Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Research Shared Services: A Case Study in Implementation

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Research Shared Services: A Case Study in Implementation

Article excerpt


Over the past few years there has been increasing attention toward the idea of shared services as a model for supporting research administration at research-intensive institutions (Gideon, 2012). As with any type of organization, this model has pros and cons. While there is no one-size-fits-all model for research shared services, this type of organization generally has the following attributes: a level of centralization of services that are traditionally performed by local (school/department) research administration personnel, standardization of these services across the stakeholders served, and a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that guarantees support and level of services provided to customers, which can include a feedback mechanism and metrics to measure the quality of support.

At their core, shared service centers represent a redefined organizational model coupled with the opportunity for process transformation and technology enhancement. There are a variety of different models that can be executed based on the needs of the customers and the goals of the university. Leadership must consider the services that will be provided and determine which model best balances the implementation goals with the potential impact on the stakeholders served (Cluver & Stevens, 2014). While institutions that have this type of organization vary in their approach, there are three primary models for research shared services:

1. Model A: Cradle-to-Grave

- Grants administrators serve as part of teams or pods and are responsible for cradle-to-grave research administration (both pre- and post-award).

2. Model B: Specialization

- Grants administrators serve as part of teams or pods, but are responsible solely for pre- or post-award.

3. Model C: Hybrid

- Grants administrators serve as part of teams or pods, but each team or pod designs their services in their unique fashion--one may have grants administrators responsible for both pre- and post-award, while another may have their administrators specialize.

In the following paper we outline the high-level steps to launch this type of organization at your institution and outline one university's experience--Thomas Jefferson University (TJU)--to illustrate the process and lessons learned from their design and implementation. As institutions begin to consider this type of model for research administration, it is critical they approach it with an eye toward change management, engagement of key stakeholders, and ongoing communication and monitoring post-implementation.

Making the Business Case--Do Research Shared Services Work for Your Institution?

The goal of research shared services is to reorganize transaction-based activities that occur in decentralized units and departments so they become the core services of a new, specialized organization or group. Before implementing, each institution should have a unique business case outlining the opportunity for research shared services. The business case focuses on the unique needs of the Principal Investigators (PI), central units, and the institution at large. It is important to define why research shared services are a good fit for your institution, which elements your model will incorporate, and what results you expect to achieve (Azziz, 2014).

While some institutions may approach shared services as a cost savings measure (as they might finance, IT, or HR shared services), with research, an organization should think about it as an investment. The higher education climate mandates that institutions consider mission over margin when approaching an organizational change such as shared services. Higher education's mission and overarching goals mean that cost efficiency will not always determine operating decisions. For example, the University of New Hampshire's implementation was motivated by the standardization of services, enhancements to training offerings, improving internal controls, and eliminating "shadow systems" (Stony Brook University Senate, 2012). …

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