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Major process improvements at Virginia Tech advance speed and success of research proposals

August 8, 2016

Group photo of the finance team at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
The finance team at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute was deeply involved in testing and refining the new Summit proposal development system over the past year. Institute researchers, with support from the finance team, submit more than 200 funding proposals each year. Members of this team include (from left): Laura Hamm, Mary Hodge, Catherine Strickland, Angie Robinson, Ryan Naff, Kellie Ross, and Pascha Gerni.

This August, a much-anticipated new system for the development and internal submission of research proposals is being introduced to faculty and research administrators. The Summit system is a suite of new tools that will improve sponsored research administration at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech built a customized solution for research administration processes. The system, which is called Summit, simplifies the process of initiating a proposal, developing the associated budget, and obtaining needed approvals.

“Our goal is to reduce the administrative burden on faculty by making the entire process easier to manage. By making Summit the central repository of all data, documents, and communication, it is easier to understand what is needed and who is responsible,” said Machelle Hall, senior business process analyst within the Office of Research and Innovation and a member of Virginia Tech’s Comprehensive Research Enterprise Solutions Team  (CREST).­ The team is a collaboration between the Office of Research and Innovation and the Division of Information Technology.

With the new system, routing and approval of all the elements of a proposal are handled online in a paperless format. Along the way, Summit answers common questions and provides support for users as they navigate the process. The system, which has been tested extensively within the Office of Sponsored Programs and with groups of faculty and research administrators over the past year, has been very well-received.

“The CREST team was very open to our recommendations to improve Summit during its pilot phase,” said Pascha Gerni, director of finance at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “The new system is much more efficient, and cuts down on errors and redundancy. We get a 360-degree view of the progress of each proposal, which really helps our team to keep each one of them moving forward.”

Efficient methods to apply for external grants are essential to the achievement of Virginia Tech’s research mission. It is expected that the new system will enable faculty to improve the quality of submitted proposals and shorten the time required to prepare them. Virginia Tech is 39th in the most recent National Science Foundation rankings with $513 million in NSF reported expenditures.

“Given the anticipated benefits, we are excited to be able to deliver this system to the university community,” said Martin Daniel, associate vice president for research operations at Virginia Tech. “The process of obtaining an externally funded research or training grant can be challenging for first-time and experienced principal investigators. Our goal is to create a software environment that is user-friendly and can be adapted to meet future needs as the research enterprise evolves. We feel confident that Summit will meet those objectives.”

To learn more about Summit, check out the videos on the Summit YouTube channel – especially the one titled “Summit Overview.” Overview sessions for departmental staff and faculty are being held at these times:

  • Departmental staff: August 9, 1 p.m.
  • Faculty: August 10, 9:30 a.m.; August 11, 8 a.m.

All sessions will be held in the auditorium at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, located at 1015 Life Science Circle in Blacksburg. These sessions last an hour, and allow time for questions at the end. These overview meetings will be recorded for later viewing, and added to the YouTube channel.

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