Implementation of Systems to Support the Management of Research: Commentary from a UK University Perspective

By Rutherford, Scott; Langley, David | Journal of Research Administration, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Implementation of Systems to Support the Management of Research: Commentary from a UK University Perspective


Rutherford, Scott, Langley, David, Journal of Research Administration


Introduction

The research sector is rapidly changing as universities pursue academic excellence and develop more complex research strategies to drive their organisation forward. Management of the typical research portfolio of grants and contracts is no longer straightforward, and the systems that underpin administrative processes are becoming increasingly difficult to design and implement. The characteristics of the average research administration system require increasingly complex project management structures and techniques in order to implement, so much so that attaining successful delivery and deriving maximum benefit are significant challenges. This paper reviews key areas of best practice and elucidates methods of deriving benefits from the implementation of new research systems.

Knowledge management is a difficult notion to define; indeed, the definition of "knowledge" itself is often the subject of debate. For the purposes of this paper, "knowledge" is considered to be derived from meaningful information and from the results of making judgements, connections and comparisons. Succinctly, it concerns valuable information and its use placed in a considered context. Knowledge management can be defined in similarly broad terms as the process by which an organisation captures and shares the collective knowledge of its communities. Furthermore, it is important to recognise that knowledge management has a broad and wide-ranging impact upon the organisation, touching people, culture, processes, technology, leadership and governance.

A successful knowledge management strategy should be closely aligned to the organisation strategy, to ensure that benefits are linked to the overall business goal. Close, well-managed relationships between corporate and knowledge management strategies are undoubtedly a powerful tool within an organisation. However, equally as important as recognising what constitutes the framework for a knowledge management strategy is the need to remember that not all information and knowledge is useful in every context. Selecting pertinent information and understanding that not all knowledge is worth knowing can focus strategy and avoid diluting benefits.

For research active organisations, achieving strategic goals and growth within the global economy has more often than not led to increasingly diverse and complex research portfolios. Research grants and contracts are a bigger and more competitive business for universities, bringing an increasingly higher volume of awards to the successful academics and their institutions, requiring increasingly higher levels of research support. However, with greater rewards emerge higher expectations in the form of bigger deliverables and more exacting professional management standards. It is in this context that the research organisation must establish a knowledge management strategy that maximises the benefits of an increasing research portfolio and supports the wider academic strategy.

Research organisations are talent industries that thrive on innovation and creativity. The challenge for universities is to ensure that knowledge management becomes embodied within the academic, management and administrative cultures to encourage fluid transfer of knowledge between people and systems. This paper recognises that knowledge management is concerned with many aspects of an organisation but chooses to focus on information systems and their delivery in a specific context. Information Technology (IT) is a key facilitator of knowledge management and the medium through which valuable information can be stored, shared and managed. Paradoxically, however, IT systems can make knowledge management more challenging. A poor understanding of an organisation's knowledge and IT strategy can lead to systems that pose more challenges than solutions. To avoid this, and to implement a successful system, an organisation should seek to unite the people and knowledge it requires with the types of IT systems it intends to deliver. …

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