Unicode, Not Unicorn
So, admittedly, unicorns might be a strange way to start this topic. But over Memorial Day weekend, all eRA services will be completely shut down (this means both Commons and ASSIST). The systems will be brought down at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 23 and are expected to be restored to service by Tuesday, May 27 at 7 a.m. This downtime is to complete the upgrade of all eRA systems so they are Unicode capable.
What is Unicode? From the most reliable source in the world, Wikipedia: "Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems."
Basically, Unicode is a way that computers can understand all the modern characters of almost all the written languages in the world. This even includes "Elven characters from Lord of the Rings and Klingon characters from Star Trek."
Why is this happening?
- As a result of this upgrade, eRA systems will be able to accept Greek characters as they appear in the original scientific text submitted by grantees. For instance, Greek characters will now appear in progress reports without resulting in garbled text.
- Because Unicode will support Greek and other scientific characters, the attachments in your application can be more accurately assigned for evaluation; reviewers will be able to better understand your goals and objectives; and NIH will be able to better categorize awards for reporting. Note that Grants.gov has not yet adopted Unicode, so until they do so you cannot use Unicode in any of the actual form fields.
- You will be able to submit information in the attachments to your applications in Klingon if you so choose. Not that anyone will be able to read it (except maybe a few of the IT folks). Disclaimer: This is a joke! NIH only accepts applications in English.
While on the surface, this may seem like a simple concept (just allowing for new letters,) the upgrade to handle Unicode is a huge and significant undertaking. Entire database systems are affected; programming code had to be rewritten to handle the way characters are read and stored; processes have been reviewed, tested and reviewed again; and the list goes on.
So while the downtime is significant, it is also critically important. You will want to review the Guide Notices related to this process. NOT-OD-14-070 discusses the adjustment to the May submission dates, and NOT-OD-14-071 reviews the change to Unicode Compatibility.
The ultimate goal of this project is to provide you with better, up to date tools so that you can have more success, or in Klingon: (pronounced kap'la!)
NIH continues its work to address notable trends within the medical research paradigm. One issue that remains important is ensuring the appropriate inclusion of women and minority groups in clinical research.
To that end, eRA is transitioning to a new feature in eRA Commons called the Inclusion Management System (IMS). IMS will replace the existing system used for reporting sex/gender, race, and ethnicity information as required by the NIH Policy on the Inclusion of Women and Minorities in Clinical Research.
In addition to migrating existing inclusion enrollment data, IMS will leverage the structured data that is part of the new inclusion enrollment grant application forms released in September, 2013. (NOT-OD-13-091) As of October 17, 2014, data from the competing applications will be accessible in eRA Commons using this new IMS feature.
If you have not already seen it, read it, used it, or heard about it, there were some pretty significant changes for Financial Conflict Of Interest (FCOI) in eRA Commons this past April.
One of the more blatant "in your face" (or in your cute little kitten face, as the case may be) has been the change from delegations to roles.
Prior to the April release, Commons users with the ASST role could be delegated the authority either to assist with FCOI tasks (FCOI Asst authority) or to view FCOI information (FCOI View authority). With the April release, those delegations are replaced by two new roles: FCOI_ASST and FCOI_View. These roles are assigned to users by the Signing Official (SO).
Now if you had one of the delegations prior to the April release, you may not have noticed a change in what you can see and do in Commons. This is because the clever folks at eRA automatically rolled (excuse the pun) those users into the new roles.
For more information on this topic and all the changes to FCOI, you can see Highlights of eRA Commons' Upcoming Release & Scheduled Downtime for Thursday, April 24 message, Guide Notice NOT-OD-14-081, and the April Release Notes.
So rock the roles, role the dice, role with the punches, keep on rolling... OK, I'm done.