Internet Connectivity Is The Lifeblood For Research And Development

Jake Carpenter | 2022-01-03 | 7 min read

Fast, reliable internet access is fundamental for R&D development worldwide; uninterrupted connectivity is a first world privilege taken for granted.

In underdeveloped and developing nations, limitation of technology rapidly become barriers to efficient communication, causing significant troubles and disadvantages.

The Director of the Soybean Innovation Lab (University of Illinois), Pete Goldsmith, is working closely with partners in several countries in Africa, and noticed his partners would often experience technological problems, making basic communication challenging. Sometimes they would rely on cellular networks because the internet access of their very institutions was unreliable.

Teaming up with two IT experts at University of Illinois, Goldsmith, Paul Hixson (former Chief Information Officer) and Tracy Smith (Director of Research IT and Innovation) began investigating these technological challenges in developing countries that face even their most well-established institutions.

Paul Hixson said, “Connectivity is the oxygen organizations run on. It’s such a basic requirement that it’s often not even recognized as an issue. But lack of connectivity severely hinders an organization’s ability to perform simple functions, conduct research, and compete for grants.”

The team created a case study to study information communication technology infrastructure in-depth at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute, one of Ghana’s leading research stations.

Including focus groups, interviews, and technological analysis of the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute’s equipment and connectivity, the research team created the ICT Health Checkup, a procedure for IT administrators to assess their system’s current state, identifying various gaps that affect performance, and record steps for potential remediation.

The tool evaluates four key elements of infrastructure through a systematic process. First, it focuses on connection and bandwidth, and identifies the bandwidth required to accommodate an institution’s needs, and whether that institution has an uninterrupted, fiber-based connection to the worldwide web. Second, the tool analyzes physical infrastructure critical to operability, including whether there is dependable electricity, the status of the local network design, and the capability of wired and wireless connectivity alike.

Thirdly, the tool checks available intranet services for researchers like local storage, backup procedures for research data, access control and security procedures, and email services and cloud access. The final step address human resources and technical support requirements mandatory for planning and managing the IT infrastructure of an institution.

Hixson explained the tool in layman’s terms, “Institutions can go through a checklist, and at each point there is a ‘stoplight’. If it’s red, you know there is something that needs to be fixed, because there are conditions that will act as a block and you can’t go on until they are fixed — until there’s a green light. So turning things from red to green at each step is crucial; methodically going through each step at a time and making sure it’s fixed before moving on to the next one.”

The research team compares the ICT Health Checkup tool to a medical health exam for an institution’s network, measuring the current conditions as well as being able to be utilized as a benchmark tool for measuring improvements.

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