Merran Smith – University of Western Australia, Board Member

Merran joined the Pawsey Board this year as the new UWA representative.  She brings her background in science, health and economics to the Board, with strengths in strategic management and performance monitoring.  She is also well versed in data management as for more than 10 years she was in charge of the WA Department of Health’s Information Centre.  While with the Department, she established data linkage as a core service and served on a number of Australia’s peak national health information committees.  Since 2009 she has been the inaugural Chief Executive of Australia’s Population Health Research Network.

Reflecting on Pawsey’s current position in the data landscape, Merran is keen to help with the next steps: “I think Pawsey is doing an excellent job, particularly supporting some of the recognised science strengths in Western Australia such as astronomy.  But there are new opportunities with its expanding scale.  It’s very exciting now that Pawsey has additional funding and can plan for a broader role within the Australian research infrastructure ecosystem.”

“My interest is in the expanded use and additional value that Pawsey will be able to provide in research areas across Australia, while continuing to support existing users.  For example, until recently health systems generally didn’t require the compute and storage capacity of a supercomputing facility.  That is changing rapidly with growth in demand related to genomics, other ‘omics’ and imaging technologies.  Our detailed clinical information is also growing, as more electronic health data is available across the country.  Australia is already an international leader with a wealth of linked health data, so I suspect that big-data-driven health research will be a significant growth area for Pawsey in the future.”

“A challenging part of joining the Board was just getting my mind around what needs to be done over the next phase of Pawsey’s growth.  It’s good to see that the collaboration with the is strengthening, and through the NCRIS program we can coordinate and stage the infrastructure investment across Australia’s two Tier 1 supercomputing facilities.  I think Pawsey is already well-positioned within the broader national research infrastructure and that position will strengthen with the new investment.”

“We’re very fortunate to have a highly experienced Chair of the Board (John Langoulant AO), and other very well-credentialed Board members.  There is also a good working relationship between the Chief Executive and the Board.  This is particularly relevant in two key areas.  One is the focus on the capital refresh.  We all understand that it’s a priority to get the tenders out to market, identify the preferred providers and organise the process of implementing the new, expanded systems.  It sounds simple, but it’s a complicated process, and we’ll need to run both the current and new systems in tandem for some time, with the practical issues that causes.  But the Board fully understands and is supporting the organisation in making this happen.”

“There is also a focus on continuing to provide value for current users and stakeholders while the refresh is happening.  The Board is working collaboratively with the organisation to ensure that service standards are maintained as this transition is occurring.”

Merran is relishing the opportunity to make a difference to the reach and impact of HPC across Australia.  “As a Board we’ve got the opportunity to ensure that Pawsey’s developing structures and processes continue to support our existing users and stakeholders, and can extend to support new activities.  It is still early days for health but the demand could look very different in five years’ time.  Other fields are also starting to realise the potential in supercomputing.  It’s fantastic that this emerging need is happening at a time when Pawsey is expanding its capacity.”

Merran Smith, UWA Board Member