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Applying for grants, filing Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols, and submitting 80-page progress reports to the NIH will never be effortless. But a series of initiatives by Research Administration should alleviate some of the pain in the coming months and years, as new systems are put in place to ultimately replace RASCAL – the current research administration system – throughout our operations.
   Researchers and department administrators who filed NIH grant applications this past February and March are already familiar with the first of these initiatives: the InfoEd Grants Management System that helps researchers develop and electronically submit proposals to the NIH and other research sponsors.
   To date, Columbia has submitted more electronic grant applications to the federal government, system-to-system, than any other university in the country. The decision to implement InfoEd was prompted by the government’s announcement that it would eventually require electronic submission of all funding requests through NIH is first; electronic submissions to all federal agencies will be phased in over the next few years.
   “We expect great benefits for our faculty, and major improvements in the management of our research portfolio by these new technology initiatives getting under way through the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research,” says Steven Shea, M.D., the Hamilton Southworth Professor of Medicine and professor of epidemiology, and vice dean of the faculty of medicine for P&S. “The Research Administration team led by Dan Calto [senior director, Research Administration] did an outstanding job of testing and implementing the software and helping investigators learn to use it. They were there at the grant submission deadline when researchers needed help.”
   To prepare for electronic proposal submissions, Research Administration borrowed ideas from top-notch customer service organizations and designed a comprehensive faculty support model that monitored turnaround time and added staffing during peak periods.
   Training sessions were offered, as was access to a center for troubleshooting help with individual proposals. A new InfoEd Helpdesk was made available via email or a toll-free number.
   “Hundreds of people are involved in research administration at CUMC,” says Mr. Calto. “This is a very complex business. We are raising the bar to provide faculty with the support they need. Every proposal submitted via InfoEd went out on time largely due to the collaboration between faculty and staff.”

More Face-to-Face Communication
A task force of department administrators and Research Administration staff recommended more face-to-face communication between their two groups to better understand faculty needs and available expertise and services. Plans include an e-newsletter to keep administrators current on changes and opportunities at funding agencies and quarterly meetings to foster information-sharing and discussion of key topics, such as restricted funds.
   One of the important priorities that Research Administration will address is setting up accounts quickly and accurately once a grant is awarded. “We want to make it easier for department administrators to support their faculty, so they can meet their own project deadlines without delay,” says Jim Kemp, recently named associate vice president for Research Administration. “When implemented in the next few months, a new account set-up module of InfoEd will help improve award processing. Departments should see a reduction in errors and time to account set-up.”
   In the next few years, other CUMC organizations involved in grants administration, such as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and the Institutional Review Board will shift to InfoEd as well. CUMC also is implementing a clinical trials management IT system.
   “Our goal is to make the research life of our faculty simpler and easier, so that they can concentrate on what they want to do – which is to come up with important scientific contributions,” Mr. Kemp says.

Clinical Trials Go Electronic

Since last August, clinical researchers in the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center have been piloting a clinical trials management system that should save time and money and help CUMC become more of a focus for clinical trials in the future.
   The system – Velos Clinical Trials Management – centralizes all clinical trials activity, from scheduling patient visits to keeping track of data.
   “Clinical trials have been one of the last areas of research to switch to electronic record-keeping,” says Stephen Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics, which is implementing the system jointly with CU’s Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and the Office of Clinical Trials of CUMC and NYP.
   “Computers are generally not used until the end of a trial, largely for data analysis,” Dr. Johnson says. “By going electronic right from the start, we will save time and effort, and improve efficiency. This should help attract more clinical trials to CUMC.”
   Over the next 18 months, Velos will be rolled out to other departments involved in clinical research, until the system is available to the entire campus.