How Three Institutions Extended the Power of Their eRA with Automation

Electronic research administration systems (eRAs) are powerful solutions. The best eRAs automate processes, support complex workflows, integrate with other key systems, and create a single repository for proposal, award, COI/COC disclosure, protocol, and export control management information.

However, there are inherent elements of research administration that fall outside the scope of an eRA, such as travel requests, memorandums of understanding, no-cost extensions, and other similar processes. 

To meet the needs of researchers, administrators often use the tools available to them: PDFs, Google Forms, and other low-functionality solutions the institution already licenses. When those paper-based management solutions cannot meet functionality needs, administrators turn to IT staff to request a custom form and workflow. Custom processes from IT can come with lengthy timelines and limited agility to adjust if the process is not exactly right. 

This is where  forms and workflow automation software like Kuali Build comes in. Kuali Build allows regular business users to create high-functionality forms and workflow processes without waiting for IT or writing a single line of code. 

In this post, we’ll dive into how research departments at three institutions used Kuali Build to automate processes and extend the power of their eRA.

Automating 20+ Processes at The University of Southern Illinois Edwardsville

Susan Morgan, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, needed a better way to manage about 20 internal funding programs. These programs fell outside the scope of the institution’s eRA, which created a heavy lift for the few staff members in Morgan’s office.

Morgan turned to forms and workflow automation software Kuali Build to reduce the load on her staff. Kuali Build significantly reduced the administrative burden in the following ways:

  • No more lost paperwork because approvals are managed electronically.
  • Administrators spend less time requesting information after a form has been submitted. Administrators can require form fields to be completed and proactively enforce those required fields. When filling paper or PDF forms, submitters often missed required fields. 
  • Administrators don’t need to download, upload, or email forms which means less administrative time is spent on forms management.
  • Administrators don’t have to manually manage “special requests” or department-specific workflows; they can build those requests into the automation. 

With Kuali Build, Morgan’s staff reduced administrative effort on the original 20 internal funding programs. Before those original processes were even completed, Morgan and her team were already so enthusiastic about the new automation capabilities that they began automating other forms as well. They now successfully use Kuali Build throughout their work for both student- and faculty-facing forms.

Obtaining Approvals Within Hours at The University of Massachusetts Amherst

The research department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) had a few difficult processes that could not be automated using one of the tools within their technology stack. The institution decided to give forms and workflow automation software from  Kuali Build a try.

One process, in particular, the Award Memorandum of Understanding, was difficult to manage. The workflow was incredibly complex; based on what was submitted in the form, the workflow could require 600+ approvals. No tool the institution had tried could handle the complexity of this workflow. Administrators reverted to PDFs and email threads. Until they found Kuali Build, that is. Hear what Brad Cohen, Research IT Software and Systems Specialist at UMass Amherst, has to say about finding and implementing Build in the video below.

With Kuali Build, UMass Amherst reduced the weeks to months it took to manage the award memorandum of understanding down to hours or days. Forms automation provided a meaningful lift on the research department’s workload without upgrading the eRA.  

In addition to research processes, Kuali Build also helped UMass Amherst with COVID-related work. UMass Amherst launched processes in Kuali Build in February 2020, just as COVID-19 hit the U.S. UMass Amherst created COVID processes, such as a return to research request, in Kuali Build. By tracking what type of research was conducted and where on campus it occurred, administrators were able to pull the data collected in Kuali Build into Tableau and analyze it to gauge research activity, building capacity, and contact tracing when needed. 

Reducing Workload Threefold at Southern Connecticut State University

Amy Taylor, Director of the Sponsored Programs & Research department at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), wanted to help her department become more focused, strategic, and nimble in their business processes. Her department processed about 2,500 paper forms per year and those forms were often lost or misdirected in transit, causing significant errors and delays. 

In 2019, Taylor searched for ways to expand the power of her institution’s eRA. She looked for forms and workflow automation solutions, specifically seeking software that could help her team automate their paper forms and processes around grant-related work. 

That’s when Taylor came across Kuali Build. She and her team first automated the form and workflow for the supplemental pay for the grant-related work process. When managed on paper, this process could take 3-4 months to complete, which meant delays in payment and a disappointing experience for researchers waiting to be compensated for their work. After automating the process in Kuali Build, the process is completed in days to weeks. Check out the video clip below to hear what it was like to automate this form in Taylor’s own words.

As of March 2021, SCSU has processed 100 grant-related work forms. They have seen a significant improvement in process timelines and have not lost a single form. Additionally, the Sponsored Programs & Research administrators can check a dashboard within Kuali Build that shows the progress of each form. Forms submitters can see the form they submitted, when their payment is expected, and how much they will be paid. This newfound visibility into research processes has been popular among faculty. 

Taylor and SCSU developed over 30 forms in Kuali Build.

“[Kuali Build] extends my time as a research administrator at least 3 fold. In terms of time-savings for my campus... we are saving time every day.” - Amy Taylor

Expand the Power of Your eRA

Using Kuali Build has allowed these three institutions to extend their eRA (and other resources like staff members’ time) to do more. Instead of simple paper management, they can spend time on more impactful work like information and data management. Take a look at forms and workflow automation to see how you can expand the power of your institution’s eRA with Kuali Build.