Use of the software solution Symplectic Elements at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz

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This blog post on Symplectic Elements at Johannes Gutenberg Mainz first appeared on the joint blog of the DINI AG research information system and electronic publishing. 


With “Gutenberg Research Elements”, the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz is introducing a research information system that offers scientists a wide range of options for recording, documenting and merging research information and in this way creates the conditions for the development of user services and university-wide research reporting based on them. This workshop report gives an insight into the status of developments – from the choice of system to the implementation of pilot phases – with special consideration of data integration and interfaces.

Initial situation

Since March 2018, the University Library, the Research and Technology Transfer department, the Planning and Controlling department and the Center for Data Processing at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have been working on making the research information system “Gutenberg Research Elements” available to the university. JGU is a full university that, in the 2019 reporting year, brought together 4,440 academic staff (including professors) in 10 departments, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy of Music.

The project to introduce a research information system (FIS) aims to bring together research information from different data sources at JGU and make it available for reporting and scientific work. Future data collection should be as standardized as possible, avoid multiple collections and link information from existing IT systems. Until the start of the project, this information was separately structured and distributed in various specialist applications such as personnel and financial administration, university bibliography, open access repository and identity management (IDM). As early as the early 1990s there was a first attempt to record and display information on people, publications and projects within one system. However, due to the lack of interfaces, this research database, which was developed in-house, did not support any comprehensive workflows, so that operations were discontinued and the publication data was transferred to the repository of the university library. With the commissioning of the FIS, this expanded function of the repository as a university bibliography will now be replaced by a modular overall infrastructure for publication data management (see Fig. 2).

The project is being managed by JGU’s Chief Information Officer on behalf of the university management and as part of the introduction of IT-supported software systems. The FIS as a modular component of JGU’s information infrastructure is intended to be used, among other things, to develop and set up centralized research reporting. The recommendation of the Science Council to implement the core data set research (KDSF) for data delivery in the context of large third-party funding applications and as part of the excellence strategy provided the decisive impetus for the university management decisions. Multiple use of the data, e.g. in the context of applications and scientific publications as well as the automated transfer of content to websites, is intended to give JGU scientists added value and thus an incentive to make their research services available and linked in the FIS.

Selection of the software solution

After an upstream evaluation phase of different systems, the choice fell on the British software solution “Elements” from the provider Symplectic (part of Digital Science, a company of the Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH publishing group). In addition to other commercial systems, an open source software solution was also included in the selection process, but its use at JGU was rejected due to the development capacities required.

When deciding on a software solution, the time-saving and intuitive publication entry was a key criterion. Previous experiences at JGU showed that this requirement has a high priority for researchers and is an indispensable prerequisite for the acceptance of the research information system. In particular, interfaces for the automated import of publication data from as large a number of bibliographic databases as possible, powerful duplicate detection, the possibility for users to specify individually preferred import sources and display formats for publications and an interface to automatically import publication data from the FIS into external applications were required , e.g. on the personal homepage.“Gutenberg Open Science” at JGU.

Since one of the project’s starting points was the provision of reports in accordance with the KDSF, another central requirement was that the system supports this standard or has correspondingly adaptable reporting mechanisms. With the selection of “Symplectic Elements”, the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz decided on a software solution that is widely used in Anglo-American countries, but for which there were no applications in the German research and university landscape at the time the project started. Therefore, a prototype implementation of the KDSF was agreed with the provider as part of the project.

Solution approaches and challenges in data integration

The selected software solution is an extensively configurable system that, in addition to the options for local adjustments to the user interface, also allows changes to the data structures for the listed objects within the system, e.g. the metadata structure of various publication types. However, changes of this kind are deliberately not planned as part of the project in order to avoid the resulting adjustments to the interfaces. The focus of the work could thus be placed on setting up the interfaces at an early stage of the project. The data on publications (including patents), projects, people and organizational units are currently being integrated. The other databases shown in Figure 1, such as prices, doctoral programs, etc.


Einsatz der Softwarelösung „Symplectic Elements“ an der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz 1

Figure 1: Databases of research information at JGU



Interfaces to Web of Science, MLA, Crossref, DBLP, RePEc, PubMed, arXiv and CiNii are currently used for the automated import of publication data into the research information system. The former university bibliography and the open access repository Gutenberg Open Science are also included as external data sources. The data aggregation is based on search queries using proper names, optionally supplemented with researcher IDs such as the ORCID to catch identical names. The manual entry of publication data is supported by a DOI or ISBN look-up in Crossref and Google Books. Duplicates from different sources are bundled in the system and kept as individually selectable variants. Additionally a search for identifiers for publications is carried out in the user data of JGU researchers on ORCID.ORG. As a result, these functions offer users of the FIS a very convenient way of enriching and editing their publication lists. However, they also lead to a complexity of the data structures and the processing logic within the system that should not be underestimated, which poses a challenge for the configuration of the system settings, the interfaces and also for user support.

In addition to importing publication data from Gutenberg Open Science, the bidirectional integration of the repository is in preparation. Deposits of full texts are transferred from the FIS to the repository via a SWORD interface. This makes it very easy for users to initiate a secondary publication in the repository for their journal articles recorded in the FIS. This “self-archiving” function is intended to promote the green path to open access at the Johannes Gutenberg University, since the number of secondary publications in the repository has been consistently low for several years.

Gutenberg Research Elements is intended as a closed system, i.e. as an internal working environment for the scientists and science management at JGU. From the researchers’ point of view, however, the public presentation of selected content, in particular the publication lists, is decisive for their willingness to use the system. It is therefore possible to display the publication lists maintained in the FIS on personal homepages. This is implemented via a plugin of the WordPress content management system used at JGU. Search engine technology (Solr) is used for a freely accessible search function in the sense of a university bibliography. Both applications access the publication data via the REST interface of the FIS and are currently in the test phase.

Einsatz der Softwarelösung „Symplectic Elements“ an der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz 2

Figure 2: Overview scheme of the publication data infrastructure



An import from JGU’s internal financial management software MACH was implemented for the integration of information on third-party funded projects. It turned out that the imported information does not always match the researchers’ perspective of what is to be presented as a project. Reasons for this are the exclusive suitability of the MACH software (in the area of ​​finance) for administrative purposes in the context of allocations of funds and postings, which leads to difficulties when project information is transferred to the FIS with regard to its use for the administration of project lists. Basically, two problem areas can be distinguished: On the one hand, there is no clear assignment of a project to a financial object in the financial management software, which requires the bundling of multiple objects into one project. On the other hand, it was not previously necessary for the work processes at the university to record the designations of the financial objects in accordance with externally specified scientific standards in the financial management software. This fact underlines the need to coordinate with other specialist departments beyond the boundaries of the project, to identify necessary adjustment needs and to implement them over time. It is currently being discussed how information in the MACH operational system can be recorded in the sense of subsequent use in the FIS and whether the possibility of manually entering projects in the FIS that are not financed by third parties, for example, is practicable.

People and organizational units

The depiction of the JGU university structure in the FIS on the basis of the university IDM is a demanding requirement. This fact has been discussed in detail within the project group and in discussions with the software provider since the beginning of the project. The assignment of the objects to organizational units is decisive for the use of the FIS by scientists and science management as well as for data exports (e.g. for publication lists). The main difficulty here is that the integration of the organizational structure into the research information system must be guaranteed to be synchronous with the structure in the IDM that was introduced in parallel. Due to the complexity of the structure, Due to the large number of organizational units at JGU and the ongoing changes in the assignment of people to organizational units, the possibility of synchronizing IDM and FIS has hitherto reached its limits. Previous applications of the software solution are based on the fact that the organizational structure is created and maintained manually in the system or in-house developments based on the programming interface (API) of the FIS were implemented. Since both scenarios are out of the question for JGU, an interim solution is currently being worked on together with the provider. With an initial one-time import, organizational data from the relatively static higher levels are transferred to the FIS. When exporting data for public display, e.g. publication lists on departmental or institute websites,

Data export for research reporting

The regular transfer of data to JGU’s data warehouse (DWH) on specific dates is planned for the development and development of centrally designed research reporting. Data from various operative systems at JGU is brought together in the DWH and made available for analysis and various reporting purposes. The transfer of data from the FIS to the DWH is planned in order to enable a systematic coupling of the research information from the FIS with already available information and data from the areas of third-party funds, habilitations, doctorates and personnel/positions in one place and in this way the to meet internal and external requirements for research reporting at a university. The reporting database within the FIS is used as an export interface, which already provides some reporting functions. The transformation of the data along the specification of the core data set research should take place during the data transfer to the DWH through the ETL process, in which data from several differently structured data sources are combined in a target database.

First assessment and outlook

In the meantime, the system has been tested in a first pilot phase with scientists from a scientific department, and in a second pilot phase currently underway, the users of the replaced university bibliography are now being included in the active user group. The feedback resulting from the pilot phases is used to improve support for the system and to further adapt the configuration of the user interface to everyday practice at JGU.

According to the feedback received so far, there is only little need for adjustment to the surface of the FIS. All in all, this is intuitively understandable with the personal profile and overview pages, a clearly structured and manageable menu navigation. The lack of a German-language interface was well compensated for by the support offer consisting of German and English-language manuals, FAQs, video tutorials and individual appointments.

In an accompanying user survey, which was carried out three months after the kick-off of the first pilot phase, it was possible to record the requirements and difficulties arising from scientific practice. Among other things, this confirmed the assumption that many researchers consider the possibilities of publication management within the FIS to be decisive for their willingness to use the system. In addition to the automated data transfer from external data sources, the need for the individual import of publication lists, especially from CITAVI and INSPIRE, also became clear. Other users noted difficulties when using the search function in the system. Appropriate explanatory videos and assistance are provided on the project website. A frequently expressed wish relates to functional extensions of the first version of the WordPress plugin for display on websites. The feedback from the users is used in the ongoing process of further development for the definition of requirements. The implementation will take place step by step as far as possible.

The implementation of a further pilot phase with a humanities or social science department is in preparation and should serve to get to know further subject-specific requirements and to take them into account in the campus-wide system introduction and the expansion of the support offer. The presentation of content from the FIS on the researchers’ homepages, as well as the subsequent use of project information from the financial management software and the transfer of initial data from the research information system to JGU’s data warehouse, are among the next and final milestones in the project.


This article was written by  Karin Eckert (University Library) and Annabelle Gaßmann (Planning and Controlling department).