What is the process for selecting and implementing a new single electronic research administration system to replace Coeus and PEER at Vanderbilt University?
Vanderbilt University faculty are prolific researchers: Each year, our faculty collectively submit around 2,200 funding proposals to external sponsors and receive around 1,000 grants and contracts. The Office of the Vice Provost for Research currently supports two electronic research administration (ERA) systems, Coeus and PEER. These 20+ year-old systems support proposal submission and non-financial award set-up (Coeus) and contract and subaward negotiation (PEER). To facilitate the pre-award operations necessary to manage VU’s outgoing proposals and incoming grants and contracts, reduce administrative burdens, and streamline the outdated workflows of these aging systems, we’re seeking to replace Coeus and PEER with a single, cloud-based, comprehensive pre-award system to support research administration. To be clear, this replacement is for VU only and VUMC will continue to use their instances of Coeus and PEER.
In anticipation of this effort and to ensure reliable, continued support for Coeus and PEER, we have separated their operations from the new ERA system selection and implementation. Making the right ERA selection for Vanderbilt and implementing it will take time. Throughout that entire process, Coeus and PEER will continue to function with our full support.
The Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR), in partnership with Process and Solution Implementations (PSI), is leading the replacement effort. Within OVPR, our main lead on this project is Hilda McMackin, the Director of Research Administration Systems and Reporting. Hilda is a Vanderbilt Ph.D. with over 10 years of experience in research. She has worked as a research administrator within various schools and has been deeply involved in all stages of proposal preparation, submission, and award management with multiple funding agencies. We have been engaging closely with faculty and staff from across the university at every point in the process. Thanks to you, we have made excellent progress:
To select the new ERA system, we published a request for proposals and 4 vendors responded with bids. The bids were evaluated based on an extensive list of functional and technical requirements and a virtual demonstration to a group of research administrators from across the university. Based on this first round of evaluations, two vendors were selected as finalists, Huron and InfoEd.
Then it was time to bring the vendors to you, our research community, for your review and input. We started by inviting Huron and InfoEd to campus in September 2019 to demonstrate their systems. Each vendor gave two on-campus demonstrations that were open to all faculty and staff and attended by 55 members of Vanderbilt’s research community. In addition to these demonstrations, we also gathered together advisory groups of key faculty and research administrator stakeholders who use or interact with ERA systems in their daily lives to get their input and guidance. Each vendor met with these stakeholder groups including the Leadership Advisory Committee overseeing the replacement project, 14 central administrators from Sponsored Programs Administration (SPA) and the Office of Contract and Grant Accounting (OCGA), and 11 members of the information technology community from Vanderbilt University Information Technology (VUIT), Planning and Institutional Effectiveness (PIE), and PSI. After each demo, stakeholders like you shared comments and ideas in feedback surveys and in-person meetings.
After reviewing this feedback, we knew that we needed more than just a demo before we could make such an important choice as a community. At this point in the process, we’d been listening to the car dealers talk up their models, but it was time to get behind the wheel and see for ourselves. Hilda worked with the two vendors to share a sandbox testing environment for each system. Using these sandbox environments, Vanderbilt users could explore the systems on their own and test their functionality first-hand. A total of 50 participants tested out the two software systems by creating a similar proposal in both systems, either independently or in group sessions with in-person guidance. The sandbox environments are still available, and multiple users have now tested them out for upwards of 10 hours. As with the vendor demos, we’ve gathered feedback through surveys and in-person meetings with sandbox users and our stakeholder groups.
In addition to consulting with our internal research community as a key part of the selection process, Hilda and many of the other stakeholders involved in this effort also consulted with our research university peers. We reached out to a total of 15 peer institutions who are using Huron or InfoEd currently to hear not only about the functionality of each vendor’s system but also the implementation process. From these references, we evaluated the track record of each vendor’s implementation process as well as the pros and cons of using each software system.
We analyzed the evaluation feedback from the demonstrations and sandboxing and the references from peer institutions, and shared the results with the advisory bodies responsible for providing guidance during the selection and implementation: the Leadership Advisory Committee; Research Administration Working Group; and Vanderbilt University Research Council (see the ERA Transition Website for a full list of members of these groups). We also gave detailed presentations of the selection process and results to the Council of Academic Deans, the Academic Affairs Application Oversight Committee, the G2 VUIT executive oversight group, the Faculty Senate Academic Policies and Services Committee, the full Faculty Senate, and several schools and colleges.
When we first began thinking about transitioning from Coeus and PEER to a new ERA system, we knew with Vanderbilt’s 24/7 research enterprise and the constant imperatives around proposals that implementation would be key. After engaging with all of you, there is no doubt that this is crucial to all of us – whichever system is selected, a smooth implementation is paramount.
With that in mind, we’re planning a phased implementation that is expected to take between 14-16 months and will have a phased approach rather than a single go-live date. This approach will allow us to build in plenty of time for testing and training to ensure a smooth transition to the new system, which will be completed by July 2021. The implementation timeline is depicted below. As you can see, we are now in the selection phase of the project and hope to launch the implementation by the end of March 2020.
Thank you to the Faculty Senate, the Council of Academic Deans, the Vanderbilt University Research Council, the Research Administration Working Group, and all the other stakeholders and community members who have contributed so much to the selection process! We look forward to continuing to work with all of you throughout implementation. We’ll be reaching out regularly and often to seek and respond to your input and feedback, as well as provide updates, engagement opportunities, and support tools. In the end, like anything worth doing, the key to this effort is people, not technology – our Vanderbilt people, our community. While knowing that there may be a few bumps along the way as there are with any change, together, we can achieve the smooth implementation we all desire and agree is so vital to the success of our research mission.
For additional information please visit the ERA system transition website at https://research.vanderbilt.edu/about/veratransition/.
You are also more than welcome to reach out with any comments or questions to Hilda McMackin at email@example.com or 615-875-2716, or to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or 615-322-6155. We look forward to engaging with you!
Vice Provost for Research
Professor of Computer Science and Computer Engineering