Designing the SyNergy Research Platform

Business analysis and software design for the German SyNergy Research Cluster

The challenge

SyNergy, the "Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology", is a collaboration between Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich (LMU), Technical University of Munich (TUM), Helmholtz Munich, DZNE Munich and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.

SyNergy promotes integrative research into a broad range of neurological diseases, with the aim to better understand the underlying mechanisms of these diseases and eventually improve therapeutic options. The central focus is to foster close collaboration between the SyNergy members across the boundaries of the traditional medical fields of neurodegenerative, inflammatory and vascular diseases.

Setting up collaboration between the research groups is complicated because the data is siloed in the various research labs of the participating institutes. There is no overview of what data is available in the cluster and the data is often difficult to find.

Therefore, SyNergy has asked The Hyve to advise them on a solution that would best fit their needs.

How we solved it

First, we investigated the state of data management within the cluster. After collecting basic information via a questionnaire, we conducted interviews with leaders of the research labs to understand all relevant details related to their business, the data and metadata used and generated, data standards used, data flows, people and roles involved, et cetera.

We combined and analyzed the data management information collected and proposed a direction for a solution on how to best make the data from all participating research institutions findable. We presented and discussed the solution direction in a validation workshop to be sure we did not overlook any important needs regarding data management and to achieve consensus between all stakeholders on the direction to take.

Finally, we created a use case diagram, proposed a data model and specified all functional requirements related to metadata upload, search, permissions and data FAIRness as well as the non-functional requirements, mainly related to security.

The business analysis and software design approach that was applied for SyNergy Research Cluster

We investigated the suitability of several existing, potentially suitable open source research data management tools to verify if there was already a turn-key solution that could be applied to SyNergy’s requirements. The outcome of this investigation is described in the section below.

The outcome of the business analysis

Our investigation showed that SyNergy did not need a new data storage solution or a solution to exchange the actual research files since this functionality will be provided by one of the academic partners of the cluster.
The main need of SyNergy is to make the data generated in the various research labs findable. They would like to be able to see the location of all existing files via a link or text. Therefore, we proposed the use of a metadata catalog.

We investigated the suitability of the open-source metadata catalogs COLID, CEDAR, Gen3 and Bento. In the cases of COLID, CEDAR, and Bento, the data model turned out to be not flexible enough to meet all the needs of the SyNergy consortium. In the case of Gen3, the model is more flexible but still, part of it is fixed. There is also no easy metadata submission using user interface forms (metadata templates are the main way of metadata input) and access management seems overly complex.

After ruling out the suitability of the investigated open source RDM tools, we compared the efforts of building a new custom tool with the efforts of adjusting Fairspace, our in-house developed data management tool, to meet the SyNergy requirements.

Fairspace was built by The Hyve for Institut Curie and FNS-Cloud. It is an open-source, mature, and production-ready tool with the advantage of having a flexible metadata model that can be fully customized, an intuitive search and browse interface, and metadata storage that ensures FAIR data management.

The figure below shows the key features of Fairspace.

Adapting Fairspace to the SyNergy needs requires less effort than building a custom tool from scratch. Therefore, we proposed a modified version of Fairspace for the SyNergy cluster.

The result of the project was an architectural design of the Fairspace solution. We proposed a single (meta)data model to fit the SyNergy research data from the various research labs and provided mocks to show how the metadata search and browse user interface would look when applied to the SyNergy data model.

The metadata submission module will be adapted to enable uploading metadata via a user interface form or file. A vocabulary page will be introduced to manage the metadata dictionaries. Finally, we proposed to make a change to the authorization module to support the user roles and permissions as required by SyNergy.

Proposed SyNergy-specific configuration of Fairspace. Green: new components, specific for SyNergy; Blue: existing components, unchanged; Grey: existing components, disabled for SyNergy

In conclusion, business analysis and software design projects like the one executed for SyNergy bring several benefits to the organizations needing to make decisions on software solutions:

  • It provides the organization with realistic requirements linked to the context of their business and provides detailed and timely documentation.

  • The organization saves valuable time and resources by outsourcing a requirements gathering project and receives a future-proof solution proposal. The organization can plan and scope the implementation project more efficiently when it is tuned to their stakeholders’ priorities and budget availability.

  • The organization engages with The Hyve on a smaller scale and cost-effective project.

More specifically, for the solution proposed in the current project, the added value of Fairspace for Synergy is to allow for the findability of the data generated in the various research laboratories. Some Fairspace features need to be disabled and others will be added or customized. Selecting the right configuration for an organization is something The Hyve can guide with a business analysis and software design project.

Let’s start collaborating

  • Want to know how Fairspace can improve FAIR research data management within your organization?
  • Want our experienced data engineers to help you define and implement a FAIR-by-design data strategy?

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