Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Considering the Human Element of Electronic Research Administration

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Considering the Human Element of Electronic Research Administration

Article excerpt


Electronic Research Administration (ERA) is changing the way we prepare and submit grant proposals and administer awards. As the shift to increased reliance upon technology continues, we must remember that ERA is not simply a technology issue. It is actually a business issue, and the most important asset of any business is its people. As tasks and how they are performed change, we must not overlook the effects that these changes have on the people who must implement them. While we use the technology to do the job, it is still the people who do the work. Technology often promises to make life easier, but in reality it does just the opposite, especially in the short term. Additional work requirements combine with human abilities, needs and emotions to create problems that can diminish the effectiveness of even the best technology. Many personnel issues arise when new technology is introduced, including the fear of change, different staffing needs, the definition of new roles and responsibilities, and new training requirements. We need to remain cognizant of these issues and plan for them in order to take full advantage of the technology available to us.


As rapid advances in technology become commonplace, the way we do business is changing more quickly than ever before. It is not only important that organizations embrace new technology; they must embrace the concept of change as well. Today's technology will probably not last long before newer methods are introduced. Virtually no organization or job is static now.

In research administration, as in many other fields, we must respond to external change while facilitating our own internal change. We must adapt to the electronic systems of sponsors and other agencies and in turn seek ways to make our own internal systems more capable of handling both external needs and the institution's own needs as we attempt to utilize our data better and eliminate redundancy through technology.

In this rapidly changing environment, we need to constantly remind ourselves that technology is only a part of any organization and that people are also part of that organization. Technology aids us in completing our work, but it is generally not the ultimate goal. We need to keep sight of our mission and remember that technology is only one of the components helping us to achieve it.

People are still responsible for designing the technology, as well as operating and entering the data into the technology; consequently, they can make or break the implementation of a system. Successful adoption of technology is not only a function of the system being used and the job to be done. It is also a function of employee perceptions and expectations. As we implement ERA, we must consider that we are dealing with people, too, if we want to succeed.

While implementation of ERA may be relatively new, many other fields have already experienced similar technological change. Our needs will undoubtedly vary in some ways, but we can learn from the experiences of those in manufacturing, retail and libraries, who, among others, have gone this way before us. In some ways, even we ourselves have been here before, as we first introduced word processors and databases into our daily routines.

We should not forget the human element of ERA, and should therefore consider the roles of people in its implementation. This paper concentrates primarily on the experiences of the sponsored research office, but will also touch on the effects on principal investigators (PIs) and departmental staff as well.

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In the early stages of its implementation, technology necessarily increases the workload of an organization. Until the new procedures are learned, most job functions will take longer to perform. We all know this, yet we are still surprised because we expect technology to transform our lives instantly. …

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