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Research Computing: The Enabling Role of Information Technology

Author: Jacqueline Bichsel
Published November 2, 2012


Research-computing resources can provide advantages for all institutions, regardless of research intensity. IT can enable data-intensive research with the provision of the specialized staff and infrastructure that facilitate collaboration, efficiency, and data storage. This study assesses the current state of research computing in higher education, explores the advantages of research computing, outlines the roles of IT in research computing support, and provides recommendations for progress in research computing strategies and practices.

Report and Supporting Materials



Key Findings

  • Information technology’s primary research computing role is as an enabler of research.
  • Provision of specialized staff—particularly programmers, analysts, and data-intensive research staff with subject matter expertise—is just as important as the provision of hardware and software resources for research computing.
  • There is general dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of research computing practices and strategies.
  • The structure and organization of research computing support relates to the quality of research computing practices and services.

ECAR Recommends

  • IT departments should leverage the research computing services and infrastructure they provide to partner with researchers on grants.
  • IT should explore providing research computing services to other institutions for a fee. Doing so may help fund the maintenance or development of such services. It may also help foster research collaborations and partnerships with other institutions.
  • Institutions of medium research intensity should consider spending more of their research computing dollars on additional staffing. Research computing staffing at medium-research intensity institutions is no greater than at low-research intensity institutions. Research computing personnel (as opposed to other research computing resources) are considered especially beneficial when it comes to faculty recruitment and faculty research performance.
  • IT should be proactive in uncovering research computing needs and communicating which research computing services are available. One-on-one communication with researchers is the best method of enabling partnerships and addressing needs.
  • Institutions that want to advance their research should develop an RC strategy that includes an investment-based funding approach as well as integrated services and infrastructure.


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