Academic research naturally requires lots of paperwork. Surprisingly though, 41% of form interactions are still carried out on PDF-based forms, according to a 2019 study on the use of forms in research administration. An additional 33% of form interactions are carried out on paper (although, this statistic has likely changed since the pandemic).
Automating those paper and PDF processes can help your institution become more efficient by saving time and money.
Process and workflow automation software, like Kuali Build, can help institutions automate complex processes. Users can build forms and create workflows, integrate them with campus systems, and track progress throughout the workflow, allowing administrators to put their time and effort into more important tasks than tracking down a form or manual data entry.
In this post, we’ll dive into five specific research processes that are often paper-based and how they can be improved with the process automation tool Kuali Build.
The following research processes typically fall outside the scope of the electronic research administration solution. Because of this, they are paper-based and take up significant amounts of time at many institutions. Kuali Build can help your institution with research process automation by streamlining these time-intensive workflows.
Faculty members need to request Principal Investigator (PI) status from their institution to submit a research proposal. The request form includes fields such as the PI candidate’s name, department, college, the title of the project, protocol number, sponsor, start and end dates, and justification for the request.
Once the form is filled, the candidate needs approval. Though each institution has unique processes, the candidate will likely need approval from the department chair, the dean, and the associate provost for research.
After the candidate has obtained the correct approvals, their status will be updated in the research administration system by an administrator.
Depending on each individual’s workload, from the PI candidate to the associate provost for research, the PI status request could take weeks to process from start to finish.
Using Kuali Build’s workflow automation software, institutions can significantly reduce time to completion for this process. For starters, Kuali Build’s integrations with campus systems simplify the first step—filling the form.
Because Kuali Build can integrate with your institution's Single Sign-On solution, electronic research administration solution, and other campus systems, many of the PI request form fields can auto-populate. For example, when the candidate logs in using their SSO and opens the form built in Kuali Build, their name, department, and email address could auto-populate. Then, as the individual enters the title of their research project, their protocol number and sponsor could auto-populate.
Integrations with campus systems make the form filling process easier; however, don’t miss the additional implications. Less manual entry on the form leads to less human error, which then means administrators can spend less time correcting forms and chasing down information.
Auto-population via integrations is one of the many ways Kuali Build can assist in research process automation. Next, see how Kuali Build can help simplify complex forms.
Research projects don’t always meet deadlines, and when that happens, researchers can request a no-fee extension on their grant. The form for this process often includes multiple conditional fields such as the following:
Imagine if conditional fields only appeared as the user indicated they were necessary.
With Kuali Build, you can build conditional logic into the form. By checking one box, a new portion of the form can appear that would otherwise be hidden. Additionally, as mentioned before, many fields on the form can automatically fill when the form filler enters the protocol number of the name of the research project.
Together, these features significantly reduce the complexity of the form and the possibility for error. When the form is filled correctly, administrators spend less time fixing forms. Instead, they can allocate their time to something more impactful.
You’ve seen how Kuali Build can help research process automation by reducing confusion and data entry errors on forms, but what can it do for complex workflows?
An Award Memorandum of Understanding is an agreement between two parties that plan to create a research or educational partnership. It often appears in the paperwork for grant proposals and grant awards.
This process requires a lengthy form, a complex workflow with approvals from multiple departments, and the ability to send documents back to a prior approver when changes are made. When completed on a paper-based form and managed via an email thread, this process is a headache, to say the least.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst struggled to manage this process for awards that include multiple co-principal investigators. This form was so difficult to process because a large number of users could be involved based on the number of principal investigators (PIs) and Co-PIs. Every PI and Co-PI needed to approve the document. If a change was made to the document from the proposal development stage, approvals were needed from the department and college of each PI and Co-PI.
Managed on paper, this process requires significant resources from administrators. Basic PDF-based workflow tools the institution already used didn’t have enough functionality.
UMass Amherst was able to successfully automate the award memorandum of understanding using Kuali Build. Kuali Build allows branching workflows with conditional formatting, key for this process. UMass Amherst could automatically route approvals based on how many PIs and Co-PIs were involved and which departments and colleges they worked for.
With Kuali Build workflow automation software, this complex process requires significantly fewer resources to manage. Next, see how streamlining workflows with Kuali Build can deliver an impressive return on investment.
When a faculty member contributes to sponsored research projects, they may be eligible to receive compensation. They must complete a request for supplemental pay for grant-related work. Sometimes the request can take weeks to process, and the faculty member won’t be paid until the process is complete.
Southern Connecticut State University experienced issues with this process due to paper-based dependencies. After a researcher filled the supplemental pay form, it sometimes took weeks or months to see the results on a paycheck due to lost paperwork, delayed transportation from one desk to another, and manual data entry errors.
SCSU was able to use Kuali Build to streamline the process, leading to a much better experience for researchers. Approvers receive an email notification and with one click, they can approve the supplemental pay form. Additionally, administrators can track the progress of the form to see exactly how long the form has been sitting at any stage of approval.
With Kuali Build, the institution now releases funds within two weeks of form submissions, and the research department saves an estimated $675,000 by reallocating staff time from simple paper processing to actual information management.
We’ve discussed many benefits of Kuali Build, but we saved the best for last. Next, we’ll dig into how long it takes to automate complex processes.
Occasionally, your research department may need to stand up a process quickly. This was the case at most institutions in the summer of 2020. Colleges and universities needed a process to return to campus—and they needed it right away. Each week that passed by was costly for students, research, and the institution as a whole.
Davidson College used Kuali Build to help automate processes to get their campuses back up and running. Davidson was able to scale Kuali Build quickly to stand up a process to track, collect, and leverage COVID-19 testing data. They chose Kuali Build because the solution was easy to use and provided a seamless user experience for students and administrators.
Additionally, as the weeks went by, policies and guidelines around the pandemic changed regularly. Kuali Build provided the flexibility Davidson needed to dynamically respond to those changes.
Read more about how Davidson and two other institutions returned to campus after COVID-19 with Kuali Build.
Kuali Build is a powerful, scalable solution that can help your institution automate forms and workflows in the research department. Learn more about how Kuali Build can help your research department today.