Archive for January, 2015

Data Continuity, Data Accessibility

In an age when the creation of data is growing exponentially and the conversation about big data analytics nears hype proportions, I think the question about data continuity and accessibility becomes increasingly important.

Missing Data

A recent post in Nature by Elizabeth Gibney and Richard Van Noorden regarding the loss of raw data associated with published research articles caught my attention when it was published.

The author summarized the work of a group of scientists who wanted to understand the level of accessibility of research data as a function of the date when results were published. They endeavoured to access the raw data associated with 516 published research articles ranging from 2 to 22 years old, considering factors such as active author email addresses, access to data, etc. In the original work, the investigators found that the odds of associated data being accessible fell by 17% per year and that within 20 years of an article’s publication up to 80% of the associated raw data can be lost along with the lost possibility of future researchers utilizing the data. The authors conclude by advocating for public archiving of data at the time of publication to ensure future accessibility.

First Nimbus ImageThis somewhat disconcerting article was offset by a more positive story by Sid Perkins, published on Science‘ website, describing work being undertaken at the University of Colorado Snow and Ice Data Center to make available archived Nimbus satellite imagery dating back to the mid 1960’s. This involves digitizing analogue data, mosiacing resulting digital images and then adding them to an accessible data archive. To date more than 250,000 images have been made available, adding considerable to a time series record of value in the assessment of issues such as high latitude sea ice variability and tropical and mid latitude weather variability. The extension of the data record to 50 plus years is truly impressive.

While it seems there are many questions around data compatibility (for another discussion), efforts to establish processes to ensure research data continuity and accessibility are to be commended and should be valued, even as new data is being generated at tremendous rates.

References

Scientists losing data at a rapid rate. Gibney, E. and R Van Noorden. 2013. Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2013.14416

Vines, T. H. et al. 2014. The availability of research data declines rapidly with article age. Curr. Biol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.014 (2013)

Nimbus data rescue: recovering the past to understand the future. 2014. http://cires.colorado.edu/news/press/2014/nimbus.html

Long lost data reveals new insights to climate change. Perkins, Sid. 2014. http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2014/09/long-lost-satellite-data-reveal-new-insights-climate-change

While I don’t consider myself a luddite when it comes to the administrative details of my business, it is true that I didn’t get into business for the sake of bookkeeping, new phone systems and the like. But all of these business support details are a necessary aspect of keeping a business running and serving customers.

For a small business owner who wears several hats, attention to the administrative aspects of the business can sometimes be lost among all the other responsibilities. And the associated costs can creep upward with little notice.

This past year we took steps to address a number of recurring monthly costs. All of the services we looked at have value – in the right context. In our case, requirements had changed over time but the services were never intentionally evaluated.

So here are the changes we made:

Web conferencing @ $50/month. This service had been set up a couple years back because of the need for regular conference calling between one of my team and a particular client. With the project completed, we were using the service very infrequently so we cancelled it and moved to an on demand service through our telecommunications services provider.

Land telephone line – $60/mo. Speaking of telecommunications, late in 2014 we made a decision to cut the landline. This was a shared service for my family and our business that has its office in the house. There was seldom a conflict since the landline was hardly ever used for either personal or business purposes but it did represent a recurring cost for both. The replacement – Ooma’s internet based service that provides both personal and business lines at substantially reduced cost.

Fax service – $12/mo. Does anyone fax anymore? I figured we hadn’t sent or received a fax in well over a year so this one was ditched without much thought.

Government tender delivery service – $20/mo. This was an office/marketing expense that we weren’t receiving much benefit from. The original purpose was to access government of Canada (primarily) tenders but in the past year the government created its own portal that allowed for free access to the same data. Since we seldom pursue opportunities from other agencies the former service continues to support, it was not worthwhile to continue paying the monthly subscription fee.

Accounting software. We are in the process of converting from a desktop accounting service to a web based service. From what we can tell, we will have all the functionality we need and save about $50/month.

This past year we addressed several cost issues. I believe we have reduced costs without negatively impacting our business and some cases; we have gained in terms of service. While some of you may see these as relatively inconsequential costs, I believe they are significant for a small to medium sized business.

So I have resolved to stay on top of our administrative business services in 2015 – hopefully ensuring cost creep doesn’t recur and maybe even find additional savings. On the radar for this year are mobile phone charges and banking fees (including wire transfer fees).

If you have suggestions or past lessons you have learned, I’d love to hear from you.