PennERA: Electronic Research Administration

Last year, the University launched a project to enhance research and grants administration: PennERA. PennERA is the University's Electronic Research Administration project, an initiative with both long-term and short-term goals designed to meet the evolving needs of Penn's academic research community. The PennERA project has among its goals the development and implementation of integrated, software-enabled solutions to support the research processes at the University of Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the project will implement a "cradle-to-grave" system for research project development, support and management. This effort, however, will require policy improvements, a structured, carefully-planned, well-communicated approach to implementation, and training to be reasonably effective. The goal will be better pre- and post-award grant management, linked to streamlined processes, utilizing best practices and providing researchers and research administrators with more efficient tools for handling administrative tasks related to sponsored projects.

Under the leadership of the Vice Provost for Research, Dr. Neal Nathanson, and the Vice President for Finance, Craig Carnaroli, overall responsibility for the project is shared jointly by Dr. Andrew B. Rudczynski, Associate Vice President of Finance and Executive Director of Research Services and Robin H. Beck, Deputy Vice President of Information Systems and Computing.

Since last fall, the PennERA project team has completed several phases. These included a preliminary review of policies and procedures as they relate to the administration of proposals and grants, followed by an analysis of information gained from surveys and interviews of both faculty investigators and grants administrators throughout the University. A working group was formed with representatives from various schools and offices who are stakeholders in research administration. The role of the Working Group was to describe the current proposal and award administration process, to help identify critical issues, and to identify opportunities for improvement. The results of this work have been the development of the PennERA functional requirements that will form the basis for both technological and process improvements.

In addition to the long-term project, a number of subprojects have been implemented under the PennERA umbrella, with the goal of providing improved service now, including:

  • The Freeze Grant Accounts functionality in the General Ledger system, which went live in October 1999, prevents certain categories of expenses (online Journal Entries, Encumbrance entries, new POs, C-Forms, Feeder Journals and Payroll/Salary Management Journals) from being charged to a sponsored project. The system uses a combination of date-dependent, automated processing as well as business user-initiated transactions to accomplish its work.
  • Penn Protocol Reports, launched in April 2000 as part of BEN Reports, gives investigators and their administrative support personnel the opportunity to view the status of their Human Subjects and Animal research protocol submissions via the web.
  • Grant Reporting and Management System, or GRAM, originally developed by the School of Medicine, was rolled out University-wide in June 2000 and has enabled investigators to view financial records of their grant accounts in an easy to read grant year format, accessible on the web.

In addition, complimentary enhancements to the University's financial system such as the web-based Revenue and Expense Inquiry and the revised Budget Journal Entry form are intended to increase the tools available for reviewing account status and maintaining budget information.

Other subprojects are currently under development and will be available in the next few months. These and other enhancements will continue to be added to improve processes and procedures for grant submission and administration in an effort to assist the research community at Penn.

Current activities for PennERA involve development of a requirements document for submission to external vendors. Since the development of this document is nearly complete, now is the time for feedback on the findings thus far.

In the last several weeks we have been conducting review sessions with various stakeholder groups across campus. If you have not as yet had an opportunity to provide feedback on the requirements findings and would like to do so, please e-mail us at

The Core Team is lead jointly by Todd S. Swavely, Associate Director, Research Services, and Robert W. O'Malley of Information Systems and Computing. Project Management is provided by Marion Campbell of ISC. Your comments, questions and suggestions are encouraged and welcomed and can be sent to

--Andrew B. Rudczynski, Executive Director of Research Services and Associate Vice President of Finance

--Robin H. Beck, Deputy Vice President of Information Systems and Computing

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 19, January 23, 2001