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ICYMI: eRA Panel at the Joint Committees Meeting

ICYMI, or “In Case You Missed It,” is a common acronym used in the blogging world to signify a recap of an event, story, etc. Watch for this acronym in future blog posts to signify an update related to an eRA event you may have missed. This blog was written with contributions from: Jessica Burnette, Genevieve Garland, Sherrie Settle and Marley Thrasher.

The Fall Joint Committees Meeting was held on October 19, 2016. This meeting is open to faculty members and includes the University’s three research committees: the Research Operations Council (ROC), the University Research Committee (URC), and the Research Support Council (RSC). At this meeting, a panel of key eRA project leaders offered an opportunity for participants to ask questions regarding the eRA Project.

Individuals on the panel included: Alan Rebar, Marc Hoit, Gwen Hazlehurst, Justo Torres, Sherrie Settle, Missy Seate, and Eric Wiebe.

The following are highlights from the questions addressed at the meeting.

Why change and why now? We need a more seamless and unified system that better supports interdisciplinary research. When our current systems were put into place (25 years ago) they were great and probably better than other available systems. At this point, our current system is not built to accommodate our tremendous growth and intricate processes. Now, improvements are available in vendor based systems which have been growing and evolving with time.

What will eRA replace? Our pre-award systems, PINS and RADAR, will be replaced; we don’t anticipate post-award systems will be effected in this phase…BUT there will be better efficiency and integration between research administration systems on campus. Processes that were once paper processes (and very tedious), will become electronic. There are other systems that may or may not be touched. For instance, if the new system brings a better way to manage Conflict of Interest (COI) than our current system, that system may be replaced as well. A goal is to have one entry point, or portal, to easily get to all parts of the system for managing the entire lifecycle more efficiently.

How disruptive will the eRA transition be?  Inevitably there will be some effect on the researcher and staff experience.  Think about how disruptive something as small as a password change is on the flow of your work, even when all of the systems you use are working exactly the same. However, the project teams will work to make the transition as seamless as possible for all involved.

Have people provided input on the pain points in current processes? Yes. So far, the Requirements Team has process mapped and started developing requirements. Focus groups to further define requirements will begin soon and will be open to any and all stakeholders. We will use requirements that come out of all this to write the Request for Proposal (RFP). At that point, vendors will come in and provide demos that will also be participatory. The goal of the process mapping is not to get a system that perfectly matches what we have now – instead, we’re looking at commonalities and thinking about where improvements could be made.  It is important for us to consider what we need this system to do rather than what we want it to do.

Are you thinking about the faculty experience, not just compliance?  Absolutely, we are very aware that the eRA system is a critical tool for faculty to manage not just their funding but all aspects of their research programs.  As highly as we value a good faculty experience with the eRA, we don’t necessarily know what that looks like.  We NEED research-active faculty to attend the focus groups, which we’re calling “eRA requirements elicitation sessions,” coming up in late November and early December, to tell us what a good eRA experience means to them.  What do you, as faculty, value most?  What pain points could electronic systems relieve?

Will administrative burden for faculty be reduced? Both faculty and staff will have more information at their fingertips. The system is meant to help those who provide support to provide it more efficiently and with less time and better processes. This system will lead to fewer errors because information will not have to be transcribed between systems. A requirement we have already identified is that each of the systems integrate in a way to significantly lower administrative burden for everyone.

The Colleges, departments, centers and programs that manage proposals and awards work very differently.  Are you considering them, not just a central office perspective?  Yes, certainly.  As with faculty, we need research administrators at all organizational levels to participate in the elicitation sessions in November.   While we promise to hear everyone’s concerns and desires for the new system, it likely will not be possible to customize a product to every College and program’s preference.  That means it is very important for us to hear from the campus community what capabilities are critical, what ones are helpful, and what ones are not so important to them.

UNC-GA is in the process of adopting a new eRA for the UNC system, how are we working with them? UNC-GA released a RFP for an eRA system for 14 of the 16 system schools last month. Throughout UNC-GA’s process, NC State has been collaborating with them. NC State elected to move forward on the eRA project independently because the other schools in the UNC system have different needs from NC State and UNC Chapel Hill (who are also going in their own direction). We are also looking at our closest aligned peer institutions across the country to better understand how they manage their research administration process and learn about the electronic systems they currently use or are considering.

Will this system make audits go more smoothly? With our success, more audits will probably be coming. Our current systems don’t track our compliance capabilities well. With a new system, information and documentation will be better compiled for an audit trail. This will make it easier for NC State to provide information and support compliance. A goal is for the new system to be equipped with better red flags so we are aware of compliance issues sooner rather than later. SOPs will be better documented as well.

Will the system be phased in or released “cold turkey”?  The eRA committees and teams are discussing issues like this. Of course, data will need to be migrated and this is already a requirement for the new system. The transition will more likely be cold turkey to make sure the process is not drawn out and to ensure information isn’t lost between old and new systems. When a project like this is implemented in stages, there are so many different connections between old and new systems that it’s much more challenging to maintain data integrity. BUT, there will be lots of training and testing with real data prior to roll out. Training, communication, and exposure will be critical. The more stakeholders participate in testing and training leading up to implementation, the easier their transition will be.

Michael Steer, a member of the eRA Requirements Team, faculty member in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and URC member provided the following eRA observations since he was unable to sit on the panel.

All discussions seem to indicate that what streamlines staff operations and cuts down on errors will also addressMichaelSteer faculty concerns.
The biggest difference:
– Specialization means that staff are confronted with great details in one system.
– Faculty/PI are confronted with external interfaces of a very large number of systems. Do not expect that faculty/PIs will automatically recall how to use even simple interfaces.
– Faculty/PIs do not see C&G management as low priority.
Some desirable features include: (1) Chat (faculty experience with students is that you will not be overwhelmed), (2) FAQ (automatically populated FAQ list), but also; (3) More defaults overall. Default indirect cost calculations for PMRs etc., (4) Pain point: sub-awards. (seems that much will be achieved by interfacing different systems.), (5) One worklist to rule them all


The eRA project teams are working diligently to make sure all questions about the project are answered and that you all have a chance to ask those questions. To get the latest information and updates, continue to watch the blog, sign up for the email list and check back for a NEW! events section soon. As always, we welcome your feedback and questions and look forward to involving you even more as we move forward!