Persistent Identifiers Could Save the Research Sector Millions of Dollars

A recent analysis revealed that persistent identifiers (PIDs) could save more than £5.67 million over 5 years with the establishment of a national PIDS consortium.
PID cost benefit analysis NEWS TILE

A recent analysis of the UK research and innovation system revealed that persistent identifiers (PIDs) could save universities more than £5.67 million (AUD$10.6 million) over the course of 5 years with the establishment of a national PID support consortium.

Persistent Identifiers create a persistent link for journal papers, data, software, physical samples and grey literature to its location on the internet. This facilitates citation, attribution, discovery and retrieval of information about the producers and the products of research, which is an essential foundation for future research.

The report, UK PID Consortium: Cost-Benefit Analysis*, presents the results of a cost-benefit analysis of increasing PID adoption across the UK research and innovation system.

For the cost-benefits analysis, the authors focused solely on benefits from metadata re-use and transfer through PIDs. There is a tangible time cost to rekeying metadata, instead of using PIDs to automatically update and populate data. Indirect cost savings could be significant when you consider reducing administrative burden on researchers through automation, freeing up their time for research.

Lead author of the report, Josh Brown, Co-founder of MoreBrains Cooperative, said, “Research in the UK is extremely expensive. Making the greatest impact with the least resources is even more important than ever.”

“The UK government estimates that every £1 spent on research yields £7 in wider economic benefit, so even a small gain in efficiency will have a big impact on the economy.”

The report states: “Based on current levels of PID adoption for articles (DOIs) and people (ORCID IDs), there are significant benefits—including cost savings—to establishing a national PID consortium, estimated at £5.67M over the course of 5 years, if PID adoption targets of 67% by year 3 and 85% by year 5 can be met.

“These savings will only expand once the other priority PIDs (and other entities that could be identified, such as books, white papers, reports, instruments, etc) are equally well adopted.”

PIDs in Australia: a time-saving research infrastructure

PIDs are a key service ARDC provides to the Australian research community and are central to our efforts to make research data, software and project outputs FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable).

Natasha Simons, Associate Director, Data & Services, ARDC, said, “Our national identifier infrastructure provides a lot of value to the Australian research sector.”

“PIDs are already saving time and money in Australia, and there is much more that can be done to realise their benefits.”

While the UK report provides a great indication of the economic benefit of PIDs, the size and scale of investment in Australia’s research sector is considerably different to that of the UK.

“We need to start a national conversation about creating a national PID strategy and invest in a PID cost-benefit analysis for Australia,” said Natasha.

“We also need to conduct benchmarking across the research sector in PIDs if we are to realise where we are and where we need to go.”

Australia is not alone in trying to understand how to develop a national PID strategy. Natasha said, “A lot of countries are trying to work this out at the moment. I’m a co-chair of a new Research Data Alliance working group on National PID Strategies, and at our last plenary we had the UK, Netherlands and Latin American countries all discuss how they are approaching the challenge.”

ORCID: the persistent identifier for people

Alongside the ARDC’s identifier services, the Australian Access Federation (AAF) operates the Australian ORCID consortium. ORCID is the most popular persistent identifier for people, with 152,840 ORCID IDs registered to a .au email address as of 1 January 2021, which has grown year on year since the ORCID Consortium began in 2016.

Researchers can create their own ORCID record and allow journal publishers and research institutions to automatically update it. Within the Australian research system, ORCID IDs are used for Australian Research Council (ARC) grant applications and by most journal publishers.

In a recent interview with Professor Joe Shapter, Pro Vice Chancellor (Research Infrastructure) at the University of Queensland, he shared the huge impact of using ORCID when applying for research grants: “It’s all about populate and re-use. If I want to put in an ARC grant now and include all of my research track record, it’s sitting there and ready to reuse and is being continually updated. This saved me 3-4 days per grant application – the difference in workload was staggering!”

And it’s not only the researchers who benefit from persistent identifiers—they enable institutions to see what their researchers are publishing, and research funders to see the published outcomes of their investment.

ARDC persistent identifier services

ARDC identifier services have been operating for over 10 years, and include:

  • Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs): for research data, software, instruments and ‘grey literature’. ARDC leads the Australian DataCite DOI consortium and we have minted almost 500,000 DOIs since 2011
  • Handles: for data collections and other research outputs. We have minted almost 400,000 handles since 2010
  • IGSN (International Geo Sample Number): for physical samples. We have minted 3210 IGSNs since 2018.
  • RAiD (Research Activity Identifier)): for research projects and activities. We have minted over 5000 RAiDs and RAiD is due for ISO certification as a standard in December.

The ARDC provides its PIDS services to 68 Australian research institutions, and researchers access these services via their institution.

Learn more about the ARDC’s persistent identifier services.

This article is based on the webinar ORCID, DOIs and return on investment for research infrastructure, a collaborative webinar co-sponsored by CAUL, ARDC and AAF.

Written by Jo Savill (ARDC). Reviewed by Natasha Simons (ARDC), Josh Brown (MoreBrains Cooperative), Elleina Filippi (AAF), Melroy Almeida (AAF, ORCID Consortium).

*Brown, Josh, Jones, Phill, Meadows, Alice, Murphy, Fiona, & Clayton, Paul. (2021). UK PID Consortium: Cost-Benefit Analysis (1.0). Zenodo.