A new ERA in Princeton research administration

Thursday, Nov 19, 2020
by Becki Johnston for the Office of Research and Project Administration

Princeton’s research community transitions smoothly to new electronic research administration system: Princeton ERA

When Princeton ERA — the successor to the University’s 20-year old legacy sponsored-research proposal and award database, Coeus — launched in August, there was both a euphoric sense of achievement and a collective sigh of relief within the project team. Since 2018, the Princeton ERA project team has been aiming not just to replace the system, but to engage Princeton’s community of research administrators to ensure that the new system eases the daily work experience.  

Princeton researchers and research administrators now have a state-of-the-art proposal-development, submission and agreement-management software package that reduces the administrative burden on faculty and staff, enhances reporting and operational intelligence to support improved decision-making, and ensures Princeton remains compliant in all its research activities. The initiative to streamline the sponsored-research work environment stems from specific recommendations from the University’s Taskforce on Administrative Workload in Research.

Positive response from users

Kari Eisenberger, assistant finance manager in the Department of Geosciences, said the training classes, guides and tools helped her rapidly step into the role as her department’s back-up grants manager and immediately begin helping faculty principal investigators (PIs) submit proposals for research funding.

“I suddenly found myself responsible for submitting two new proposals within a 10-day period,” said Eisenberger, who found the Princeton ERA system’s Copy Budget feature especially useful for evaluating different financial scenarios. “The PIs figured out how to complete their assurances electronically, too. While I was stressed about the submission timeline and using a new system, using Princeton ERA was easy!”

In fact, the mood and reaction to the new system has been overwhelmingly positive from across the research community. Feedback from users indicates the system is intuitive and straightforward to use, even with limited training.

“It was easy to use the system-to-system functionality in Princeton ERA, without even taking the budget class,” said Vesna Bacic, grants manager in the Department of Molecular Biology. “I had no problem submitting the grant and found this new tool far easier to use than ASSIST. I wholeheartedly recommend it!”

Training classes, how-to videos, and user guides available

Since launching the system, the Princeton ERA team has delivered numerous instructor-led classes, including many live courses focused on proposals, budgets, cost-sharing, system-to-system (S2S) submissions of National Institutes of Health proposals, proposal approval, agreements, and Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) reporting in eight different departmental cohorts. Comprehensive guides on developing proposals and budgets, as well as quick guides on attachments, multi-pronged proposal submissions, and the ancillary review process are all available on the Princeton ERA webpage.

In response to the user community’s request for self-guided instruction, the team has also created a suite of how-to videos.

“I’m in awe of the campus-wide acceptance of and enthusiasm for Princeton ERA, especially during such a challenging time for folks, professionally and personally,” said Elizabeth Adams, director of ORPA and sponsor of the Princeton ERA project. “Princeton has such a skilled and committed research administration community. The project team has been motivated throughout this project by the goal of providing technology that lifts up the work of the community.”

Tracking user feedback to improve platform and processes

As with any new software or system rollout, the project team knew there would be issues to iron out, post-go-live, and they have been using the ServiceNow platform to track these issues. The Support Ticket Summary from Aug. 31 to Oct. 23, 2020, shows that issues are rapidly resolved and that few new support tickets are being issued.

bar chart

Support Ticket Summary from Aug. 31 to Oct. 23, 2020.

“One thing we are encouraging the research community to do is put their feedback in writing, either through the ServiceNow portal, or by submitting their comments by email to erasupport@princeton.edu,” Adams said. “We encourage people to contact their grants and contracts administrators with questions, too, but these interactions are harder for us to track. If people take a moment to drop us a line to the project email address, we are more effectively able to follow up on the specifics of that situation as well as see where users are having issues generally — and we may then refine our system guides and training materials accordingly.”

What’s next?

While some on the project team are now shifting back into their former roles within ORPA, others remain focused on supporting Princeton ERA in its first months of operation, continuing to build user manuals and refine business processes. The team has a running list of post-go-live system and process improvements, compiled from user data, system feedback, training evaluations, help-desk queries and direct feedback from the user community.

User feedback is also helping the Princeton ERA project team, project champions and steering committee evaluate a possible second phase for Princeton ERA, focused on award-stage and nonfinancial post-award management activities. The timeline below outlines Princeton ERA initiatives in the planning stage, including a system upgrade and the assessment to determine whether to pursue a Phase 2. As part of this assessment, the project team will explore the Huron platform’s award-stage functionality in relation to current state systems and processes and consider other areas for improvement.

Timeline of next steps

If you have questions or comments about Princeton ERA, email erasupport@princeton.edu. Learn more at orpa-era.princeton.edu.

Editor's note: A corrected version of this article was published on Nov. 23, 2020.