How unifying departments within academic institutions can increase research efficiency
While most academic institutions have several departments or labs within them, often these labs do not interact with each other on a daily basis. Unifying departments to work closely with each other and share resources gives researchers access to valuable instruments and expertise that they might not otherwise have, improving research results. It can also increase the application of relatively under used but essential technology, reducing the cost per use and justifying large capital investments. A report by Universities UK found that sharing equipment can improve both productive and operational efficiency, leading to new science and technical advances, improved training and skills, increased equipment usage and reduced costs[i]. One of the key costs of academic research is lab space, so combining equipment and resources could significantly reduce the square footage required[ii]. As budgets for academic institutions become more and more restricted, the pressure is on to increase return on investment. Optimising use of resources is one of the most obvious approaches to improve efficiency, ensuring that all equipment is used to its maximum capacity and waste is limited. One way to achieve this is to open access of resources to the full organisation across multiple labs and departments.
Different departments sharing space and resources could not only save money but also stimulate the cross-pollination of ideas leading to improved collaboration and research progress. The Universities UK report also demonstrated that sharing resources had led to new collaborations emerging across disciplines[i].
With the potential to save money and advance research, unification seems like an obvious choice, however there are challenges to overcome. As technology has developed, many academic labs have adopted the systems most logical for managing their own equipment, meaning that departments use completely different systems across academic institutions. This leads to a whole host of problems when trying to share equipment including the need for multiple different accounts across different systems, difficulty booking equipment, lack of the appropriate knowledge and training to use each system, difficulty allocating costs and an inability to analyse the data produced. A series of studies have discussed the barriers to sharing equipment and found that managing access and the costs associated meant that benefits could only be realised for high value items[i]. The combination of these issues provides a significant deterrent for sharing resources.
It therefore becomes essential to not only share resources but also share an integrated lab management system, unified across all departments and incorporating all the relevant lab equipment in the organisation. A unified lab management system overcomes the issues discussed above associated with sharing equipment, producing a more efficient environment designed to aid collaboration and the exchange of data.
A lab booking system from Clustermarket is available to academic institutions free of charge, providing the technology your organisation needs to unify your departments. This need for a single system has already been recognised and successfully implemented by the Imperial College Centre for Rapid Online Analysis (ROAR). Ben Deadman commented, “We have all this technology and expertise, but we needed a system like Bookkit to manage all our internal bookings to access our facility. Clustermarket also allows us to advertise externally to other potential users.”