Wayne State University
A custom-built dashboard at WSU provides faculty and grant administrators with a seamless tool for managing grants and accessing real-time data.
- By Meg Lloyd, David Raths
As a top public research university with annual research expenditures of nearly $254 million, Wayne State University (MI) faced a unique problem: Faculty engaged in research often spent too much time managing and administrating the business aspect of their grants, losing valuable time in their labs.
For years, administrators had heard complaints that university financial systems didn’t support researchers’ work well. “There was dissatisfaction on the part of researchers that they could not get their hands around the information that they needed to administer their grants,” says James Barbret, associate vice president for sponsored program administration. “They would have to enter three or four systems to gather information.”
After a faculty task force identified poor administrative system support as a key issue, WSU’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Computing & Information Technology department partnered to develop a solution: a custom-built dashboard for the university’s research community. The Researcher’s Dashboard seamlessly integrates information from multiple applications, including Coeus research administration system grant software and the university’s SunGard Higher Education Banner ERP system.
Work began on the dashboard in March 2008. Because the university community is comfortable using the SunGard Luminis platform as its central web portal, the system’s developers chose to fully integrate the Researcher’s Dashboard with Luminis.
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SunGard Higher Education: sungardhe.com
“Our Luminis portal is organized by university roles such as employee and student, so we just created a researcher role,” explains David Thompson, the lead systems integrator. “On the main page is a list of proposals that researchers are participating in or projects already funded. This gives them immediate access instead of having to go to multiple applications and search. They can drill down for information on revenues, expenses, and people involved in projects.”
The dashboard integrates with two of Banner Unified Digital Campus’s major systems, Banner Finance and Banner HR, to provide researchers with real-time access to grant finance and personnel data. The dashboard also opens a pathway to Banner’s Document Management Suite, enabling researchers to access paper documents associated with their research activities.
Besides facilitating data search, says Barbret, the dashboard shows information from a researcher’s perspective rather than an administrator’s perspective. For instance, previously researchers would see figures that included indirect costs for overhead, which might give them a false picture of their balances. Now, “In the dashboard, they don’t even see that part of the project, so it gives them a truer picture of their balances,” he explains.
The dashboard also is designed for collaboration across disciplines. Previously, if a chemist and physics researcher worked together, they might have had difficulty sharing departmental information, but now both are able to easily view their joint project.
Software development work for the Researcher’s Dashboard required the team to find new ways to integrate campus systems. “We didn’t have APIs [application programming interfaces] available that met the needs of the project, so we had to create reusable pieces of logic to build our own APIs. That was the difficult part,” says Thompson. “Once we had that framework, we were able to use a rapid application development methodology to create some prototypes.”
The project was rolled out in phases, with modules to help with funded projects finished in November 2008, says project lead Bhavani Koneru, associate director for business applications. The segment that helps researchers with grant applications was completed six months later, she adds, and phase three, which deals with document management, was unveiled in May 2010.
Ultimately, the Researcher’s Dashboard has created a more efficient and productive research enterprise at the university. Researchers benefit from seamless, single-point access to real-time grant information, and perhaps most important, an intuitive interface that requires minimal formal training. Boasts Barbret, “A 15-minute demo is all that’s needed to learn how to navigate the Researcher’s Dashboard.”
Meg Lloyd is a Northern California-based freelance writer.
David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.