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When an institution starts to develop its research program, it might seem logical to ask the IT department to create a system to manage research administration. This “homegrown” software gives research administrators (RAs) a place to store essential information such as proposals submitted, PI info, award dates, budgets, and protocol information. 

A homegrown solution sounds good because initially it seems cheaper than paying for third-party software, and it’s totally customized to the institution’s needs. Who needs something fancy and expensive, right?

The truth is, a homegrown system has a lot of hidden costs (such as IT time) and is quickly outgrown. At Cayuse, a lot of our customers say, “We were using a homegrown system for a while, but now everyone hates it, and it can’t do what we need it to!” They’ve told us 7 of the major problems with homegrown systems. Let’s talk about each of them and then how third-party software can save you time, money, and frustration.

1. Lack of integration 

Homegrown systems are typically a database to store information on the administrative “back end” coupled with a submission “portal.” These disparate tools often do not communicate with each other. Ultimately, the homegrown solution functions in silos—a fillable PDF document that needs manual data entry on the backend, rather than a single system that directly integrates for all users. That translates into duplicate data entry from HR and payroll systems.

2. Long wait times for IT support

You may have the best IT team in the world, but you have to share them with every other department on campus, so getting help with your homegrown solution can take a while. Even if you only need help for a few minutes, there’s usually a long list of tickets ahead of you, so you could be waiting weeks to get an answer.

In contrast, using third-party software means you can email or call a dedicated support team anytime you want—and they’re often being timed to measure productivity and other benchmarks, so they’re incentivized to help you as soon as they can!

3. Time-consuming to run reports (or even extract data)

A big part of research administration is running reports for department heads, researchers, and anyone else who requests it. At the very least, it requires information to be filtered and extracted on an ad-hoc basis.  But that process is painfully inefficient with homegrown systems. It’s typically a long process with many different steps, including requesting data from the IT department. Once you get a report, it’s just the raw data, not formatted nicely like it is in a third-party vendor’s dashboard. RAs have to clean up the information and make it more digestible, which takes even more time. With Cayuse’s software, the process takes only a few minutes!

4. Risk of lost system knowledge

Often all the knowledge of how to use and troubleshoot homegrown software is limited to one or two people. As long as they’re at the institution, people may see no need to write everything down or create standard operating procedures. That may work temporarily, but if those people leave the organization, there’s a very high risk that all their knowledge will be lost! Even if they do not leave, the amount of effort needed to create documentation for the system is significant and could possibly require even more resources. 

With a vendor’s solution, all how-tos and help documentation are available to everyone, so you’re never out of luck if someone quits or goes on a last-minute vacation.

5. Difficult to troubleshoot

Homegrown systems can quickly become what we call “Franken-systems” (and yes, we know Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster!). Franken-systems happen when a system is overly customized: a fix here, an improvement there, some very specific tweaks over there, and so forth. It works, but precariously, and over the years everything becomes cobbled together, rather than one cohesive system. It may seem appealing to have the system be completely customized for your unique institution’s needs, but that makes it extremely difficult to fix when there’s a problem, because the problem is so hard to find.

With Cayuse, our software is configured, not customized, so it’s tweaked to meet your needs while staying easy to fix if anything goes wrong. We think a reliable, robust system that’s also relatively easy to troubleshoot is the best of both worlds.

6. No improvements over the long term

“Build it and forget it” is often the motto with homegrown software, with no improvements or upgrades made for years (or even decades). The software doesn’t scale or enable growth, so although it may work in the short term, it can become obsolete within a few years. In contrast, we at Cayuse devote substantial resources to constantly improving our software and adding new features that our customers request. We’re all about empowering growth, not just maintaining the status quo. Homegrown software may not dramatically change or improve over the years, but ours definitely does!

7. Unappealing to potential new hires

To stay competitive, your institution has to attract and keep top talent. But if you don’t have a modern research management system, you can’t recruit great employees! Even when it comes to keeping those strong employees, homegrown software can cause turnover. Research staff could threaten to leave unless the system is improved or replaced.

Great researchers and RAs are looking for employers that use the best software- not a 30-year-old homegrown solution that’s stressful to use and does not give them the tools they need to do their jobs well. Not only is Cayuse’s software a lifesaver for current employees, but positive word of mouth can attract new ones too.

Research administration shouldn’t be painful

Are you sensing a theme? Homegrown software is often cheaper up front, but you pay for it in long wait times for support, painful and time-consuming processes, and quickly obsolete features. Software from a third-party vendor like Cayuse may be more expensive initially, but the user experience is lightyears better, from easy-to-run reports to pleasant, efficient help and feature improvements you request.

If you can relate to any of the above issues that we’ve heard from customers, you’re not alone. Maybe you’re using a homegrown solution that worked for a while, but now everyone is frustrated and it’s not meeting your needs. If so, we can help! Get in touch and let’s talk about how we can make your life easier.

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