Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Understanding Your Opponents

After reading through this article, Competitor Analysis: Understand Your Opponents, I quickly realized that the creation of our Research Administration Support Center took a lot of these factors into consideration.  A lot of this had to be taken into consideration given our department is brand new and we needed to position ourselves as the cutting-edge group to justify our existence.

Although our office, Dean’s Office, isn’t really an opponent with the Engineering Colleges, we still needed to figure out how to stand out to solidify the need for our highly technical office.  Below will explain a few stances we took in order to create a core-competence in the federal research realm.

First, we needed to identify our competition and then figure out how to position ourselves in order to gain momentum from the beginning.  Given we are the central research office for the Engineering College as a whole, our competitors would be the multiple branch departments that all fall under the Engineering umbrella.  The employees in our new office came from the branch colleges, meaning we had some insider information to begin with.  The main thing we all noted is that each department operates in a much different way.  From here, we needed to determine strengths and weaknesses of the departments. 

Given this information, our main goal was to standardize the pre-award process and then roll this out to the branch colleges.  This will help all research administrators in engineering as a whole, and also shine the light on us that we created an intuitive budgeting system that all faculty can understand and become used to.  From there, we hired additional research experts and expanded our department to accept ALL multi-disciplinary proposals.  This increased our workload ten-fold and department research administrators were thankful for our help with proposals from within their department.  What they didn’t realize is, we were all experts and they were helping expose the strengths of our office.  We created relationships with faculty members early on and they all enjoyed their experience.  It also helped that we were awarded a $10M project early on, providing additional praise to our office.

Using this momentum, we then brainstormed to figure out how to further differentiate our services from all of the others.  This list included the following:
1.     We gave presentations to all of the umbrella departments so that the faculty members could put a face to the name – we found this helped in gaining trust early on
2.     Templates for our main sponsors (NSF and NIH)
a.     Reduced the amount of time faculty spent on standard forms
3.     We developed a submission process that gave us additional time to review
a.     This intense review meant more compliant submissions, increasing the money that was flowing into the college
4.     During the review, we would point out some issues that were originating within their originating department
5.     We created a website listing the federal sponsor requests-for-proposals, which all faculty members could use to game-plan future submissions
6.     Repository of files
a.     We created a repository in order to have older files to use in the case a Principle Investigator is traveling and can’t answer emails
                                               i.     This helped us in submitting compliant proposals when we typically would have to submit only what we had, which would be non-compliant and most of the time not reviewed at all.

Using all of these, we differentiated our department and gained the trust of everyone we worked with.  This is evident now in the return customers that want to work with us for the knowledge base we offer as well as the help in review, prior to submission.  I think with all of the positive reviews and research base that’s growing in an increasingly difficult grant funding world, we’ve positioned ourselves as a leader and will be a part of our institution for many years to come.

Nathan Kotecki

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