It’s a common scenario for research administrators. You’re scrambling to make a proposal deadline, juggling last-minute budget revisions and missing signatures, when you wonder, “Isn’t there some way to handle all of this electronically?”
So you Google “research administration software,” but there are millions of results, from products to articles and university websites. Where do you start? How do you evaluate all the different research administration tools and figure out which one would actually help speed up processes for your department? Here’s what you need to know.
Going Paperless in Research Administration
Many research administration departments are still primarily paper-based, simply because that’s the way things have always been—and you know how daunting change can be. But a growing number of institutions and organizations are adopting technology to make research administration faster and easier. Electronic research administration tools (also called eRA software) takes time-consuming, paper-based processes online with the goal of increasing your research portfolio and revenue.
There are many benefits to electronic research admin tools:
- You can log into the system from anywhere with internet access (for example, PIs can review and electronically sign documents from the field, rather than needing to be on campus)
- You don’t need any physical documents (although some offices still like to keep a hard copy), so no panicking when coffee inevitably spills on something
- You can quickly see what stage a proposal or protocol review is in and who needs to take action next—for example, which members of the IRB committee have yet to sign off on a protocol
- Multiple people can review proposals simultaneously, instead of you having to run across campus for signatures
- You have data at your fingertips to make important decisions and inform leadership (for example, if someone asks how much funding the physics department has been awarded this quarter, you can find the answer quickly without digging through a stack of papers and even email a detailed breakdown)
However, not all electronic research administration tools are equally powerful. More importantly, some will be a better fit for your institution’s size and needs than others.
Homegrown vs. Vendors
Some universities have their IT department build a custom research admin tool, thinking it will be faster and more cost-effective than selecting a vendor. However, there are many hidden costs with this approach. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, hidden costs usually add up to more than half of the actual cost of building and administering an in-house system, so it can be less of a bargain than anticipated. With other priorities campus-wide, the IT department might not have adequate time to train users on the software and provide ongoing support and maintenance.
Third-party solutions may seem more expensive up front, but there are fewer surprise costs, especially with a vendor like Cayuse that provides a fixed price before implementation begins, so you aren’t left waiting years before you get a usable solution and a final price tag. And customer support is included, so you never have to worry about waiting days or weeks for your campus technology staff to get around to your problem.
Configured vs. Customized
At first, it often sounds like fully customized eRA software is the best option. Your institution is unique, so a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t sufficient…right? In reality, extensive customization might be overkill unless your situation is extremely complex and you have the budget to match. In many cases, configured software is a better fit, a happy medium between fully customized solutions and those that aren’t configured at all.
Customized software requires custom coding, which entails more ramp up time and time development. It must be manually updated, so new updates can “break” the customization and require fixes. Configuration means the vendor uses built-in tools to change product features to meet your needs. At Cayuse, we’ve already created various ways to adapt our products to your needs, and our team works with yours to implement the options you want. Plus, it’s compatible with future releases. Since there are no changes to the core code, you never have to worry about an update “breaking” the application.
Hopefully now you have a better idea of your options when it comes to electronic research admin tools and how powerful and helpful they can be. In another post, we’ll cover how to evaluate your options and choose the right one for your needs.