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The First 60 Days

I’ve almost completed 60 days as the CEO of the New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO). I know that number precisely because when I was hired, I committed to the NDRIO Board of Directors to undertake a 90-Day Planning exercise. In the first 60 days, I’ve met with nearly 200 individuals and groups, and have asked two simple questions: with regard to Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI) in Canada, what is working well and what could be better? I’ll continue these consultations for the next 30 days, documenting what I’ve heard. On December 8, I’ll present my observations to NDRIO’s Board and, based on their feedback, over the next 30 days my team and I will create a plan for 2021.

Over the course of my first 60 days, I’ve heard some extraordinary stories of innovative work underway. As you can imagine, I’ve also heard about some significant challenges. I’ve learned there is a huge demand for access to high-performance computing tools and an insufficient supply. I’ve heard stories about how in some provinces the relationship between research data management (RDM), research software (RS) and advanced research computing (ARC) is approaching integration, while in others it is truly fractured. 

I’ve also heard conflicting objectives: ​“Go faster!” and also ​“Slow down and take more time to think things through.” I’ve heard that time-sensitive issues need to be addressed, such as the Resource Allocation Process in ARC and the need to fund maintenance or replace equipment. Colleagues have emphasized the importance of addressing funding challenges and moving swiftly with decisions, so we don’t lose our nationally treasured Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP) due to planning delays. My 30-year career experience informs the need to move forward thoughtfully, in a considered manner, while respecting our obligations to our funder, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED).

Consultations from Coast-To-Coast-To-Coast

Nationwide consultations with the research community had already been undertaken by the team at NDRIO prior to my arrival on October 5. My intent over the coming months is to synthesize the previous consultative work with my 90-Day Planning observations into a conceptual framework that clearly explains how the various assessments and information being gathered – from current-state assessments to the needs assessments – relate to one another. Is there a disconnect between what I’m hearing during my national listening tour and the information NDRIO is working with? Or does it all ring true?

Given the tasks at hand, it’s been very busy, but I’m up for the challenge. Taking this job was the best decision I’ve made. I could not be more privileged and honoured to serve Canada’s researchers, and help build the DRI ecosystem they deserve.

NDRIO Guiding Principles: Accountability and Transparency 

I want to address a couple of points that seem to lie under the surface in some of my conversations – points I believe warrant clarity. I wish to assert that while the organization I formerly led was Compute Ontario, I hold no provincial allegiance as CEO of NDRIO. I was raised in Toronto and Ontario is my home. I’m a Raptors fan and a Blue Jays fan, but I am a Canadian – first, foremost and forever. I cannot demonstrate this assertion by just saying so; actions speak louder than words. Instead, decisions will be made in the coming months that will illustrate NDRIO’s intent on helping to make Canada a global leader in the knowledge economy. I also believe deeply in principles of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). And while far from an expert in this area, these fundamental principles will shape our work and our assessments. It is our moral imperative to get it right. 

Building NDRIO Together with Our Members & Stakeholders

NDRIO is rapidly transitioning from an organization composed of interim staff to permanent teams committed to the betterment of the digital research endeavour for the long haul. We’re establishing processes, gathering information, disseminating information and re-examining the data we’ve collected. I acknowledge that we will make mistakes, but we will try hard to avoid repeating them. Our sincere intent is to deliver excellence for the research community.

In conclusion, I’m asking for your support, your patience, your proposed solutions and your engagement. If nothing else is taken from this blog, please take the following – the privilege and honour I’ve referenced in relation to this role is because the responsibility to serve our researchers is not mine alone – it’s shared by everyone reading this. 

Thank you, Merci, Miigwech 

Nizar Ladak
New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization