Managing Research Programs the Right Way

In 2016, funding agencies invested over $135 billion in global development projects. The issue is that many, maybe most funding agencies, are unable to accurately account for results and most research program team members (especially those in the fields) don’t have the tools they need to track data, record results, and appropriately report. We, at Piestar, Inc., are striving daily to help solve these issues.

A couple points I want to convey:

1. Dependable and reliable software takes a long time to develop.

If Web development is rushed, it is almost always doomed from the beginning. Web development usually takes longer to design and create than planned or expected. Throwing more money into Web development and hiring more Web developers to hurry Web development has been proven in the software development industry to not be very successful. Further, adopting trial systems, building in-house, and depending on first versions of software systems is typically detrimental. It takes many cycles of testing, reviewing beta systems, and going back to the drawing board before a new feature is added or the system is fully mature. Research data/project management Web systems are typically bound by a grant or research program’s life cycle. Those cycles could be 3 years, 5 years, or even 10 years. The ideal time to begin implementation of a data/project management system is to start as soon as the research program is awarded. Many times, these systems are implemented long after they were already needed, because time, energy, resources, and funding that could have (or should have) gone into developing software to form a dependable and reliable system for data and project management went to managing the labyrinth of bureaucracy, building political support, obtaining funding, etc.

2. Home-grown software development almost always fails or is almost never able to capture the full scope of work for research programs.

Experienced and knowledgeable software development teams are rare, and are typically not found outside the Information Technology industry. In other words, relying on a technical team that is already over-utilized and under-paid within a university or university IT department is usually a recipe for disaster. Those in-house IT teams are usually used by many departments within a university, and can almost never focus on the software development and maintenance of one system. Frankly, in-house (home-grown) software development and/or information technology teams don’t have the experience, time, and resources to dedicate to one data/project management system for a research program. Even the federal government promotes third-party software as a service (SaaS) and cloud-based systems.
See https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42887.pdf (specifically the cost section)

I write about these two points because Piestar, Inc. understands our clients’ needs, their funding limitations, their resource limitations, and the impact and importance of their research and work. We also have a system that is tailored and customized to the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Labs, USDA-NIFA research programs, and NSF EPSCoR jurisdictions. With the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture (from UC Davis) recently adopting the Piestar system, we now serve and support 157 projects in 51 countries.

We know that single-use systems don’t work, or at least don’t work for several research programs with similar objectives as well as compliance rules, regulations, and procedures. Piestar is a SaaS cloud platform designed to efficiently manage research data and projects for the purposes of effective monitoring, evaluation, and reporting of information. We are able to make continual improvements to the system for the overall benefit of many research programs, while also meeting the specific needs of each research program and project with configurable modules and reports. This model is proving to be more cost efficient for our clients, especially when they consider the time and resources they are saving by not continuing to invest in a home-grown system that is only as good as the dedication of in-house IT personnel who are the least busy. The way we look at the cost efficiency of the Piestar system is the more similar research programs we serve and support, the less expensive it is to maintain for us. Therefore, the cost of the system is reduced per client over time.

In writing all of this, my hope is that our clients feel more confident with their decision to adopt Piestar and that we, at Piestar, Inc., are fully dedicated to their success and the success of their research programs.

Ben Kohl
Vice President