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The Maze of Building or Buying an ERA System. More questions than you can shake a stick at. Defining the problem. Computers and networks are now used to store, transmit and manage proposals and grants (duh!).

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the maze of building or buying an era system

The Maze of Building or Buying an ERA System

More questions than you can shake a stick at

defining the problem
Defining the problem
  • Computers and networks are now used to store, transmit and manage proposals and grants (duh!).
  • The total number of problems involved in using computers for the above purpose has increased, not decreased.
  • Computer applications and hardware require increasingly educated specialists to create, install and maintain them.
where are we headed
Where are we headed?
  • Pre Award
    • Proposal Clearance – Electronic Routing
      • System – to – System
      • Adobe Acrobat
    • Other funding sources
  • Post Award
    • Increased frequency and severity of audits
  • Both Sides
    • Management and reporting
let s build a system let s buy a system
Let’s build a system!Let’s buy a system!

Do we build or do we buy?

Do we buy or do we build?

There is no right answer,

and the answer today will

change over time


We have to buy

You will appear to be a visionary if you build in one era and buy in the next

Five Years Later

We have to build

where is the mandate coming from
Where is the mandate coming from?
  • From above ?
    • Concern with institutional performance
    • Directly linked to funding and FTE changes
  • From your SRO staff?
    • Are you churning thru staff?
    • Overworked & concerned about web based systems?
  • From your PI’s
    • Do they perceive problems with your Pre or Post Award activities?
  • From your Grant Administrators?
    • Do your departments have sufficient staff with access to the information they need to manage proposals and awards?
  • From your Business Office?
    • Are there problems getting contracts signed? Purchases made? Payments executed?
1 st analysis
1st: Analysis

How are we handling things now?

What do we do?

  • Roles we play
    • Proposal Preparation?
    • Reporting?
    • Auditing?

What is our institutional culture?

Pre-Award, Post-Award, Both?

How do we currently get technical support?

2 nd options constraints




2nd: Options & Constraints

Build or Buy

  • How am I handling it now?
  • What’s my volume?
    • How many proposals, how many awards, what else?
  • Start over or enhance an existing system
    • Who should help me answer this question?
3 rd technical support

Computing Dept



3rd: Technical Support


Home Grown

Dept IT Professional

External IT Professional

End User Computer Support

Network Support

Application Support


4 th something to move the electrons about
4th: Something to move the electrons about



Dept Based Servers

Computing Center Servers

Vender Based Servers

  • Where will the information be hosted?
  • How will it be accessed?
  • Who is responsible for it’s integrity?
our decision trees
Our Decision Trees





Home Grown

Department IT Professional

External IT Professional






Dept Based Servers

Computing Center Servers

Vender Based Servers


support 1 3
Support (1/3)
  • Home Grown
    • Advantages
      • Person knows your business
      • Personal familiarity
    • Disadvantages
      • Person may not have skills to develop complex system
      • Multi-tasking will dilute effort
support 2 3
Support (2/3)
  • Department IT Professional
    • Wildcard
      • The candidate you hire may not be the person who winds up working for you
    • Advantages
      • Depending on the skill level requested, person may have sufficient skills to plan, design and implement systems
      • New thoughts, new perspective
    • Disadvantages
      • Does not know your business or language
      • Break in period
      • May want an occasional holiday, vacation or sick leave; requires occasional care and feeding

(Jolt Cola & Twinkies)

support 3 3
Support (3/3)
  • Institutional Support
    • Dedicated or shared
    • Staff or students
  • Independent Contract
    • Network Management
    • Application Design
  • Vendor Support
    • Hardware and network support for their applications
support what should you expect
Support – What should you expect?

Phase One: Design a web based proposal preparation, submission and award management system.

Time: 6 minutes

support questions to look at
Support – Questions to look at
  • What do you need done?
    • Network Management
      • Server (web/e-mail/database) administrator
      • Workstation setup and maintenance, user assistance
    • Application Development
      • Start fresh
      • Integrate or expand existing systems
      • Maintain a purchased vendor system
    • Both

Evaluate the communication skills of the people you are considering.

Can you understand them? Can they understand you?

support questions to look at1
Support – Questions to look at
  • Based on the duties you expect to be performed, what level of education, expertise and skills do you require?
  • How much should you pay?
  • How many positions do we need?
  • Resources for assistance:
    • Your institution’s computing department
    • Other local businesses that employ IT professionals
hardware where will your information be hosted
Hardware - Where will your information be hosted?
  • What methods of access to your information are required?
    • Web
    • Desktop
    • Paper Reports
    • Do you need secure access?
  • Who will be responsible for the integrity of the data?
    • And yes, you do have to anticipate having computer problems
hardware options


Dept Based Servers

Computing Dept Servers

Vender Based Solutions

Hardware Options

Low cost ($$$ - $1,$$$)

Low volume access

LAN access at best, Uploading to sponsor web servers easily

Easy access to raw data in different formats

Moderate Cost ($3-4,$$$)

IT Personnel STRONGLY recommended

Moderate traffic, web is a reality

Moderately easy access to (read only) raw data

High cost, but it may be ‘funny money’ ($$,$$$)

Lack of control, service issues

High volume access

Difficult to modify

Can you get access to the raw data so you can run your own reports or use spreadsheets to analyze?

Moderate to High Cost ($$,$$$ - $$$,$$$)

High volume access

Modifications may be worse than tooth extraction without anesthesia*

Can you get access to the raw data so you can run your own reports or use spreadsheets to analyze?

build buy or both
Build, Buy or Both?
  • NCURA has been presenting a build or buy experience session at conferences for more than the last decade
    • The sessions feature either an institution that built, or one that bought. Some featured vendors, others developers
    • Boxing gloves were optional
build buy or both1
Build, Buy or Both?
  • There is no one right answer
    • Neither is cheap
      • Build – continuous expense
      • Buy – high upfront, somewhat lower ongoing
    • If Buying
      • Solicit advice from those who have purchased before
      • Include S-2-S modifications in your contract
      • How close is the vendors solution to the way you do business today or are you willing to change your way of doing business to accommodate the software?
      • Gap Analysis – Can the system be modified to your method of business?
    • If Building
      • Are you patient and prepared to make mistakes?
      • Get a long term vision together before starting
    • Both?
      • If you have a developer, consider buying the framework of a system with the source code, then modify it for your institution
ever changing grants gov
Ever Changing
  • Three Two Options
    • PureEdge (phased out)
    • Adobe Acrobat (now supports V10 & X)
    • System to System
      • Vendor System
        • Requires $$$,$$$ up front and $$,$$$ maintenance
        • May requires IT support for maintenance and customizations
      • Home Grown System
        • Requires Application Developers, SRO Time + $$$,$$$
        • publishes assistance on web site