November 16, 1998
Volume 51, No. 12
Electronic Research Administration project to transform
Emory grants management
With the goal of streamlining grant application and management at Emory, the University has launched the Electronic Research Administration (ERA) initiative that could virtually eliminate paperwork from the process.
The project is being run out the Office of Research under Vice President Dennis Liotta and is led by Project Manager Bruce Derr. Derr is especially qualified to lead the effort and was recruited because of his experience in two of the fields affected by ERA: he applied for research grants as a faculty member at Syracuse and Cornell universities, and he's spent the last dozen years working in management of information and technology systems.
The project affects almost all sections of the University, according to Nancy Wilkinson, assistant vice president for research and chairperson of the ERA planning committee. It gives Emory a chance to examine a process that has grown over the years with no real guiding plan. "Everybody's got their own way of doing business, and we have never looked at the value of integrating and sharing information," she said. "This just has enormous possibilities."
"The current procedures used for research administration are both diverse and complex," added Liotta. "Many schools and departments maintain their own 'shadow' systems, in part because they feel the University's systems do not address their needs. Because of this we must be sure that new systems not only address the needs of Emory's administration, but also handle the needs of schools, departments, faculty and staff."
Right now the project is beginning its initial "discovery" phase, during which several work groups will examine and report on different aspects of grants management across campus. Also, Derr and Wilkinson are inviting experts from around the country to campus for a series of seminars to educate the Emory community. It will be two or three years before ERA is fully implemented because the University needs to answer several questions, the most important being whether to purchase an outside system, develop one in-house or opt for some combination of the two.
"The federal government has decided under the Government Paperwork Reduction Act that they want to have a paperless process in place in Washington," Derr said. "For example, the National Science Foundation already requires electronic submission of proposals for certain programs, and in a couple years they will require it for all programs. You will not be able to send them paper."
So it is not only Emory that must electronically automate its grants machine. Duke and Indiana universities, for example, are cooperating to develop a software package that could fit Emory's needs, and another consortium of universities produced an application that has been transferred for further development to a private software firm.
But before Emory decides on any package, the ERA team wants to get as much input as possible. In August the National Council of University Research Administrators held a conference on campus that drew approximately 500 people from all over the country. Not only were higher education officials present, but also representatives from the NSF, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Energy and several private firms. The next ERA seminar will feature Denise Clark from Cornell and Pamela Webb from the University of California at Santa Barbara, who will talk about federal initiatives. It will be held Dec. 2 from 10 a.m. to noon in Winship Ballroom.
Nine work groups on campus comprise the other aspect of the discovery phase. Each will be spending this academic year looking into topics such as compliance, proposal routing, technology transfer, and negotiation and acceptance. Two of the groups--data sharing and integration and technical issues--will remain active throughout the ERA project, but the others will make their final reports to the planning committee next May or June, which will then develop an implementation plan and form action groups to begin work.
"It's important to emphasize that we're looking for areas to streamline now, areas that could work better now-not just to make improvements in two or three years," Wilkinson said. "We can't just go in and make everything that's paper electronic; we have to make sure the right system is in place first."
That could make the process easier for everyone. "Faculty often spend a great deal of time getting the required signatures for a proposal," Liotta said. "One of the exciting aspects of ERA is that the budget and other support and resources pages could be electronically routed to all the relevant administrative entities for approval long before the body of the proposal is completed. As the submission deadline approaches, faculty could use this precious time to concentrate on the substance of their proposal and not on approval signatures."