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The Human Resources Needed

We’ve partnered with a vendor, InfoEd Global, and the implementation stage will begin ramping up soon — but what’s been going on since our last update?

Well, in addition to finalizing the details of the implementation plan and schedule, we have primarily been gathering and organizing the staff — both new and existing — that will be necessary for the ERA project’s ultimate success.

First of all, we’re very pleased to report that Assistant Vice Chancellor of Administration Rick Liston, who’s served NC State for over a quarter-century in a variety of capacities across campus — from the Office of Finance and Administration to the Graduate School — will be the ERA project manager.

Per an email from Vice Chancellor Alan Rebar’s office, Liston “will work directly with the steering team of Gwen Hazlehurst, Mary Peloquin-Dodd and Mladen Vouk to plan, budget, coordinate and oversee the implementation of the new ERA system.”

Liston brings directly applicable project management experience to the role, as he served as project manager for the university’s large-scale PeopleSoft Student Information System (SIS) initiative.

In order to allow Liston to fully dedicate his time to serving as ERA project manager, Adrian Day, who was recently appointed to the newly created position senior director for research fiscal affairs, will now “act as the lead for Research and Innovation financial activities,” and take on a number of responsibilities previously held by Liston.

New Positions or Roles

As we’ve worked to finalize the implementation timeline and team structures, we’ve also been going through the hiring process for six newly created FTE positions dedicated to supporting the ERA project.

These new hires will join a number of existing employees, like Liston, whose roles will pivot to allow for full-time focus on the ERA project.

“The ERA project is a significant and important investment in NC State’s future and the continued growth of the impactful research done here,” Liston said. “And these ERA-dedicated positions are a critical component of that institutional investment, and an up-front commitment, to help ensure the project’s sustained success.”

Jack Foster, director of Java and Non-credit Systems in Enterprise Applications Services (EAS), is another seasoned NC State employee who will be taking on a new role with new responsibilities — as the ERA IT director.

The six new positions include:

ERA Development Manager

The ERA development manager is one of the three new positions — in addition to the two technical BAs — that will be added to create a six-person EAS unit.

Foster, Hazlehurst and Ron Reed, senior director of Financial and Advancement Systems, will provide senior leadership, oversight and high-level technical support for this unit.

The ERA development manager will “provide technical, functional and managerial leadership,” and “set technical standards and provide guidance and mentoring” for his or her team — consisting of the two technical BAs — specifically, supporting application development and technical assistance to the central offices, while also partnering with cross-campus leadership and serving as the unit’s primary point-of-contact.

As such, Foster said it is important for this person to have research administration experience and be well-versed in the business systems and processes used in this field.

Additionally, the ERA development manager will be a key liaison with the vendor, “as an actively engaged member” of the user community who interacts frequently to “provide feedback, report problems and learn of new functionality.”

However, while the ERA development manager’s differentiating experience level will be vital for making key managerial decisions, among other responsibilities, he or she also may occasionally work in tandem with the technical BAs on their day-to-day tasks, when it makes sense to do so.

Business Analysts

So, what will the technical BAs be doing?

The technical BAs will: aid in the “design, implementation, maintenance, enhancement and operational support” of the system; work with “stakeholders and IT partners” to “design and maintain” ERA system functionality through “business analysis, functional specification development, testing, and subject matter expert training;” and provide first-level troubleshooting and support to system users.

An advanced understanding of research administration-specific business processes and systems will not be absolutely necessary, but the technical BAs will need to be able to combine “functional knowledge” with an understanding of “customer” (ERA system users) requirements to offer solutions in a “practical, timely and efficient manner.”

At this time, it’s important to note that all the BAs will often work closely with one another, as well as with the rest of the ERA-dedicated positions, and eventually, much of their of knowledge and many of their skills may begin to overlap.

But throughout the project — and especially in the early stages — each position’s respective skills and areas of expertise will be expected to complement one another, in order to maximize efficiency.

The implementation process for each module will generally follow these four steps:

  1. InfoEd uses data about current NC State business processes to begin adapting its basic model, which is based on best practices and systems currently in use at other institutions;
  2. Working groups of SMEs and other key leadership/stakeholders evaluate the module and provide feedback, making business decisions for implementation optimal to NC State;
  3. Functional BAs work with technical BAs and InfoEd representatives to make sure the business decisions made are properly represented in the software;
  4. The process repeats until the module is deemed satisfactory.

So, during each module’s implementation process, both the functional and technical BAs will be crucial first-hand liaisons for their respective groups, ensuring that NC State’s specific needs are both properly heard and adequately addressed.

To be clear, the technical BAs will not be responsible for writing the code behind the software, but they will need to become “masters of the tools,” so they can help facilitate changes and become able to provide technical support with increasingly less help from the vendor.

Which means, upon receiving the initial version of InfoEd’s software, the first thing the EAS unit will do is go in and experiment with all of its facets and functions, in order to get a complete understanding of how everything works, Foster said.

“The technical analysts’ job is to take what the customers need and figure out how to get it in the software,” Foster said. “The functional analysts’ job is to listen to the customers and figure out how to tell that to technical analysts so they can get it in the software.”

In other words, the functional analysts’ job is to define the system requirements, and the technical analysts’ job is to work with the vendor and figure out how to “execute” the incorporation of these requirements.

Because they will be working closely with SMEs throughout the research administration lifecycle to define these requirements, the functional BAs — one with expertise in sponsored programs and one with expertise in regulatory compliance (e.g. IRB, IACUC, COI) — will need to come in with first-hand experience in research administration.

The functional BAs’ primary responsibility, during the early stages of each module’s implementation, will be to “coordinate and support” groups of SMEs “tasked with understanding” the ERA software’s default capabilities and “making business decisions” to optimally configure the system for implementation in the NC State campus environment.

“These positions (will be) the linchpin between the subject matter experts — the staff who will be using these systems every day — and the IT professionals, in our own office of information technology and on the vendor side,” said Steering Team Liaison Sherrie Settle, director of Sponsored Programs.

The functional BAs will be able to hear what SMEs in sponsored programs and compliance have to say and “really understand what they’re talking about and what they need,” Settle said. They then will translate these needs into system requirements and communicate them to the technical BAs.

Another important job of this position will be to highlight and document the significant changes the new software brings in comparison to existing NC State processes, primarily for training purposes, according to Settle.

This means the functional BAs will also need a high-level understanding of major business processes and an understanding of system structure and functionality, including a working knowledge of workflows, data structure, user roles and permissions, and reporting tools.

Ultimately, they will need to combine business function expertise with a strong understanding of electronic systems to facilitate decision-making and vendor interactions, working with the technical analysts to make sure user needs are reflected in the final version of the software.

Training Manager

The ERA training manager, as a member of the Research Education and Communication team, will be responsible for creating, coordinating and evaluating the effectiveness of campus-wide training directly related to the ERA system.

First and foremost, the training manager will be responsible for determining the most effective methodology and timing — the “how” and when” — and will also work with a variety of SMEs and work “very closely” with the functional BAs to determine what topics need to be covered, according to Settle.

The training manager will also collaborate with stakeholders in all major campus groups — the Office of Research and Innovation, the Office of Information Technology and the Office of Finance and Administration — to ensure timely communication is reaching the relevant audiences.

Next Steps

The bottom line is that all of these ERA-dedicated positions will possess similar skills and will all share a common goal — ensuring the system’s sustained success by materializing the mission and vision set forth at the project’s outset. We are working to have all of these positions filled as soon as possible, and we are excited to see this group get to work in their respective roles, which are a vital investment in this project.

Stay tuned to this blog for more important ERA updates. We hope to share a high-level implementation plan and an organizational chart with detailed information about ERA project implementation teams in our next post.