IT Times Spotlight: The Research Services Office IT Team

Posted on Tuesday, January 30th, 2024

“Tom and Andy are extremely valued by all staff in our unit. It’s not just what they do, it’s how they do it. It’s their positive attitudes, their willingness to help and their collaborative approach. It’s just a joy to work with them.” – Jill Rogers, Managing Director, RSO

What is the RSO?

The U of G Research Services Office (RSO) provides services and support to University researchers. They help researchers navigate the many complexities of sponsored research, compliance and risk, including funding grants and proposals, contractual agreements, research ethics and more. Their work aligns with the University of Guelph’s strategic priorities of advancing research funding excellence and integrity.

Who makes up the RSO IT team?

As an IT community, we know that information technology (IT) is integral to the daily work of U of G employees, and RSO staff are no different. The RSO IT team supports RSO staff in their mission to support the complex work of U of G researchers. While they, like many IT staff, operate behind the scenes, their importance to the University's mission is critical.

The RSO IT team is a small but mighty team of two: Tom Crabtree, Analyst III, and Andy Burke, IT Support Specialist. Tom and Andy report to Jill Rogers, Managing Director of Research Operations for the RSO. They also work closely with Tim Frank, CCS Product Manager of Student Information and Research Administration Systems.

We interviewed Jill and Tim about the work of Tom and Andy, and they could not say enough about these valued team members. Below are some examples of their exceptional work, leadership and impact.

Success Stories of the RSO IT Team

*Please note that while the focus below is on the lead role of Tom and/or Andy in these projects, many were cross-functional team efforts that included other RSO members, CCS staff and others. The RSO is grateful for the great collaborations that have enabled these successes.

Project Poppy is a grants and contracts database system for internal use by RSO staff that allows for electronic tracking, searching, managing, updating and reporting on faculty research proposals. This compares with the previous paper-based process that relied on a static Oracle database. Project Poppy was a great team effort between RSO and CCS with Tom having a starring role, skillfully learning .NET programming language to build a reliable and user-friendly system. Poppy has been a win-win in terms of meeting reporting needs and high user satisfaction.

One Place Solutions is an Office 365 plug-in that solved a long-standing problem of exceeding Office 365 mailbox size. The RSO receives a high volume of email with large attachments related to grants, proposals, contracts, etc., and must retain each one for 15 years. The efficient flow and storage of these emails represents a critical RSO business function, one for which failure could not be risked. As they approached peak capacity, Tom moved swiftly, playing a leadership role throughout the process from business case, product discovery, purchase and installation to staff training. One Place Solutions integrates Outlook with SharePoint file storage, a solution that solved their immediate storage crisis.

Andy built Research Alerts when he was a co-op student with the RSO, with Tom as his coach and mentor. Research Alerts – a Drupal 7-based custom-built application – is the key communication tool for the flow of important information from the Office of Research to U of G researchers and research administrators. The tool runs a script created by Andy, which subscribes faculty and postdoctoral fellows each term, who can then customize their alert preferences. It allows subscribers to tailor what they receive (the type of research news they are interested in, e.g., physical sciences and engineering, humanities, health and life sciences, etc.) and how they prefer to receive it (one alert at a time vs. a daily digest). Andy had to learn Drupal and AODA requirements, as well as how to write a project plan and conduct a business needs analysis for the first time, and then develop, build, test and implement the application! It has been a tremendous success with 1,300 subscribers leaving Research Alerts turned on and other institutions very interested in the application.

“Andy’s work was a tremendous accomplishment. With his demonstrated skillset on this project and other initiatives, we’re thrilled he is now a full-time RSO employee.” – Jill Rogers

The COVID pandemic brought about some quick digital implementations, including digital signatures. In the past RSO employed mainly ink signatures, with Adobe signatures serving as a quick fix during COVID. However, with the high volume of signatures on Tri-Agency applications and the critical time sensitivity required, this solution fell short of meeting RSO needs. With Adobe, each document would require downloading, signing, saving and then emailing back with the signed document attached. To remedy this, Tom quickly and skillfully designed a signing application in Gryph Forms that was simple and seamless. The user receives a notification of a required signature, they click accept or decline, add a note if needed, and clicks send.

“It is so slick and simple. Tom heard my business frustrations and just went and created this user-friendly and effective tool. I didn’t even know he was doing it! This speaks to the everyday experience of working with Tom Crabtree.” – Jill Rogers

  • RSO Strategic Roadmap: Tom and Andy are key participants in the RSO Strategic IT Roadmap committee. The group meets quarterly to discuss IT plans and timelines and maps out priorities 2-3 years in advance.
  • RSO IT Help Desk Services: Both Tom and Andy provide rapid, thorough and reliable service to RSO staff to meet their ongoing IT needs. RSO is a Managed Desktops client, which allows Tom and Andy to provide more specialized support to RSO staff.
  • AODA Compliance: Andy has become the go-to resource on web accessibility and ensures all Office of Research websites follow AODA requirements.
  • Compliance with CCS Security Initiatives: The RSO IT team is very proactive in their response and implementation of CCS security initiatives. When business changes are required to meet security needs, Tom and Andy quickly find solutions and ensure the changes are seamless for RSO staff.


Looking ahead, RSO has many more exciting projects underway, including the implementation of a research administration and management system (RAIMS) and the redesign of websites and tools like Research Alerts.

“We remain grateful to have the expertise and dedicated support of Tom and Andy as we continue the journey of realizing RSO’s technological transformation”.
– Jill Rogers and Tim Frank


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