Saving Lives with Great Research Requires a Research Tech Rethink

July 1, 2020

Contributed Commentary by Matt McLellan

July 1, 2020 | Scientific research is critical for addressing the needs and concerns of the public during a crisis situation. Researchers are working hard to provide the evidence needed for fact-based decisions addressing everything from developing new vaccines, to ensuring existing treatments are being used to their best advantage. Now, more than ever, the time and funding allocated for these projects must be used to their fullest extent. Yet, as research organizations around the globe work vigorously to understand COVID-19 and develop a potential vaccine, inefficient research infrastructure systems are highlighting challenges at every step of the research project: finding and securing funding, gaining internal and sponsor approvals, managing the research project, ensuring proper compliance in studies and in spending—then closing out the project, and publishing the results in a way that provides the most value. There is an urgent and pervasive need to modernize research systems and these processes.

According to recent stats, researchers on average are spending 44% of their time on paperwork and administrative tasks instead of actually performing research. A large contributor to this inefficiency is due to homegrown or outdated legacy systems which are disconnected and require significant manual efforts across all stakeholders: funders, administrators and researchers. Not only do these inefficient systems lead to wasted time and potentially wasted award funding, they can leave institutions exposed to financial, ethical and institutional policy compliance risks. The errors caused by these manual processes have increasingly become an administrative burden, affirmed by a majority of respondents to a recent survey of more than 11,000 researchers involved in U.S. federally funded projects.

This doesn’t come as a surprise. As many institutions are moving faster than usual and are now remote due to measures put in place to reduce the spread of the virus, it’s becoming increasingly clear that manually managing research systems, projects and processes is not working. Many of the piecemeal technologies that organizations have in place make it too hard to find and get grants submitted on time, to ensure the right approvals are captured at the right time, to drive compliance to myriad regulations, to track what’s been spent or project what will be spent, and are often disconnected from the organization’s ERP system.

The good news is that institutions do have an opportunity to address these solvable challenges. By utilizing a modern research technology infrastructure, they can reduce administrative burdens and improve the oversight of funding related not only to COVID-19, but all areas across their current research organization.  

Although the research administrator’s hierarchy of needs—minimizing risk, maximizing efficiency, optimizing planning and enhancing data management—have not shifted much over the past decade, the ability for modern cloud solutions to holistically impact these challenges, while integrating into other key internal systems has.

The good news is that research technology infrastructure continues to advance at a rapid pace. The bad news is that over the past four months there has been a dramatic increase in negative impact potential for institutions that have not yet invested in modernizing their research administration systems. With teams working remotely, now more than ever, institutions need to ensure their systems are highly accessible, user friendly and can easily integrate across the workflows  while improving compliance with new regulations, enhancing collaboration, and increasing effectiveness. By creating an end-to-end virtual hub for an institution’s research portfolio, institutions can enhance collaboration among often siloed departments and functions. For example, within this hub team members have real-time visibility into project and spending status, which allows investigators and administrators the ability to gather accurate, up-to-date answers at any time without having to interrupt the finance team. Also, researchers can route approvals for various grants without having to rely on in-person meetings, phone calls or internal emails. Instead the solution tracks it all and alerts the right people, at the right time.

As research groups across the globe race against time to focus their efforts on understanding COVID-19 and developing a potential vaccine, it’s more critical than ever for research administration systems to effectively support these efforts. Like many industries and organizations, the effects of the coronavirus will alter processes and procedures as researchers and administrators embrace solutions to assist with making projections and addressing what-if-scenarios to assist with visualizing the potential impact of spending. By improving research administration systems and supporting infrastructure to assist with end-to-end processes, researchers will be able to spend more time focusing on carrying out the actual science of projects and less on administration processes and paperwork.  

Matt McLellan is a leader in EdTech and Research Systems with more than 20 years of experience focused on SaaS solutions that ease administrative burden and simplify complex processes. He brings significant software development, product strategy, sales, marketing, operations, M&A and leadership skills to his role as President and CEO of Cayuse. Matt oversees the company’s business and growth strategy, with an emphasis on meeting customer and market needs by delivering industry-leading SaaS solutions. He can be reached at