Reflections on the SGCI Bootcamp

From October 2nd to the 6th I attended the SGCI (Science Gateways Community Institute) Bootcamp, which is a workshop to help science gateway developers and project leaders to develop a sustainability plan for their gateways. The Bootcamp took place at the Purdue Research Park, just a short distance from the Indianapolis Airport.

I went there with Dr. Sudhakar Padminghampton, the PI of the SEAGrid science gateway. As members of the Science Gateways Research Center there are several projects we have to which we could apply the Bootcamp (the Apache Airavata open source project, our SciGaP “Platform-as-a-Service” hosting project, etc.) but we decided to focus on SEAGrid, which is one of the main science gateways we support.

Day 1

We’re close enough that we drive up to the Purdue Research Park on Monday. Michael Zentner kicks things off by giving an overview of the Bootcamp and the goals for the week. We spend a little time introducing ourselves to each other, but we’ll come to know more about each other and our projects later in the week through the various Bootcamp activities.

What is Sustainability?

Nancy Maron leads the first session, What is Sustainability?. Sustainability is defined as “the ability to get the resources (financial and
otherwise) needed to maintain and increase the value of your gateway”. So one question to ask is, what is the value of our gateway, SEAGrid? And the value of SEAGrid is different for different groups of people.

We need to think about that value SEAGrid provides to

  • end users (e.g., gateway users and developers)
  • stakeholders (e.g., project PIs, institutional leadership)
  • partners (e.g., HPC centers, camputs computing centers, other gateway service providers)
  • volunteers (e.g., open source contributors)

We also need to think about our competition, what are the alternatives out there to the services provided by SEAGrid? That will affect the value that SEAGrid provides as well.

Ultimately we’ll want to develop a strong value proposition, which we’ll come back to later. But a strong value proposition needs to articulate the unique value that our service provides that is compelling, over and above the competition, to our user audience.

Key takeaways:

  • must develop a great idea into a strong value proposition
  • the development and implementation of a sustainability plan is an ongoing process

Napkin Drawing

The next session was led by Juliana Casavan. The idea here is to communicate in a non-technical fashion, mostly using pictures, the value of our gateway to end users. The setup is this: if you had to describe your gateway to someone using only a drawing on a napkin (and refraining from using technical jargon), how would you describe your gateway?

I think this exercise was really helpful and it was probably my favorite exercise of the week. We so often think in very technical terms about our gateway and this was a great way to try to see our gateway from the perspective of an end user.

Key takeaway:

  • When describing your gateway (or product, service, whatever), you don’t need to provide all of the details. Leaving out details creates intrigue. Intrigue leads to your audience asking questions so that they are the ones driving the conversation. This is a much more effective way to communicate your value than simple enumerating each and every little thing your gateway does.

Value Proposition

Nancy leads this session on formulating a value proposition. Nancy gave us a very simple template to work from that goes like this:

  • My product
  • will help who?
  • to do what?
  • by how?

Here’s what we came up with for SEAGrid:

  • SEAGrid Science Gateway
  • will help computational scientists and engineers
  • to set up model systems, define simulation and job parameters and analyze the results and manage execution and data
  • from a single point of access

Key takeway:

  • A value proposition is not something you just make up. It is something that you discover. It starts out as a hypothesis that is then tested by learning from your users what they value or don’t value about your product. And it needs to be reviewed and refined over time.

That concluded our first day. There’s more to say so I’ll write some more about the rest of the week later.

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