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Transform Research Administration

Emory’s goal is to remain true to our mission as a top tier, dynamic research institution that supports faculty in their research endeavors.  To do so, we must improve researcher support services, maintain high compliance standards, eliminate unneeded complexity, and foster a culture geared toward continuous improvement.

In order to pursue this goal BPI was charged with managing a project to Transform Research Administration. The first phase of this project resulted in identifying major areas for improvement and making specific recommendations for action. (Click here for more information about the Phase 1 project). For more information about the implementation phases of the Transform Research Administration Project, please see the Emory RAS website.  

Emory’s goal is to remain true to our mission as a top tier, dynamic research institution that supports faculty in their research endeavors.  To do so, we must improve researcher support services, maintain high compliance standards, eliminate unneeded complexity, and foster a culture geared toward continuous improvement.

Five areas were prioritized initially and other areas of focus will be added as time and resources allow:

1. Compass Grants Enhancements

Initial Scope: The PeopleSoft (Compass) grants module, which was customized and implemented in 2009, causes frustration among staff. The complex and idiosyncratic nature of the PeopleSoft Grants Module can, at times, make processes more complicated and require an extra amount of work to perform research administration functions.

Update:  Strategic enhancements to the Compass Grants Module have been identified and prioritized. These will ensure that functions are easier to use. Workflow for proposal routing in EPEX has been revised to streamline the process.   

2. Design and Pilot Research Administration Services (RAS Units) 

Initial Scope: Resolve inconsistent levels of research administration support to principal investigators and in some departments/units, limited back-up of research administration resources. Identify and resolve incomplete or undefined roles in the division of responsibility and fragmentation that cause inconsistent processes and duplication.

Update: Developed operational plans for research administration service (RAS) units. Launched two RAS Pilot Units in April 2013: at Rollins School of Public Health (RAS - Public Health) and across select departments in the School of Medicine (RAS – Cancer & Imaging). RAS units provide localized high-quality research administration support to principal investigators through the use of standard operating procedures and job aids. RAS Staff members were mapped to new formal RAS job titles through a well-defined transition process with a clear pathway for advancement and training to accompany the focused development of RAS staff. Beyond the initial development, two additional units have launched as formal RAS units, RAS - Medicine in January 2014 and RAS - Pediatrics in May 2014.

3. Federal Contracts Specialty Team

Initial Scope:  Determine improvements in the administration of Federal contracts. These are complex and idiosyncratic. Inefficient management of contracts can cause delays, place the university at risk of violating compliance regulations, and strain relationships with sponsors.

Future Possibilities: As an extension of the Design and Pilot Research Administration Services Project, create a specialized RAS Unit or interconnections between contract specialists in existing RAS Units to ensure consistent and thorough contract management.

4. Redesign the Final FFR Process

Initial Scope: Reduce the frustration across campus and at OGCA with the process of developing final Federal Financial Reports (FFRs) (also referred to as final financial report or final invoice). The gathering of data, understanding roles & responsibilities, inconsistent communication formats and last minute work to deliver on time to sponsor were all identified as major impediments to efficient production of the FFRs.

Update: Designed and implemented a reporting tool and standard process for the Final FFR (or Final Invoice) process. The new Award Reconciliation and Review Tool (ARRT) is designed to streamline the financial reporting process and is available to central, departmental, and RAS research administrator's across campus. The new Projects & Awards Closeout Tool (PACT) streamlines the verification of accounts prior to final invoicing. For more information including training, please visit the Office of Grants and Contracts' webpage.

5. Strategic Training Adjustments

Initial Scope: Improve on the high variability in the knowledge and competencies of research administration staff at all levels and all units across the university. There are defined needs for an overarching strategy for learning and education for research administration (across the multiple offices, schools, and departments involved in training and education).

Update: Identified additional research administration learning and education resource(s) to set strategy and coordinate training by hiring Debbie Longo, who works in Emory's Learning and Organizational Development Office. Under Debbie's leadership, the team have revised the curriculum and developed an onboarding training program for staff who transition into the RAS unit.

These five initiatives are supported by the Office of Research Administration, the Office of Finance, and Emory’s Business Practice Improvement. Further improvements in the design and operation of Research Administration Services (RAS Units) are now managed and lead by the RAS Central Operations and the AVP of RAS, Kathleen Bienkowski.