Exploring the Future of Technology in Research Administration: Episode 3
Episode three discusses the role technology and data analytics play in making administrative responsibilities more efficient.
Huron’s podcast series invites experts from the research industry to share their perspectives on where the future of research administration is headed. The third episode features Dr. David Wynes, former vice president for research administration at Emory University. He was also a member of the Georgia Bio board of directors and was previously the chair of the board of directors for the Council on Governmental Relations, the chair of the Council on Accreditation for the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Program and a member National Association for Biomedical Research board of directors.
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Monika: Hi, my name is Monika Vishnubhakat, and I'm a technology manager at Huron. Thank you for joining the third episode of our podcast series as we explore the role of technology and the future of research administration.
In today's episode, I am joined by Dr. David Wynes. David Wynes is the former vice president for research administration at Emory University. In this position, he serves as the chief administrative officer and is responsible for the effectiveness and efficiency of infrastructure that supports the research mission of Emory University. Dr. Wynes, thank you for joining me today.
David: It's nice to be here. Thank you.
Monika: In a recent article titled "Engage Research Institutions on Research Regulatory Reform," you and your co-author, Lisa Nichols, shared that academic institutions are responsible for taking on the burden of a large non-reimbursed administrative cost to support research and that if regulatory burden could be decreased, more money could go toward actual science. While the outcomes of federal regulatory reform remain uncertain, what can Emory do now to reduce research administrative burden?
David: I think the first thing you have to recognize and remember is that research administrative burden and costs are not necessarily the same thing, facilities and administrative (F&A) costs in particular. The research administrative burden that we most often talk about are items like IACUC, IRB and conflict of interest. They are really driven by the faculty who are not particularly happy with the extent of the burden associated with those areas.
Those are actually a relatively small component of administrative costs. The largest component would be post-award financial monitoring, and the only way to reduce those costs would be to have less financial accountability with the federal government, and I don't see an appetite for that happening. On the other hand, while we may not see an actual dollar savings, if we could reduce the burden on investigators and their laboratory staff, that provides them with more time to actually spend in the laboratory designing effective research.
Monika: So, we're talking about an increase in productivity?
David: Yes, that would be the hopeful outcome.
Monika: In your vision of making administrative responsibilities more efficient, what role does technology play?
David: Technology is really at the heart of it. You cannot really look at processes and look at efficiency without having metrics, and as I have discussed with several people, you cannot have metrics that take weeks to generate. You have to have metrics that are at your fingertips, on dashboards and other easy-to-generate ways. You cannot do that without information technology. And so, for me, it's extremely critical. I can't go on hearsay. I have to go on the actual data.
The other thing is that the technology helps me in process mapping. You have to process map to have good software and good information technology. You also have to process map to have good administrative processes, and so they really work together in harmony to create a good product.
Monika: With metrics and having the right software to collect that in a timely fashion, what are some of the metrics you care about?
David: I like to look at response times in particular. I like to know when something comes in, how quickly are we responding. I also like to know how many times we respond, because one of my greatest frustrations is that people will have 15 email interactions back and forth and perhaps email was not the best way to do that. If I had metrics to see those kinds of responses, I can see it. If we are negotiating a contract, I can say perhaps we are pushing too hard on terms that we gave up in the end, and I see that we have gone back and forth 10 times. Can we reduce that to four times back and forth by saying these are terms that we can look at in a different way? Is there a different way of doing the business? I think metrics helps you do that.
I would also of course want to know from the beginning to the end of a process how long it takes, but because sometimes we might actually be able to look at it and say can we impact another party? Can we do something to improve the investigators' turnaround time, the company's turnaround time? All of those things come out of metrics, so that is extremely important. Volume is another thing. I need to know the volume of work that was assigned to different individuals. Does that look reasonable? Is there a disparity from one individual to the other? Why is that? Is there something we can do about it?
We could go on all day. There are all kinds of metrics you can look at if you really want to be aggressive in doing so, but you have to have the right technology to do it.
Monika: I want to thank Dr. Wynes for his participation in our podcast today, and thanks to all of those who have listened to this episode.
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