should be represented there, and Research IT is committed to keeping it up to date. It replaces the word of mouth [about how to find or access resources] that takes years to develop.”

One of the most important things to know about the portal is that it serves researchers in all disciplines, according to Tracy Smith, Director of Research IT.  

"Dozens of campus collaborators provided ideas and tools resulting in an incredible campus resource,” explained Smith.  “We are expecting more ideas from researchers themselves as the portal begins to be widely used,” she said.

The portal is an initiative of Research IT, which aims to bridge any gaps that may exist between researchers and the technology that enables research. Research IT partners with units, researchers, and IT Professionals to provide the best possible collaborations to assist research.

Research is collaborative by design. Therefore collaboration was essential to providing the easiest access and most information about resources. The Research IT Portal is a partnership between Technology Services, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), the School of Information Sciences (iSchool), Engineering IT, the University Library, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR).

Hogenboom is proud that the partnership has led to such a positive result.

"I am really excited that we were able to do this in partnership with Technology Services. A service like this is something we thought about doing, but there was no way for us to do ourselves and sustain it. It is a very effective partnership and really exciting for me and for the Scholarly Commons,” she said.

The Research IT team is already gathering feedback in order to continue closing the gap between researchers and technology.
"We like to think of this as a foundation to build upon,” explained Amy Hovious, Research IT Portal Project Lead. “We want the Research IT Portal to grow and evolve with input from those using the system. Our goal is to let the campus community guide where the portal goes to best meet their needs. We’re already investigating what to include in the next version and beyond,” she said.