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Enterprise, Extension Systems
Workshop Prompts New Ways of Thinking for Extramural Community

By Paula J. Mac Lellan

On May 10, the Natcher Conference Center was alive with ideas, vision and learning when more than 500 NIH extramural staff attended the first workshop dedicated to IMPAC II modules and institute and center extension systems. The workshop provided an opportunity for users from all ICs to view demonstrations of existing electronic research administration (eRA) systems as well as those in development for the future.

Dr. John McGowan, eRA project manager, said eRA intends to capitalize on developments in computer technology to dramatically improve the productivity and efficiency of extramural systems. eRA's vision for the 21st century is the paperless transfer of application and administrative data to reduce cost and effort, to speed up operations and to provide better quality information. This initiative is also in compliance with a congressional mandate to migrate from paper-based to electronic systems. At present, the processing of approximately 45,000 biomedical research and training applications each year generates hundreds of millions of pieces of paper.

Participants in the recent eRA workshop included (from l) Dr. John J. McGowan, eRA project manager; Dr. Thorsten Fjellstedt and Jim Cain.

Among the technical innovations introduced at the workshop were e-grants and grant folders, e-progress reports, virtual meetings and web-based review. Portal technology, which by 2003-2004 will enable NIH extramural staff and partners to access all authorized applications from a single, personalized screen, was enthusiastically received. Concurrent with the eRA portal initiative, the Center for Information Technology is developing an NIH "umbrella" portal to provide a standardized web interface to NIH-wide applications.

Under eRA purview, NIH's Office of Extramural Research currently supports the IMPAC II and NIH Commons information systems. IMPAC II is used by NIH staff to process and manage grant application metadata. The NIH Commons, scheduled to be seamlessly integrated with IMPAC II, is the communications vehicle to partners in the extramural research community. To add functions or to satisfy unique requirements, several ICs have developed their own extension systems. The keen interest expressed by users in some of the workshop presentations has led to an active exploration by the eRA project team of incorporating several extension systems (or selected features) into the enterprise IMPAC II system.

The success of the eRA initiative to take NIH's extramural business into the fully electronic age depends on intensive community engagement and collaboration. By introducing users to current and planned capabilities in other modules/extension systems and enabling them to identify useful functions they would like incorporated into their own business modules, the workshop served as a forum for collecting valuable feedback for the development of a system that reflects the needs of the extramural community. Group advocates for each business area, developers and lead system users were all present for one-on-one exchange of questions and ideas.

Organized and chaired by Dr. Thorsten A. Fjellstedt, a member of the eRA project team and deputy director for program operations in the Division of Extramural Research and Training at NIEHS, the workshop promoted wide participation and active involvement in eRA planning. In her concluding remarks, Dr. Wendy Baldwin, NIH deputy director for extramural research, commended Fjellstedt and the rest of the team for being exemplary citizens of NIH. She encouraged workshop participants to help realize the great potential of the project. "Everyone has to be a change agent in his [or her] own institute, office or cubicle."

Video of the workshop plenary sessions may be viewed at http://videocast.nih.gov/PastEvents.asp. To track the progress of workshop outcomes, visit the eRA web site at http://era.nih.gov.


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