Last month I wrote about a new working group spanning the Office of Research (OoR) and UGA’s Facilities Management Division that will address a range of infrastructure and communication issues that affect our research enterprise. This month I am pleased to introduce to you a unit within OoR that is hard at work making improvements to the information technology resources upon which we all rely in our research programs.
The Office of Information Technology (OIT) team , led by Director Gary Rachel, often flies under the radar. However, the team members work to produce critical OoR administrative applications and to integrate OoR data with other critical campus systems, including:
- Grants Portal: This is the online system used for the institutional management of grants proposals and grant awards/modifications. This system handles all required approval processes electronically and provides process transparency to faculty and unit staff. The Grants Portal electronically communicates project details and budget information to UGA’s Financial Management System (see below), significantly reducing the award setup time once sponsored funding is received.
- PeopleSoft Financial Management System: UGA’s Financial Management System is built with PeopleSoft software and is part of OneSource, an ongoing UGA initiative to integrate business, HR and other processes into a single seamless interface. The Financial Management System is used for institutional financial accounting, including grants financial accounting.
- Institutional Review Board (IRB) Portal: This system is used for the management and approval of human subjects protocols (i.e., for research concerning living individuals). All protocol operations are completed online, including initial review, requests for clarifications, IRB committee processing and approved protocol modification and closeout. The use of this type of system results in a process that is highly compliant, transparent to faculty and staff, more efficient, and less time-consuming. We’ve received several suggestions on how this portal could be improved and are exploring improvement options.
- Office of Institutional Research (OIR) Warehouse: This centralized data repository is managed by the EITS Office of Institutional Research. The warehouse stores data that is generated or reported from across the institution and allows a consistent data set for a variety of purposes, including reports, dashboards, graphs and benchmarking for research proposals.
The OoR Office of Information Technology currently comprises eight staff members:
- Michelle Muiruri, Jon Thibodeau and team lead Derrick Bray make up the end user and devices team. This team is focused on assisting end users of OoR applications and software with day-to-day operations, expanding application capabilities, and ensuring devices are properly managed and secure.
- Trevor Sellers and team lead Jonathan Pruitt make up the backend systems team, which works to ensure all research applications managed by the OoR are served securely without interruption, and to maintain the foundational services used by the other teams, such as data storage and backup.
- Keythe Gentry, Charlie Hall and team lead Kevin Ralphs make up the application team, which maintains existing OoR applications (such as the grants portal) and works to develop new applications as needed.
The team works closely with UGA’s Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS), Information Security and college/school IT units. I thought it would be helpful to share examples of the efforts of Gary and his team that have made a significant and positive impact on the efficiency of UGA research operations.
Grants Portal/PeopleSoft integration: All of us want our sponsored research awards to be processed and managed efficiently. At an institution as large as UGA, this requires a grants portal that can automate a significant portion of the setup process in PeopleSoft, easing the burden not just on faculty but for unit business teams as well. Our OIT continues to expand this functionality while making the system more user-friendly and resilient. The feedback many of you have provided is allowing us to prioritize and make much needed improvements; please continue to provide your thoughts.
End-user support: OIT provides support to a wide variety of units within the Office of Research, including administrative offices, research integrity and safety offices, centers, institutes, and core facilities, many of which are staffed by personnel with appointments in academic units. Recent enhancements to the end-user support processes include the adoption of a more streamlined ticketing process and improved remote help capabilities. When a user needs any type of IT assistance, they can submit a request for help here. The help request (a “ticket”) will be acknowledged and handled quickly, often within minutes, via our remote support process. Gary focuses on providing continuing education for his team so they can provide the best support possible.
Application enhancement: The OIT team works to improve research-specific applications. One ongoing area of improvement is to UGA’s IRB Portal, including better data displays and simplified form entry. Currently the OIT team is planning new applications to streamline submission, approval and archiving of biosafety and chemical safety plans.
OIR Warehouse access: The EITS Office of Institutional Research is working on adding proposal submission and award data (dollar amounts, sponsor, key dates and personnel, etc.) to its data warehouse. Meanwhile our OIT team is working to expand the data available to the warehouse by providing additional research-relevant data families, including compliance. The goal is to enable units to evaluate their activities in these areas without having to make special requests for data.
System monitoring: Wouldn’t it be great if, when one of your devices fails to function normally, tech support proactively reached out to you? The OIT team is working to enhance its device monitoring to do exactly this, providing automatic notifications when a desktop, laptop or tablet is experiencing performance issues, and enabling its technicians to provide a proactive resolution to the user. On the back end, they’re also expanding application and system resiliency (i.e., avoiding unexpected system failures), incorporating multiple redundancies to every component, to ensure users have access to the resources they need whenever they need them.
Information technology is one of those areas where, when things are working smoothly, few people notice. In fact, that’s the point: we expect things to simply work. But, in an era of significant technological change, it takes continuous effort by teams of dedicated professionals to keep everything running smoothly.
A big thank you to Gary and team for the hard work of OIT in supporting our research efforts! If you have questions or suggestions for our OIT group, please send them to Gary at email@example.com and/or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research