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Vol. LIX, No. 11
June 1, 2007

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Offering 'Many Dividends Over Time'
NIH Business System Enters Key Phase

On the front page...

On June 4, the NIH Business System launches a major new phase. Sure, you've already seen bits and pieces of its new look and new functions-preparing NIH'ers to travel on business changed several years ago, for example. The next NBS rollout- acquisitions, property and even more financial capabilities- is bigger and better. Shortly following will be the debut of nVision, a robust companion reporting system that will provide advanced features and ad hoc capabilities.

In 2000, you first met NBS as the "campus's major unseen construction project." It's grown a lot since then. Now, it's ready for a mega ribbon-cutting.

"Changing major business information sytems is, in my experience, one of the most difficult tasks for any large organization," says NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni. "With its growth and the increasing complexity of science, NIH has entered a new era in which biomedical research and its management have changed in dramatic ways. Modernizing our older systems and the ways we conduct and support research has become a necessity for our agency."


NBS—Way Beyond the ADB

NBS began as a comprehensive strategy to replace the slowly aging “ADB,” or administrative database. ADB, the process NIH’ers use to buy supplies, account for equipment and take official trips, has been around since 1978. Times have changed. The desktop computer concept was barely a twinkle in IBM's eye in 1978. NIH administrative systems had to move into the next century and get up to speed with current federal financial standards.

Its very likely there will be difficulties at the beginning. No system is perfect the first day...This is a challenging task, but when accomplished it will pay many dividends over time.

After exhaustive research, an exploratory team of administrators and scientists concluded that state-of-the-art commercial software was needed to make NIH's administrative infrastructure equal to its scientific stature. Enter NBS, "today's technology for tomorrow's science."

"The ADB is a homegrown system that has served the NIH well for almost 30 years," says Colleen Barros, NIH deputy director for management. "It has been an administrative workhorse, but mainframe computers and COBOL programming are technologically obsolete, cumbersome and expensive to maintain. A world-class biomedical research organization must rely on quantitative data and business intelligence to advance its scientific agenda in the 21st century. The time has come to pass the torch to the next generation of administrative computing systems."

For NBS, NIH has chosen Enterprise Resource Planning software packages. Long-term NBS and nVision goals include:

  • Improving overall administrative information flow
  • Standardizing processes and integrating functions
  • Gaining more reliable data
  • Staying compliant with regulations
  • Allowing greater flexibility in financial reporting.

Since 1999-when NBS planning actually began-hundreds of members of NIH's administrative and scientific communities have dedicated time, in addition to their regular jobs, to participate in developing the new system. Already, the following business functions have successfully moved from ADB to NBS, and from the data warehouse to nVision:

General Ledger. Released October 2001, it now includes supplementary financial management software.

Travel System. Since September 2003, NIH has used state-of the-art technology to prepare, route and sign travel documents electronically.

Supply and replenishment. In February 2007, the system began including warehouse stock orders and warehouse restocking.

What to Expect on June 4

The "mega" expansion on June 4 adds several functions:

  • Acquisitions - Users may see changes in purchase cards, small purchases, station support contracts and research and development contracts.
  • Property
  • More financials
  • New reporting capability will become available within the next few weeks through nVision.

While NBS improves the way NIH manages operations, Barros notes, such a large-scale automation effort will impose significant change on our administrative community.

"We anticipate a 'stabilization period' for the system and the employees," she advises. "During this time, there will be a decline in administrative productivity, such as procurement delays and decreased service levels, as 3,500 new users acclimate to the NBS. Also, software 'bugs' will inevitably surface, so bear with us as our support team works through the issues. nVision presents additional challenges because the new reporting capabilities are different. We ask for your patience and understanding as our employees adapt to the new way of conducting business transactions and reporting."

Leaders Can Ease the Path

IC directors and scientific directors are aware of the transition ahead. Executive officers participated in an NBS/nVision Leadership Forum to discuss the role of leaders during this sea change. "Leadership can reduce the depth and duration of the 'performance dip,'" said forum keynote speaker Michael B. Mann, former program director for a similar change at NASA. "Leaders must personally engage, provide direction and resources, and constantly and consistently focus on system-level benefits."

NIH has conducted a large training effort and provided on-site support to help ICs with individual needs.

"It's very likely there will be difficulties at the beginning," Zerhouni concludes. "No system is perfect the first day, nor is it easy to adapt to a new way of doing things. But NIH'ers are the best at adapting. This is a challenging task, but when accomplished it will pay many dividends over time. Patience is needed in the early going and keeping communication lines open is key."

Support has been established between ICs, the NIH Help Desk and the NBS Management Center. Each IC has identified help points of contact to be the first line of defense for user issues. Contacts have been specially trained for this role, and will have on-going support from the management center after launch. NBS will also be providing on-site support, coaching/lab sessions and user meetings during the next few months to help users adjust to the new system.

If you have questions about the launch or would like to provide feedback, email NBS Change Management,, or the nVision Support Center, NIH Record Icon

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