Exploring the Future of Technology in Research Administration: Episode 2
Episode two covers considerations for selecting a technology solution and common pitfalls when implementing new technology.
This podcast series shares different perspectives on where the future of technology for research administration is headed. The second episode features Joe Taylor, managing director at Huron, who co-leads Huron’s research administration team in the higher education practice.
Listen to learn how institutions are selecting vendors to provide technology solutions for managing research and common pitfalls institutions should be aware of when implementing new technology.
Read Full Podcast Transcript
Monika: Hi, my name is Monika Vishnubhakat, and I'm a technology manager at Huron. This podcast is the second installment of a series to share the different perspectives of where the future of technology for research administration is headed.
I'm pleased to introduce our guest speaker today, Joe Taylor. Joe is a managing director at Huron's higher education practice and the co-leader for our research administration team. Joe, it is a pleasure to speak with you today.
Joe: Thanks, Monika. This topic around system implementations is really important to me, because I have worked with several institutions who have desired to improve the management of their research administration function with new technology. I have seen both institutions that have had success and those that have failed.
My experience is that the difference between that success and failure is often not that great. With some proper focus on the key success criteria, more institutions could actually meet their improvement goals.
Monika: Awesome. To kick things off, I want to talk about the software selection process. Institutions are doing their best to implement a process that can single out the best solution for the best price. From your experience, could you describe how institutions are selecting vendors to provide technology solutions for managing research, and what recommendations you have?
Joe: Sure. First off, research institutions continue to utilize a variety of methods to select a software vendor. On one hand, some of the institutions go through very detailed selection processes where they analyze the requirements, they do system demos, etc. On the other end of the spectrum, some simply pick a vendor they know or go with the lowest cost bid.
I would offer a few recommendations related to selection that I think would be beneficial to the institutions as they go through the selection process. One, I would not worry so much about whether the system meets their requirements but focus more on how the system meets their requirements.
If you try to score the vendors based on meeting the requirements, you might not see that large of a difference. One vendor might score a 95 percent. The other might score 97 percent. I think the more important issue is how does that system meet the requirements. For example, do you have to enter data onto five different screens? Is the system intuitive to the users? Factors such as that. Obviously, you need to pick a system that meets the requirements but really focus on how it meets them rather than just looking at scoring on a detailed requirements list.
Number two, I used to see institutions spend a lot of time assessing the current state processes and then comparing that current state to the systems that they are looking at. While I understand the reason for this, I think the better approach nowadays is really to match the processes to the identified best practice solution. When you do that, it will lead to less customizations and ultimately lower cost to maintain the system.
Third thing I would offer is to contact the references for the vendors and contact other schools who have implemented the product, even if the vendor did not provide them as references. It seems very simple, but I often hear about clients who really did not take this last step. After you get the feedback, I would also then meet with the vendors and discuss it to give them a chance to explain it and not just make a decision without going back to the vendor.
Monika: Joe, let's talk more about the how, because underestimating how a system is meeting requirements could lead to pitfalls. In general, are there common pitfalls institutions should be aware of when implementing new technology?
Joe: I think there definitely are common pitfalls, and I will share a few of them with you. First of all, I think it is important to note that most research institutions are under a lot of pressure to get things done quickly and to get them done with limited resources. I think that leads to them sometimes making these pitfalls that I will talk about. I am going to talk about four main pitfalls that I see.
The first pitfall would be lack of planning for the implementation. The implementation of any system, research administration included, is a big effort. I think it should be treated as such. Unfortunately, I see some vendors and institutions who seem to think that the system is like TurboTax, where you buy it, you plug it in, and everything is fine. It is really not the reality for any system, and so I think you need to do your proper planning.
Second pitfall, and maybe the one that can lead to the biggest failure in terms of an implementation, is the lack of a realistic timeline with dedicated time for each phase of an implementation. Too many institutions pick an arbitrary go-live date and then work backwards and shortchange different aspects of the implementation, such as training or testing, rather than creating a detailed work plan based on tasks and then adjusting the go-live date based on how long it is going to take you to get through those tasks.
The third pitfall that I see is lack of involvement from the key experts on the campus who are going to have to be the owners of the system when the vendors and the consultants leave. A successful implementation typically splits the effort between the employees and the vendors/consultants.
Then the fourth pitfall is really an inability or a lack of willingness to do things different in terms of your research administration processes, which often leads institutions to try to retrofit a new system to match old processes, which never ends well.
I think the list of potential pitfalls is actually pretty long, Monika, but I think if institutions can avoid these four big ones, typically their chances for success will increase greatly.
Monika: Joe, thanks for sharing your recommendations on selecting technology and what pitfalls to avoid. Thanks to those who have listened to this podcast. You can catch the full series on our website, www.huronconsultinggroup.com.
Joe: Thank you, Monika. I appreciate being included.