To succeed in today’s ultra-competitive research environment, investigators need to identify funding opportunities — and navigate the application and protocols process — faster than ever before. “Our researchers must be able to focus on discovery, not paperwork,” said Richard Marchase, Ph.D., UAB vice president for research and economic development. “That is why we have made a major investment over the past several years in new tools and processes to make that happen.”
One key component in this effort is the Integrated Research Administration Portal (IRAP), Marchase says. This electronic tool uses interconnected software modules to enhance each phase of the research process at UAB, from alerting investigators to new funding opportunities with the SPIN and SMARTS modules, to facilitating transfer agreements on research materials. Many documents can be shared across modules, eliminating the need to fill out redundant forms. Significantly, IRAP’s battery of more than 130 reports gives investigators granular data on the status of their submissions, so they always know where they are in the process. IRAP also allows administrators to improve workflows and procedures by finding and fixing bottlenecks in the system. “We know exactly which desk a proposal is sitting on, and how long it’s taking for that proposal to be processed,” Marchase said.
IRAP has delivered significant reductions in turn-around times for submissions to research administration offices, Marchase says. Between 2014 and 2015, processing time for receiving Material Transfer Agreements in the Material Transfer Office has been reduced 35 percent, or about 17 days. Processing time for initial protocols by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee has dropped 30 percent, an average 20 days, and processing time for industry clinical trial agreements has been reduced 13 percent, or an average 10 days.
|IRAP’s battery of more than 130 reports gives investigators granular data on the status of their submissions, so they always know where they are in the process.|
The IRAP technology itself is only one element of a three-part strategy to improve both efficiency and communication between central administration and individual researchers, Marchase added. “In the course of IRAP implementation, we have taken the opportunity to do a full review on all our processes in order to delete irrelevant or burdensome steps and streamline those processes as much as possible,” he said. The signatures of department chairs are no longer required for material-transfer requests, for example, and routine routing of material-transfer agreements through the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has been discontinued, except in cases of intellectual property or export-control issues.
“We are also working actively with all the research support units to emphasize a customer-service mindset,” Marchase said. “We recognize that delays are serious. All investigators deserve to receive prompt answers to their questions.” There is now a direct link on the OVPRED website that investigators can use to provide feedback on processes and to flag problems, Marchase added.
“We are committed to helping our researchers be as competitive as possible, and IRAP is playing an important role,” says UAB President Ray Watts. A recent strategic institutional investment of $350,000 is accelerating the implementation of additional IRAP software modules, Watts noted. “Easing the burden of paperwork and increasing the efficiency of our processes and procedures will bring dividends in additional funding success — and new discoveries that will transform Alabama and beyond,” he added.
|IRAP has delivered significant reductions in turn-around times for submissions to research administration offices.|
As additional modules come online, the efficiency gains will continue, Marchase said. By the end of 2015, the IACUC Office is expected to implement interactive eForms that display questions based on prior responses and provide links and mouse-overs to explanations, regulatory references and examples. Future modules will support the Institutional Review Board, the Occupational Health and Safety committees and the B.L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.