I was pondering the 4 C’s of diamond quality the other day – color, clarity, cut and carat. Not as a purchasing exercise, as I haven’t faced such a need in many years. Certainly other industries could summarily categorize what’s truly important for purchasing decisions in such a simple, easy fashion. Then it struck me. The world of electronic research administration (eRA) would definitely benefit from such an exercise! So I humbly offer for your consideration, the 4 C’s of eRA Quality – Collaboration, Convenience, Cost and Compliance.

Collaboration

A host of collaboration software solutions exist, from Atlassian’s Confluence to Xait’s XaitPorter. Choosing any one of these invokes classic purchase considerations based on business issues. Trouble is, research administrators face so much more than classic business issues. Everyone understands the benefits of electronic collaboration in today’s ‘work from anywhere’ business world, but web conferencing and document sharing won’t cut it in research.

When choosing an eRA solution, collaboration is a key requirement. Does the solution provide a unified, digital workspace? Is there data and process transparency that positively impacts turnaround times? Can digital forms be created, customized and completed by anyone, for use by everyone? When a proposal reaches your Sponsored Project’s office, can you track where it is, who has reviewed it, who has approved it, what questions remained unanswered and what’s the overall status? Is all this possible from your physical location without leaving your office? Even when there are three campuses contributing to the research?

Convenience

I can already hear my counterparts re-categorizing before I even get started. Couldn’t electronic routing be a factor of convenience? Of course. Just as color impacts clarity in diamonds, the 4 C’s of Quality eRA are intertwined. While I suspect and hope the debate continues, let’s start by describing convenience as technology-enabled ease of use.

Most would agree a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform is more convenient than on premise solutions for multiuser, multi-campus applications. Even if users don’t have this view, I guarantee your IT staff does. Usability is certainly an ease of use factor of convenience for SaaS or on premise solutions. Can you access applications from mobile devices? Does the user interface (UI) promote usability with navigation intuitive to research administration? Can you perform significant tasks while working remote? How about from a mobile device? How much customization is needed to accommodate standard research admin functions?

Cost

How can you get more without going over budget? What’s the long-term value of the solution? Spend the university’s money like it was your own. Whether questions or guiding principles, there’s no escaping the issue of cost for any software purchase. When it comes to evaluating cost for an eRA system, it’s best to lean on the tried and true measuring stick of TCO – Total Cost of Ownership.

Those familiar with software purchasing know there’s always a hidden cost. On a personal level, your PC may need an upgraded video card or added memory to “run the application” to its fullest. Businesses may need a dedicated server or expanded bandwidth to support workforce needs. When evaluating eRA solutions, make sure to get the most complete picture of TCO for every type of product.

Compliance

Compliance touches every part of your institution, and a quality eRA solution needs to do so much more than compliance reporting. From subrecipient monitoring to award closeout, the best eRA solutions are designed and built with compliance in every step. Risk mitigation is the name of the game, and knowing exactly what that means for your institution is critical. How many subrecipient contracts does your institution manage? Does your institution perform human subjects or animal research? Is your institution considering either of these in the near future? How do you close out awards and does the process leave your institution open to audit violations?

Conclusion

With shrinking federal grant funds and the ongoing edict to do more with less, research institutions simply can’t afford compliance risk. And if you’re still pushing paper, discouraging collaboration in an inconvenient way that increases cost and compliance risk, look out! Investment in the right eRA system shores up compliance risk, makes your team more efficient and becomes a competitive advantage for your institution.

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 2 of this series.

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

Read Part 5

About the author

Picture for Kevin Ferrell

Kevin Ferrell

Kevin Ferrell is a Certified Research Administrator (CRA) with more than 18 years in the institutional research industry. He was previously director of the Human Research Protection Program at the University of New Mexico and also spent several years as a management consultant in higher education. A former Cayuse customer, Kevin is now an Account Representative at Cayuse, using his extensive industry experience to help current customers leverage Cayuse solutions to achieve greater results. Kevin holds dual Master's degrees in Environmental Health and Industrial Hygiene, an MBA from the University of Michigan, as well as undergraduate degrees from Hillsdale College and Bowling Green State University in Biology and Environmental Science, respectively.

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