I discovered early in my research administration career that convenience was not exactly embraced within our industry! And what an odd thing to not embrace. We’re plagued by too much work, not enough time, increasing internal and external mandates. Wouldn’t you think our industry is primed and ready to work in a more convenient manner?
Yet, convenience for some in research administration has become synonymous with skipping steps, working too quickly, or not being thorough. We’ve become so concerned with missing something or potentially doing something wrong, that we’ve accepted purposefully inconvenient processes just to double or triple check our work. If something seems easy to process, it becomes suspect.
I hear you pondering, as I did, “Are you sure you read everything on that proposal? We should probably make all those questions required just to make sure everyone reads every single one of them. That contract only took you a day to turn around … did you really check all the terms and conditions? We should create a checklist for every contract to make sure we didn’t miss something.”
A quality eRA solution needs to enable convenience while allowing users to be secure in the knowledge that working more efficiently doesn’t mean they’ve missed something!
Technology-Enabled Ease of Use
Look for eRA solutions that leverage technology to deliver industry-specific convenience features. Every eRA solution you consider should include role-based dashboards that present data in a logical fashion and allow users to perform tasks based on their roles. Users should be able to open the solution and see exactly what’s on their virtual plate. Institutions should be able to customize permissions and rights on a per-role basis, enabling only those who are supposed to access, change or update certain data to do so, quickly and easily. Role-based functions should improve ease of use, enhance security, and keep users confident that only authorized people at their institution can modify specific records.
You definitely want a modern user interface with navigation that is intuitive to research administration without being intimidating to non-technical users. Workflows and process automation features should follow industry best practices not only for greatest efficiency, but also to help your users work within a framework that is familiar and where they know they haven’t missed something! Forms and templates common to research administration should be included, yet be flexible enough for easy modification. And your eRA solution of choice should be accessible for all departments, administrators, PI’s and executives, regardless of location. Even if your research load is small, remote access should be fast and convenient in order to keep pace with today’s mobile workforce.
Don’t Forget IT
Convenience extends to other parts of your organization, too. Technology-enabled ease of use speaks directly to your IT staff – or the IT support you wish you had! Get IT involved early in your eRA evaluation. IT professionals know, and appreciate, the value of shortened implementation times, vendor ISO certifications, and the implications of one solution versus another. For example, IT professionals can consult on the true costs and complexities of choosing an in-house application or a cloud-based, SaaS solution.
Many IT pros also share the same mistrust of convenience claims that you do: “Does convenient for you mean a huge undertaking for me? Will I still be able to do all the things I need to do now under this new ‘convenient’ system?” Encourage your IT team to discuss how they support research administration with your potential eRA vendors – what reports IT runs, the processes they support, and the data warehouses they maintain. An ideal eRA solution should make IT’s life easier, not give them heartburn! And making things convenient for your IT staff will go a long way towards continuing a fruitful, mutually beneficial relationship.
It’s easy to be enamored with shiny new software products with claims of revolutionizing your office of sponsored projects, but it’s just as easy to discount the comfortable, if inconvenient, processes that your staff has used successfully for years. Technology-enabled ease of use speaks to the features most valuable to your organization, while satisfying the regulations that govern our industry. Implementing a more convenient solution could mean changing well-established processes. Sometimes the old ways aren’t the most efficient, or convenient, but they are secure. When making a decision about an eRA solution, make sure your team will never have to feel that they need to sacrifice security and accuracy for convenience. You can have both!
Be sure to check back as my colleagues will explore in detail how each of the 4 Cs of Quality eRA can simplify evaluation of which eRA solution is right for your institution. Read Part 4
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