You’re Speaking a Foreign Language to Me! Deciphering eRA Terminology
Contributed by Helen Burgess, Jessica Burnette, Gwen Hazlehurst, Brian Thomas, Marley Thrasher
We’re a few months into our large-scale eRA project and have been throwing around some terminology those of us close to the project understand… but as with many terms and acronyms, we haven’t slowed down yet to make sure you understand them too. So, this post is going to take us back to some basics – making sense of what we’ve been saying – and making sure you understand what in the world we’re talking about!
eRA Project: The eRA (electronic research administration) project is a University wide project to replace the custom-built systems we currently use for submission, receipt, processing, review, award, monitoring and reporting of research contracts and grants at NC State. Two of the systems being replaced with vendor software are:
- PINS: the current system NC State uses to submit, process, and award contracts and grants, and
- RADAR: the current system NC State uses to track data and report information about contracts and grants.
Research Administration Life-cycle (or Life-cycle of the Award): When we use the term life-cycle, we are referring to a process from the time a researcher has an idea and looks for funding through to the end of a project (or closeout). The image to the right provides a picture of what the life-cycle looks like and the bullets below provide insight into the processes involved – including the important role compliance (e.g. regulatory compliance, fiscal compliance) plays throughout the life-cycle.
- Pre-Award: steps include finding funding, proposal development, proposal review and approval, negotiation, proposal submission
- Post-Award: steps include notice of award, award start-up, award management, award closeout
Grants Management Software (or Grants Management System or Research Administration Software): As we all know, keeping track of a project throughout its life-cycle can be a difficult task and involve a large number of applications, people, requirements and payments. Grants management software makes these tasks and processes more efficient, effective and transparent by providing a program or application that helps universities automate items such as award documentation, budgets and compliance. Systems can also provide templates and data to make reporting and tracking more readily accessible and efficient. Our eRA project aims to find and implement one of these systems to meet NC State needs.¹
Stakeholders: Stakeholders are the people and groups who are the most invested in our project. For our project, these groups include those not only financially responsible for the system but also those who will be using it most: principal investigators, department heads, compliance staff, research administrators, central office staff, and many others. Stakeholders are the people we will be asking to provide input on how you want the system to work, to assess vendors who might be suitable and to test the system as we start implementing. The image to the right provides an idea of who some of our key stakeholders are.
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs): Our use of the acronym SME does not mean “statement of mutual expectation” as it does among other circles on campus. When we say “SME,” we are referring to a person or group who is an authority or expert in a specific area, topic or particular job. As you’ll see in the image to the right, our SMEs for this project include a wide range of people and groups who will be interacting with the the new eRA system in some way. SMEs differ from stakeholders in expertise; stakeholders may not be experts in specific topics like SMEs, but are just as invested due to their role and how they might interact with the system.
Request for Proposal (RFP): Early next year, we’ll be asking vendors who develop and support research administration software to respond to a Request For Proposal (RFP) released by NC State. The RFP will outline the system requirements – or what we’d like the system to do.
Requirements (or System Requirements): In its simplest form, a system requirement is a condition or capability needed by a user of the system to solve a problem or achieve an objective. Requirements specify the outcomes needed from the system, not the methods by which the system achieves them. They define the problems to be solved, not the solutions for solving them. Defining the system requirements for a vendor-supplied eRA system is a crucial step in choosing the best system, laying the foundation for the RFP and aiding in selection of the best solution from the RFP responses. You can find more information about system requirements in the eRA Requirements Primer.
Focus Groups: Stakeholders and SMEs will be asked to provide input on system requirements via focus groups. These targeted conversations are designed to gather input on how a new system can help you better manage research at NC State. Each of these sessions will be focused on specific aspects of the research administration life-cycle and will target specific SMEs and/or stakeholders. (Sign up information will be shared as focus groups are scheduled.) During these sessions, we might ask you questions like:
- What do our current systems do well?
- What would you change about our current systems?
- What will allow you to better collaborate on research projects?
- What would create efficiencies for you?
Note: Even though we’re not replacing the current post award systems at this time (TEARS, PRM, PI Portal, etc.), we’ll need to define how the new eRA system can interface with them so there will be sessions to discuss those as well (processes).
Requirements Gathering/Gathering Feedback: Focus groups (see above) are being used to gather and define requirements. The core activity of these sessions will be to have participants break into small groups to discuss the features/functionality that they would like to see in the new system. This is the activity of requirements gathering/capturing feedback. A facilitator and table leads will guide discussions, encouraging collaborative interaction where opinions can be shared and multiple scribes will be making sure we get everything written down to include in the RFP!
Timeline: The eRA Project Charter was adopted in July 2016 and we are now progressing through a four-phase timeline with implementation of the new system slated for 2018. Throughout all phases, we will be communicating frequently as progress is made and reaching out to you for additional input. You can find more information in the timeline section of the website.
- Phase One: Define Requirements
- Focus: outlining necessary requirements of the new system
- Actions: mapping processes, surveying stakeholders and SMEs, assessing best practices, outlining requirements
- Phase Two: Prepare for Implementation
- Focus: finalizing a contract and beginning implementation
- Actions: developing, issuing and awarding the RFP
- Phase Three: Implementation and Training
- Focus: rolling out the system for use
- Actions: performing fit-gap, testing, developing systems and integration, adapting business practices, training
- Phase Four: Adjustments and Stabilization
- Focus: assessing the system and ensuring stability
- Actions: fixing problems, continuing training
We hope this glossary has helped you understand our project a little better. As we move forward, we may find a need to create a page specifically dedicated to terminology and phrases used in the project. We’d love to hear about other terms you’d like us to define – feel free to leave those in the comments. Until next time…