Case Study: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Global leader in oceanographic research

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) mission is to seek, teach, and communicate scientific understanding of the oceans, atmosphere, Earth, and other planets for the benefit of society and the environment. Scripps is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for ocean, earth and atmospheric science research, education, and public service in the world. Research at Scripps encompasses physical, chemical, biological, geological, and geophysical studies of the oceans, Earth, and planets. The Scripps Fleet of four oceanographic research vessels and the research platform FLIP make up one of the largest academic fleets in the world.

The research cruise planning process was extremely time-intensive, heavy administrative task. Historically, chief scientists needed to contact various admins and technicians individually through email. Tracking a cruise’s progression was difficult because of the multiple channels and personnel involved in this process. It was also a challenge to maintain the right level of security and clearance for legal documents as this information was being shared via email during the planning stages.

Sage Tree Solutions was contacted to help devise a solution to this burdensome task. The Scripps ships web application aimed to simplify the educational research, planning and tracking associated with marine research via cruise ships and crew members.

The solution needed to accomplish the following research fundamentals:

  • Managing Teams
  • Transparent Documentation and Releases
  • Communication via Website instead of Emails
  • Assigning Resources & Equipment
  • Planning & Tracking Events
  • Managing Research Data

Standing on the shoulders of giants

The open source content management system, Drupal, was selected due to its’ very flexible and scalable modular system. By leveraging the contributed modules of the Drupal community the Sage Tree was able to simplify the cruise planning and tracking process while also allowing all relevant personnel to stay up-to-date with cruise activity. The following are the modules and the featured tasks accomplished:

1. MANAGING TEAMS (ORGANIC GROUPS & HEARTBEAT)

Organic Groups was the backbone for managing teams on the website. Individual crew members and administrators could be assigned to a cruise and then have the ability to message other cruise members privately or publicly. More importantly, all research data and information regarding the actual cruise itself was stored and available for crew members assigned to their specific cruise. Utilizing the Heartbeat module chief scientist could then easily keep track of crew members’ liability forms, actions, and all other site activity, keeping them completely up-to-date as the research project progressed.

2. TRANSPARENT DOCUMENTATION AND RELEASES (FILE MANAGEMENT, ROLES, PERMISSIONS, PROFILE2)

Numerous legal documents must be signed and in good standing before a research cruise even embarks. Historically, managing these documents was a challenge; documents were faxed and filed manually which became cumbersome to manage and identify under quick deadlines. By utilizing Drupal’s file management, roles and permissions modules crew members could E-sign the documents which saved a lot of time. More importantly, because these documents became legally binding via e-signature technology.

3. COMMUNICATION VIA WEBSITE INSTEAD OF EMAILS (ORGANIC GROUPS, MESSAGING, NOTIFICATIONS)

It is extremely important to maintain communication when working within groups of different job specialities. The reality is emails are not always the most effective way to maintain a consistent dialogue. Especially if you have 40 different cruises a year with 20-crew members assigned to each cruise. Therefore, the Organic Groups messaging and notifications system stored and directed all communication. The communication was categorized by specific cruises and crew members thus making it a more sustainable option to take Scripps forward.

4. ASSIGNING RESOURCES & EQUIPMENT (RULES & VIEWS)

The management and allocation of educational research equipment can be one of the more stressful activities. In order to collect data for a project researchers need to locate, maintain and guard these limited and expensive pieces of scientific equipment. Without a clear and up-to-date system of inventory, equipment can quickly become difficult to procure. Utilizing the Rules module crew members and administrators are notified when equipment is requested and approved by technicians and chief scientists. Furthermore, utilizing the Views module enabled crew members to see a full list of equipment available and any other pertinent information associated with that specific equipment item.

5. PLANNING & TRACKING EVENTS (DRUPAL CORE FUNCTIONALITY)

Drupal’s core system provides robust options when wanting to manage or track events. Through the content type system alone SIO was able to isolate and document the basic information associated with planning and tracking an event.

6. MANAGING RESEARCH DATA (DRUPAL CORE FUNCTIONALITY)

Managing research data was another very simple function to accomplish with Drupal’s core functionality. The cruise members have content types for their data and customizable fields to associate and gather information relevant to that content type.

7. A MULTI-FACETED SOLUTION

The features of the solutions delivered included:

  • A robust and scalable web application
  • User-friendly interface
  • User management of researchers, administrators, facilitators and team members
  • Administration & tracking of planning materials (i.e. members, legal forms, plans and equipment requests)
  • Consistent architecture to their other Drupal sites for site management ease
  • Usability within low bandwidth environments
  • Extensive security and strict permissions of content
  • Digitalization of the entire paper process for ease of tracking, planning and management

Outcome

The SHIPS portal has become a robust and scalable web application. This web application has simplified Scripps’ needs to provide an efficient research cruise planning tool without the stress and time associated with organizing paperwork, equipment and personnel. The value brought to SIO has been the piece of mind knowing they can regain focus on what they do best, accomplishing a successful informative research mission.