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QCIF CEO reflects on 2023

15 December 2023

By Sach Jayasinghe 

2023 was an eventful year for the higher education and research sectors in Australia. The release of the ‘Australian Universities Accord Interim Report’, the Australian Research Council’s ‘ARC Review’, and the Australian Council of Learned Academies’ (ACOLA) ‘Modernising Research Assessment’ hint at transformative changes. The proliferation of further university ranking schemes is countered with the discourse on the sector-wide harm of pursuing rankings. While the aforementioned self-assessments are critical, one cannot help but think this is addressing the many symptoms. When it comes to research, the root cause is obvious. Australia is going backwards on gross domestic spending on R&D as compared to peer OECD countries. Without addressing the root cause, I fear we will continue to tinker around the edges without really solving the problem. We really do need a bipartisan approach in establishing a solid R&D investment foundation, enshrined in national legislation.

 It has been another exciting and productive year for QCIF. Aligned with our Strategic Plan 2023–2025, we optimised our internal organisational structures in order to best serve the Queensland research community. In an environment of finite resources and financial pressures faced by our universities, QCIF now has a consistent framework for reporting the annual return on investment for each QCIF Member as well as greater transparency in outlining the allocation of Member investments. 

QCIF’s Data Science and Software Solutions team was involved in more than 100 projects and co-authored 44 peer-reviewed publications. There are so many worthy achievements – too many to list! A select highlight was working together with the Australian BioCommons, Griffith University, and QUT to co-design, develop, and publish new best practice pipelines to provide a more efficient and effective approach to metagenome analysis, single cell RNAseq processing, and virus detection. 

There was also our involvement in the successful Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grants of UQ’s Queensland Digital Health Centre (QDHeC), bringing in applied AI and other cutting-edge digital technologies for transforming community health and wellbeing. QCIF looks forward to many more projects and jointly pursuing opportunities under the QDHeC leadership of Associate Professor Clair Sullivan. 

Within QCIF’s Advanced Computing team, there continues to be high utilisation of QRIScloud as well as QCIF facilitating the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud-hosted Galaxy Australia and EcoCommons national digital platforms. For the first time, QCIF implemented availability of Windows Server 2022 OS as a Nectar-supported operating system for general use, including within the reservation system for GPU-enabled Windows virtual machines. QCIF will participate in future deliberations on the national approach for ‘Tier 1 and 2’ computing as part of the consultations pertaining to the ‘National Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy’ (NDRI).

 It was another record year for QCIF Skills Development with 2,720 training days delivered. Moreover, QCIF spearheaded the inaugural Queensland Software Developers Forum, and ResBazQld 2023 hosted at The University of Queensland. We also formally launched QCIF’s Higher Degree Research (HDR) Internship Program with now more than a dozen projects available. QCIF also co-led a Carpentries Instructor Training workshop in collaboration with the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), AARNet, Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre, and CSIRO using a blended online and in-person mode. In 2024, QCIF will look to develop further training course material aligned with ongoing demand for use of machine learning approaches in many, if not all, domains of research. 

QCIF’s Enterprise Solutions team continued its national impact by securing further deployments of ReDBox (Research Data Box), a QCIF-managed online research data management platform, including the first Group of Eight (Go8) and New Zealand clients. Informed by the ReDBox user community, 2024 will continue further development of the product as part of its roadmap. 

KeyPoint, QCIF’s Trusted Research Environment platform, onboarded several large-scale and nationally significant research projects. Its utility and invention was formally acknowledged in receiving a Merit Queensland iAward and as a finalist of the National iAwards, and winning the UQ Award for Excellence in Innovation. In 2024, we will continue to scale-up and expand KeyPoint, deploying its use across a myriad of sensitive data settings. 

This year was also the final year of the Queensland Data Analytics Platform (QDAP), a circa $14m investment over four years. This project exemplified QCIF enabling the acceleration of research and research impact through catalysing Queensland-focused activity with national significance. I would like to thank and acknowledge our National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) partners in ARDC, BioPlatforms Australia, Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN), Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), and National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), as well as the Queensland Government for its support under the Research Infrastructure Co-Investment Fund (RICF). In 2024 and beyond, I look forward to continuing these partnerships and establishing a new one with the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN). 

On a personal note, it was a pleasure to co-chair the Program Committee of this year’s eResearch Australasia conference. Thank you, Professor Linda O’Brien and the Committee, for collaborating to deliver a highly successful conference. I was given this opportunity by UQ Research Computing Centre Director Professor David Abramson as President of Australasian eResearch Organisations (AeRO), the conference host. Many of you may have seen the news that David is ‘retiring’. Thank you, David, for your words of wisdom over the last 12 months and working closely with QCIF, which represents a critical partnership between QCIF and UQ. Congratulations to Jake Carroll, the incoming RCC Director and current RCC Chief Technology Officer, as we look ahead to jointly pursuing new and exciting opportunities.

I would like to thank the QCIF Chair, Emeritus Professor Ian Smith, and the rest of QCIF’s Board of Directors for helping me successfully navigate the complex environment in which we operate. I also would like to thank the fantastic QCIF Executive team in Dom, Stephen, Mark, Troy, and Joy, who make my life so much easier with their professionalism and unwavering dedication to the QCIF mission. 

Last but not least, I want to acknowledge the QCIF talent, including the business support team, who serve the research community with utmost passion and commitment. 

Please have a safe and enjoyable holiday break. See you in 2024.

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