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Electronic Research Administration (eRA) System | The Pulse

By SRAI News posted 02-07-2019 12:00 AM



Authored by: Zoya Davis-Hamilton, Associate Vice Provost for Research Administration and Development & Sarah Marina, Assistant Director for Research Administration and Development, Tufts University

For this issue of the Pulse, we wanted to learn more about how institutions are using their electronic research administration systems, whether the use of the systems is mandatory, and who conducts training on their use. We will continue to periodically check the “pulse” of research administration community on various topics. Look for the next column in the SRAI Catalyst in the coming months.

An Electronic Research Administration System (eRA system) provides a way to electronically conduct research administration processes and transactions. Using an eRA system has several benefits: it eliminates paper, helps automate compliance with rules and regulations, and enables reporting and analysis. For this issue of the Pulse, we were interested in learning more about how institutions are using their electronic research administration systems, whether the use of the systems is mandatory, and who conducts training on their use. This anonymous survey was distributed to the subscribers of the RESADM-L listserv.

The survey was open between December 3rd and December 15th, 2018 and collected 103 responses. It is possible that more than one response came from some of the institutions represented by the survey participants. Below, we describe what we learned from our colleagues.

Availability of eRA system(s)

The majority of the survey participants (61% or 63 respondents) came from institutions that are mature users of the eRA systems, meaning that they have had them in place for five or more years. Twelve percent have used their eRA system(s) between two and five years, and 7% - for less than two years. This indicates that overall uptake of eRA systems is high, with 80% of respondents institutions currently using a system.

Those who do not use an eRA system (18% or 19 respondents) and those who were not sure if they do (2% or 2 respondents) were directed to the end of the survey and did not answer the remaining questions. This reduced the number of responses to follow up questions to 82.


Does your institution use an eRA system?


Utility of eRA systems

Survey participants reported that their institutions use eRA for a variety of tasks. These include proposal routing and approval (77% of responses), submission of proposals (66%), reporting and analysis (59%), compliance monitoring (48%), award notifications (43%), and budget development (32%). Other uses that were noted included tracking of negotiations and industry-sponsored contracts, tracking of outgoing subawards, communications with PIs and with sponsors, and interface with the financial system. One respondent noted that their institution has “one system for routing proposals, award notices, and reporting, another for compliance, and a third for proposal submission.” It is likely that multiple systems are deployed for handling separate tasks in more than one of the surveyed institutions. While the amount of tasks eRA systems can assist with is impressive, probable lack of a comprehensive system may lead to system integration issues and confusion at some institutions.

This question allowed for multiple responses. Therefore it was possible to calculate both percents of overall use for specific tasks and percent of institutions that used some kind of eRA system for each task (see table below).

We use our eRA system for the following (check all that apply):


*Total exceeds 100% due to rounding

Is the use of the system required?

The use of the eRA system is required in all but one of the institutions of the survey participants. However, only in 56% of the institutions, the paperwork is not processed outside of the system in certain cases. The remaining institutions require the system use yet process the paperwork that is not in the system. An interesting follow-up question would be to learn what limits these institutions place on non-system submissions and if their approach has changed over time.


Most institutions appear to rely on central users to provide formal (37%) and informal (49%) training. In addition, 27% of institutions assigned a trainer/training unit, and 36% have online training available. However users in central and in departments provide training to their respective users at 37% of the institutions. While we don’t know whether this training is instead of or in addition to other types of available training, it may indicate that more training resources are needed in this area. Alarmingly, 10% of the survey respondents reported that no training is available on the use of the eRA system(s) at their institution. It is possible that the institutions included in this number have multiple systems and no training is available only for some of them. We hope that those are less complicated systems and their correct use may be easily intuited.



Most institutions that responded to our survey are now using eRA systems. What they do with those systems, how many systems comprise an eRA, and how they train their users continues to vary. As complexities in research administration continue to grow, we anticipate that these systems and how we use them will continue to develop.

We will continue to periodically check the “pulse” of research administrators on various topics.

If you have any topics or questions that you want to see addressed in The Pulse in the future, please let us know. Send feedback, ideas, questions, and inquiries to Sarah Marina at