Editorial – 30-11

What steps must be taken for Canada to get its act together on digital research infrastructure (DRI)? It’s a perennial question that’s been bandied about in research and policy circles for years with little progress, while the demand for digitization and its transmission, storage and analysis continues to soar.

The DRI community last came together in 2014 to advocate for greater coordination, cooperation and funding with negligible response. Bare-bones funding flowed to the organizations responsible for various aspects of DRI but it was spread too thinly to meet the growing demand and lacked sufficient coordination.

Now we have the efforts of the Leadership Council on DRI responding to a government request for analysis, a framework and recommendations on how to make the system work better, for researchers and for Canada.  Combined with a key recommendation in the report of the Fundamental Science Review and the work of the granting councils, we may be seeing a confluence of thinking and the political will to act that was absent three years ago.

Yet important decisions remain to be made. Should there be a consolidation of organizations responsible for DRI, namely the merger of the networking expertise of CANARIE and the advanced research computing power active storage capacity of Compute Canada? Would a federated model with national coordination be sufficient? Are the funding mechanisms supporting DRI adequate and appropriately designed to meet the needs of the recipient organizations.

There are difficult policy and funding decisions ahead that can’t be put off any longer. Without decisive action, Canada’s role in the evolving world of research and innovation will be diminished. The 2018 federal Budget is a perfect place for a comprehensive policy and funding response. Canada’s ability to benefit from advances in everything from genomics and physics to artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing depend upon it.

Mark Henderson, Editor