Research community engages in testing of new Vanderbilt Electronic Research Administration system

By Jenna Somers and Jane Hirtle

Throughout the past year, the Office of Research, particularly the Sponsored Programs Administration, has partnered with Process and Solution Implementations to lead the transition to the new Vanderbilt Electronic Research Administration system.

Having completed the configuration and iterations phases of the transition, in which the system was customized to fit Vanderbilt’s diverse needs, the team has now progressed to the testing phase. Research administrators and faculty will have the opportunity to test the VERA system during this phase to become familiar with how it works and provide feedback to the SPA and PSI teams on its functioning.

The testing phase involves formal, scripted testing of standard roles and basic system functions, followed by open-ended exploratory testing that allows users to log in to VERA using their unique credentials and test realistic applications of the system that are specific to their individual roles. Research administrators from various schools and colleges and team members from SPA began formal testing in March and advanced to exploratory testing in May. The input users provide as they experiment and learn during testing is used to refine the VERA system as well as develop VERA training and support resources for the research community.

Now that the smaller cohort of research administrators has completed the initial stage of exploratory testing, the implementation team is inviting the broader research administrator and faculty community at Vanderbilt to VERA testing sessions. As more people become involved, the initial cohort of testers will help support new users as they acclimate to VERA.

“Having new groups involved at different milestones is brilliant, as it allows fresh eyes to critically view the process and application and have hands-on experience with the application,” said Brigitta Jozefowski, grants manager in the School of Engineering. “I appreciate the opportunity to be involved with exploratory testing and provide perspective from the school level. The VERA team has done a great job of making sure everyone is represented at the table and that the nuances of each school and department are taken into consideration.”

“I was excited when asked to be a part of the initial testing of VERA,” said Carolyn Fatheree, grants manager in the Peabody Research Office. “Now that we are able to play in the sandbox as ourselves, inputting proposals we have done in the past as practice, it is coming full circle, and my level of comfort in VERA is increasing daily with practice. Change is always hard, but it also can be great. I’m feeling positive for what is to come with the VERA rollout based on my experiences so far.”

Experienced testers like Jozefowski, Fatheree,and others will work with the implementation team to train the rest of the VERA user community in a “train-the-trainer” model. More structured training sessions will blend learning with hands-on practice, enabling users to learn the basics of proposals and agreements and to practice grants administration tasks in VERA with the support of trainers who will answer questions and trouble shoot any problems that may arise. As they gain experience, this tester/trainer community will become VERA experts and serve as key support personnel for other grants administrators in addition to the central support staff within SPA.

“I am switching soon from being a tester to a tester/trainer,” said Sarazen Kokodynsky, grants manager in the College of Arts and Science Office of the Dean. “Users will have the chance to log in and use the VERA system themselves and be supported by a group of us in the trainings so that we can work through any issues and provide support as users learn to maneuver through VERA. I am looking forward to starting this next phase so that everyone can feel confident in using the new system.”

“I appreciated having the opportunity to play and learn in the VERA testing environment prior to the release to the Vanderbilt research community,” said Susan Hotaling, grants manager in the School of Medicine Basic Sciences Research Administration. “Being able to log in as individuals with different roles on the proposal allowed me to understand other users’ actions as well as appreciate the cradle-to-grave capabilities of the new system. I’m confident I’ll be better prepared to assist the rest of my pre-award team as well as the faculty, students and postdocs as we transition to VERA.”

Even more opportunities for the Vanderbilt research administrator community to provide feedback, address questions and concerns, and use and become comfortable with the VERA system are being advanced. For more information, please consult the VERA website as well as the Sponsored Programs Administration’s FAQs, or contact Hilda McMackin, director of research administration systems and reporting, and Laurel Duncan Biqiku, training and policy manager in SPA.