By Matt McLellan, CEO Cayuse and Thomas Piechota, VP of Research, Chapman University

As research groups work vigorously to continue to understand COVID-19 and develop a potential vaccine, inefficient research administration systems can lead to costly delays in securing and managing funding and allowing researchers to focus on what is important — the technical aspects of the research. During a pandemic, time is precious and enabling researchers to move faster can mean saving lives. To compound this, scientists are losing valuable time due to ineffective protocol management systems and collaborative tools, as well as an inability to monitor the allocation of resources.

To start, effectively managing the research study plan (AKA protocol) as part of an institutional review board (IRB) process can prevent costly delays in getting research efforts off the ground and moving. As IRBs have the authority to approve, disapprove, monitor, and require modifications in all research activity per federal and institutional policy, organizational integrity depends on efficient protocol processes that ensure research is ethical. When systems are manual or outdated, this limits visibility into protocol status and can create more questions than answers — creating a black box of sorts.

“Lack of transparency into all phases of protocol was a major source of frustration among our faculty – especially after submitting a proposal and waiting blindly for status updates,” said Thomas Piechota, VP of Research at Chapman University. “Before making improvements to the IRB process (i.e., changes to IRB committee, changes in office processes and implementation of electronic systems), only 30% of our researchers were satisfied with the IRB process. We’re now at an 85% satisfaction rate and our administrators, researchers and committee members are enjoying a far more streamlined collaboration process.”

Although many institutions have recognized the need to modernize their research infrastructure, the measures implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing and remote work, have accelerated this process. Like many industries and organizations in the U.S., research organizations found themselves operating under new standards in March 2020, having to depend on technology even more for collaboration and system integrations to manage and share project data. For some institutions, the immediate pivot to working entirely virtual was simplified due to past modernization investments into electronic research administration platforms like Cayuse. The right technology in place helps organizations adapt processes more quickly.

“Utilizing various electronic systems already in place during the work-from-home transition, the Chapman research team was able to seamlessly begin working remotely and allow IT support for critical teaching,” said Piechota. “Routing approvals for various grants are progressing as usual without relying on in-person meetings, phone calls, and internal emails, as the virtual hub for research administration is tracking it all and alerting the right people at the right time.”

By modernizing research infrastructure with cloud platforms such as Cayuse, institutions can also improve the use and oversight of funding related to COVID-19, as many institutions are moving faster than usual and may be unintentionally missing critical processes or reporting steps. According to a recent survey focusing on the administrative burden of more than 11,000 researchers involved in U.S. federally funded projects, the most common burden was monitoring project finances, cited by over 93% of respondents. This is due to the fact that many of the piecemeal solutions organizations have in place cannot easily track what’s been spent or project what will be spent, while also being completely disconnected from the organization’s ERP system. This leads to shadow tracking spreadsheets being used, which can result in overspending or underspending, and inaccurate costs due to the increased risk of errors and duplicate paperwork.

“During these never-before-seen conditions, all higher education research institutions are having to examine and scrutinize their finances with the possibility of cost restraints in the short term,” said Piechota. “That said, Chapman University’s priority is supporting students and seeking additional funding for research via new funding opportunities — we now have electronic solutions to accomplish this.”

Like many industries and organizations during these uncertain times, the effects of the coronavirus will alter processes and procedures as researchers embrace solutions to assist with improving efficiency and transparency to plan and manage projects. As institutions look to modernize systems, technology infrastructure needs to be highly accessible, improve protocol management and pave a clear path to ensure the proper use of funding.

About the authors

Matt McLellan is a leader in EdTech and Research Systems with more than 20 years of experience focused on SaaS solutions that ease administrative burden and simplify complex processes. He brings significant software development, product strategy, sales, marketing, operations, M&A and leadership skills to his role as President and CEO of Cayuse. McLellan oversees the company’s business and growth strategy, with an emphasis on meeting customer and market needs by delivering industry-leading SaaS solutions.

Thomas C. Piechota, Ph.D., PE is the first VP for Research at Chapman University since September 1, 2016. Previously, he held the position of VP for Research and Economic Development at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Piechota has been recognized for his efforts in teaching, research and as an administrator where he has helped advance the research enterprise through increases in research funding, outside partnerships and entrepreneurial activities.

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