It is clear that a great deal of time could be saved in the research offices if the information emanating from the funding bodies and subscription services such as Refund were available as Web pages for all to view. However, there are some problems with this approach. The first is that the research administration and academics alike are used to being given the information rather than having to go and look for it. Provision of the information on the Web implies a significant change in culture which may prove difficult to achieve. It is possible that if an information provider changes from distributing their information via electronic mail or by post to displaying it on a Web page, that they may need to advertise that new information has been posted in order to get the intended recipients used to looking for information rather than waiting for it to be given to them.
Some of the services which collate information are subscription services and as such should only be available to those that have paid. Before such services can be made available via the Web, there needs to be a method of ensuring that only those sites that have subscribed are able to view the information; those who have not should be able to see a page giving details of the information available and how to subscribe.
The use of the Web need not just be one way. Many of the funding bodies have standard forms for applications for funding; these could be mounted as a Web page for research offices to complete. The supporting paper could then be sent on either by electronic mail. However, when making an application detailed costings of the proposed research project have to be submitted. These should be verified by the research office and in many cases additional verification of the application by senior University Personnel is required. Therefore, whilst it may be possible to allow downloading of the appropriate forms by any individual, it is not permissible to allow applications to be submitted from anyone; the application must be received from a verified source.
Finally, if details of the successful applications were held on the Web, it would be a small step to attach any papers resulting from the research to be held in the same place as the original application and thus build up database of research papers. However, before this can be achieved there is a need for papers published in this way to be refereed ensuring that the publications are of a sufficient quality.
One area where the Web may be of use is the publication of annual accounts. Every organisation has to publish its accounts and often a considerable amount of money is spent producing and distributing them. Publication on the Web could reduce that cost considerably, although there would probably still be a need for printed copy.
Another area where the Web could be of use is fault reporting. There are always likely to be problems with items of software as big as the MAC suite. The need to maintain a full list of reported problems and their solution is important as not all sites are running the most recent version. The list of problems is extensive and it is not easy to search through in order to see if the problem a site has just found is a new fault or one that has already been reported. Again, the organisation of this data into sections for each form would assist searching and so help prevent such duplication. The Web could also be used as an alternative mechanism for reporting faults.
The Web offers the ability to hold meetings across the network. Separate pages would be available for each item on the agenda with each participant being able to view the comments made already and to add their own comments. Voting could take place on a separate page with the participant clicking on an appropriate box to indicate their response. However, there is a certain amount of setting up that is required before such a meeting can take place and this will need to be reasonably easy for an administrator to achieve if the Web is to be used in this way. There will need to be easy to set security before the meeting could begin as it is unlikely that the facilitator would want anyone other than the participants to contribute or even see the discussions taking place. The tools for this are not yet available to the author's knowledge.
It is important to establish friendly mechanisms to access the information on the Web. Any browser must be easy to use and it is desirable to have simple access to key information, either by gathering it all in one place as the JANET User Group for Administrators have done, or through refined searching where perhaps searching on any given term returns a limited subset of the information available on the network. Use of the Web by administration departments will be limited if it is difficult for users to spot items of interest if keyword searches return a large number of largely irrelevant items.
Similarly, there must also be easy mechanisms for loading information onto the Web. Forms based input may assist here but there is the need for wordprocessor to HTML convertors for a large and diverse range of word processors. Institutions computing services must also be prepared to assist in locating information in the local Web structure.
There is a need to ensure that secure information can only be accessed across the Web by those who have permission to see it, particularly with private meetings and subscription services such as Refund, and there needs to be a simple mechanism to allow administrators to set up their own sections and set appropriate security and restrictions.
In order to make effective use of the Web, there needs to be a change of culture - administrators will need to start seeking information rather than waiting to be given it. However, above all, the benefits of the Web need to be demonstrated and sold to key administrators before there will be any major take up.