OUHSC Eliminates Complexity with Custom PeopleSoft Solutions

If a single word could be used to describe the rigorous process required to complete, enter, process, review, and approve or reject higher education grant requests, it might be the word “complicated.” A story that Kevin Fitzgerald, Assistant VP for Strategic Initiatives at The University of Oklahoma‘s Health Science Center recently shared with us illustrates just how complex the grant application and approval process really is.

“One of my first jobs for the Oklahoma University Sciences Center was to implement a system that would automate some of the processes used by our Institutional Review Board,” Kevin recalled. “IRB members were literally using grocery store shopping carts to bring the hundreds of pages of required documentation to their review meetings.” Can you imagine? Over the past 15 years, Kevin and his team have worked tirelessly to update and automate much of the grant application process within PeopleSoft. The good news? No more shopping carts! However, during those 15 years they’ve also learned that finding a single partner that could provide better integration of multiple systems was very difficult.

Despite these and other challenges, Kevin and his team recently implemented SoonerTrack II as their authorized system for managing grant proposals. According to the HSC website, “SoonerTrack is an enterprise system designed to facilitate the electronic routing and management of Agreements and Grant proposals.” Sooner Track II is a custom workflow-enabled solution built in PeopleSoft using GT eForms and was developed in partnership with Gideon Taylor, a leader in helping organizations design and implement custom solutions in PeopleSoft and other enterprise-class environments.

OUHSC’s journey from shopping carts to implementing SoonerTrack II is a story of setbacks and dogged persistence. Kevin and his team held to their objective of building a solution that would be more efficient, easier to manage, and reduce or even eliminate costly data entry mistakes. “The tolerance for errors in the grant approval process is of necessity extremely low,” Kevin said. “Before we built SoonerTrack II, we had to work around the limitations of multiple software platforms which often didn’t work well together. These disparate systems decreased transparency and were anything but optimal.”

Another reason a new, integrated tracking solution was so needed was because of the disparate types of data involved in the grant review and approval process. According to Kevin there are at least four types of research data they manage:

  • Financial Data. When requesting funding for a research project, there are very specific rules that must be followed by the sponsor of the project and the requesting institution. This is true both before and after funding has been approved. Every step of this process must be tracked and stored somewhere secure while also being readily accessible by the IRB.
  • Regulatory Review Data. This is the data relating to the various boards and committees that oversee research protocols to ensure they are safe and effective. Because many of these research projects involve human participants, both safety and treatment efficacy are paramount. Kevin shared an example of a member of the IRB who voted against an application because he didn’t believe it was worthwhile even though it had been found to be safe. All the data being tracked for regulatory review must follow precise and rigorous standards.
  • Compliance Data. Not surprisingly, grant proposals are subject to an enormous number of laws, regulations, policies, and enforcement entities, and applicants must ensure that standards are met without exception. This in turn means that every aspect of compliance must be closely tracked throughout the grant request process.
  • Research Data. This is the data gathered during clinical trials, including how patients respond to interventions, which in turn generates significant volumes of data that must be analyzed to discover trends and correlations indicating whether a drug has an acceptable level of efficacy.

One of the exciting innovations that OUHSC and Gideon Taylor developed was much more in-depth reporting and tracking performance. An example of this was the ability to see and report metadata metrics measuring turnaround time for various grant application processes. That provided Kevin and his team with important, actionable insights that enhanced their ability to make any needed adjustments in their method of operations.

SoonerTrack II

Here are some of the key improvements that OUHSC and Gideon Taylor designed in SoonerTrack II. All of these (and many more) were built with two important objectives: A better user experience and improving the results of the grant application process.

  • Gideon Taylor is the leader in building and implementing custom workflow-enabled solutions in PeopleSoft using GT eForms. Gideon Taylor worked closely with OUHSC to create forms that were intuitive, efficient, and accurate. Best of all, creating new forms is self-service. No analysts or developers required!
  • They integrated the pre-award system into PeopleSoft Financial, eliminating data entry duplication and the need to make multiple edits if an award is for a different amount than what was requested.
  • Developed a “robot” that automatically searches an application to ensure that all conflict-of-interest forms have been completed before an application can move forward.
  • Reduced the average turnaround time for a submission from 12 months or more to just a few months or less. Even when accounting for required legal reviews, Kevin affirmed that SoonerTrack II is far more efficient and effective than their previous process. This is especially important, Kevin shared, because “it’s all about bringing in more research dollars, and that has everything to do with the quality of the applications we submit. Becoming more efficient at the very least will enable us to submit more applications than we could before and at a much higher level of quality.”
  • The quality and robustness of the SoonerTrack II’s query functionality has helped OUHSC identify previously unknown grant options that they are just beginning to explore.
  • Because of the very disciplined development process followed by Gideon Taylor, SoonerTrack II was built at a fraction of the cost other vendors would’ve required. “We’ve worked with another group of consultants that also do a great job but who are also quite expensive in comparison to Gideon Taylor,” Kevin added. “GT provided the same experience for us but at a much lower cost.”

Without question, the higher ed grant application and award process remains a very complicated one. But for OUHSC, much of that complexity is now managed by a custom solution built to their exact specifications, resulting in a much better user experience and outcome while significantly reducing the cost and time required to apply for grants.

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