Academic journal article SRA Journal

Web-Based Support of Research Administration - One Size Does Not Fit All: Three Lessons Learned

Academic journal article SRA Journal

Web-Based Support of Research Administration - One Size Does Not Fit All: Three Lessons Learned

Article excerpt


Research administrators are confronting a new order. It is the World Wide Web (now known simply as "the web"), and its promises are legion. Web mantras are repeated thousands of times a day: "We're putting it on the web," "I'll look for it on the web," and "Check it out on our web site." The web is on everyone's lips and is being hailed as the definitive solution to all of our business, information management, promotion, and sales problems. The web may well be the universal panacea; however, the rapid rate at which it has permeated our business and social cultures is unsettling because the long-term implications (and unintended consequences) of its use are unknown.

The web was proposed as recently as 1989 and was first used commercially in 1994. Now, only five years after this commercial introduction, it has become commonplace in our world. Five years ago we survived very nicely without it, and today it seems our survival depends upon its effective use.

Rapid change characterizes almost everything associated with the web. The hardware and software technologies created to support and exploit the web are evolving at an incredibly fast pace. User applications are constantly being updated, and this process of change (both evolutionary and revolutionary) is similar to what more traditional computer applications go through, only it happens a lot faster.

If we compare the web to a rising ocean tide, those of us who interact with the web (and who doesn't?), can respond to the web like a person on a beach. We can (a) do nothing and drown, (b) move inshore out of harm's way, or (c) get in a boat and take advantage of the power of the tide. We advocate the last option, but with the caveat that one ought to take the time to design and build a boat suited to the local environment and one's immediate and projected needs. (Remember Noah!)

For the web to support research administration, web-based applications must be designed, developed, deployed, and maintained. Successful applications must take into account three factors:

1) The emerging needs of the customer.

2) The results of an assessment of available and applicable technologies.

3) The organizational changes required for a successful deployment.

Any one of these factors can cause evolutionary change, but the coincidence of all three creates an environment that fosters revolutionary change.

This paper summarizes the process associated with developing three web-based applications at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). These applications serve the institution's research administrators, the community of researchers, and sometimes both. Each of the applications provides a specific service. The three applications are:

* OSPweb - This Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) application provides research administrators working in Penn State's colleges and independent units with access to proposal, award, and contract data on a near-real-time basis. It also supports the activities of Penn State's development groups, including the Office of Development (Corporate and Foundation Relations) and the Industrial Research Office which identifies and facilitates industrial sponsored research.

* The Research Administration Tool Box - This application provides research administrators with a comprehensive reference to university and sponsor policies, procedures, regulations, guidelines, and forms.

* The Financial Information Tool - This application was implemented to provide faculty and their administrative support personnel access to near-real-time financial status of their projects.

The history of the development of each of these applications is presented in the following sections of this paper followed by some concluding remarks and a discussion of lessons learned.


In the early 1990s, the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) at Penn State deployed a PC network and migrated its sponsored programs database to the network. …

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