Temple Times Online Edition
    NOVEMBER 3, 2005
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eRA@TU to simplify research tracking

The electronic system will facilitate the work associated with grants, proposals and protocols

In an effort to streamline the process of managing research at Temple, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies has unveiled the first phase of a new electronic research administration system called eRA@TU.

“Our goal is to be able to track research in a way that reflects how research is actually conducted,” said Robert W. O’Malley, the eRA@TU project manager.

O’Malley said the new Web-based system will allow the administrative side of research to be managed electronically, beginning with the initial search for grants and funding, to developing and writing a proposal or protocol, having it routed to the appropriate academic and regulatory offices for approval, and eventually submitting the proposal electronically to the funding government agency or sponsor.

The first module to come online, “proposal tracking,” went live in August. This will be followed by human subject and laboratory animal protocol tracking systems, and then proposal and protocol development systems.

All of these systems will be integrated with each other, so the staff in the Institutional Review Boards office will be able to view the proposal associated with the protocol they are reviewing, and the Sponsored Programs office will be able to see all committee approvals and certifications before signing the proposal for submission, according to O’Malley.

Faculty will begin seeing changes this year, O’Malley said. Before year’s end, faculty will begin to receive electronic notifications generated from the new software when protocols are about to expire or awards are ready to close out. In 2006, Temple faculty will be developing their proposals and protocols online, electronically routing them for review and approval and, for sponsors who can support it, submitting them electronically.

Gone will be the days of shepherding a funding proposal around campus for necessary information, approval and signatures. “Just the elimination of the Temple ‘sneaker-net’ will be a big win for our faculty,” O’Malley said.

The move toward an automated system to manage research grew out of a push by the federal government a few years ago to get their funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation to automate their grant and contract administration functions.

In June 2002, Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Kenneth J. Soprano proposed that Temple “begin a planning process which will lead to the identification and adoption of an appropriate, cost-effective electronic research administration system.”

The result is the establishment of eRA@TU.

“The federal government is committed to paperless research, building an interface between research institutions and funding agencies,” O’Malley said. “The government has been pushing research universities to move to systems like eRA@TU. Grants.gov is the federal electronic interface to the research community, and it is finally a concerted effort to put a single face on the interface between researchers and the federal sponsors.”

O’Malley said eRA@TU will also assist Temple in the area of regulatory compliance, where rules governing human subjects, laboratory animals, and environmental health and safety often change and consistent practices are required across the University.

“There are a lot of challenges confronting the University in terms of the regulatory compliance side of research,” he said. “Regulations are changing constantly, especially in areas where human subjects or lab animals are used to aid in research.”

O’Malley said another benefit of eRA@TU is that it will put individual faculty researchers on equal footing with faculty from the University’s larger research centers, which have staff to carry out administrative functions.

“Depending on who you talk to in Temple’s research community, priorities can be totally different,” O’Malley said. “For example, if you talk to the director of a research center, their priority might be making sure everyone has the proper training certifications in areas such as conflict of interest and HIPAA. But if you talk to a junior faculty member who is doing research, his biggest issue might be routing, having to wait in an office for an hour or more to get a signature for a proposal he or she is working on.

“So this system is going to benefit everybody,” he continued. “It’s going to relieve administrative burdens, allowing our faculty to spend more time on their research and less time administratively managing it.

“Most major universities manage research well at the department or even the school level but find it difficult to get a strategic view of the entire research enterprise,” he added. “eRA@TU will enable us to view research at the enterprise level and better manage it strategically as well as operationally. We’ll know better what we are doing, who is doing it and what is in the pipeline, spot trends in our research enterprise and better identify and manage risks.

“We are also working with the University in developing a data warehouse where research data will be integrated with other information,” he said. “Strategic and operational managers will now be able help themselves to relevant data about their individual schools or departments.”

For more information on eRA@TU, visit www.research.temple.edu/era.

- By Preston M. Moretz