Integrative Research Support Platform

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The drive to optimize operational efficiency

“At the start of the pandemic lockdown, when almost no one was allowed on-site, we made full use of the opportunity to conduct online continuous improvement training in collaboration with the Excellence in Breeding platform of CGIAR. We innovated and pushed through and managed to solve several service issues including creating land preparation packages that are more inclusive to the needs of researchers, developing a program improving the land soil health, and facilitating discussions between IRRI’s Finance Department and laboratories to improve their service provisions
and recoveries.“

Dr. Sharifah Shahrul Rabiah Syed Alwee

Platform Leader

Integrative Research Support Platform

As the IRSP lead, my main task is to ensure the platform delivers research support effectively and efficiently. This task was made even more challenging when only six months into my job, IRRI closed down due to COVID-19 and everybody had to work from home.

As research activities did not really slow down because of the pandemic, the challenge was how do we equip the team with the right tools to be professional service providers and do our job when more than half of our service team members are working from home? I am encouraged by the fact that my team has the experiences needed to support IRRI’s researchers.

At the start of the pandemic lockdown, when almost no one was allowed on-site, we made full use of the opportunity to conduct online continuous improvement training in collaboration with the Excellence in Breeding platform of CGIAR. We innovated and pushed through and managed to solve several service issues including creating land preparation packages that are more inclusive to the needs of researchers, developing a program improving the land soil health, and facilitating discussions between IRRI’s Finance Department and laboratories to improve their service provisions and recoveries.

What is more important is that we removed the cluster barrier so people can effectively work cross-functionally. This is now how IRSP works. Continuous improvement is our mantra and every year a new batch of trainees are “recruited” to work on simple but high-impact problems that contribute toward improving research services in support of all research needs in IRRI.

As quality research delivery is key, IRSP developed a quality management system (QMS) to ensure all research supports and services follow a standardized process. Through the QMS process, we constantly strive for process improvements and a professional system to review our work based on customer feedback.

After almost two years of working fully online to train our team, we have created a system to receive service requests and assess demands from the researchers, hence establishing forecasting tools for us to plan our resources.

Improved efficiency can be achieved with the activity consolidation that we are now conducting with Rice Breeding Innovations. Through this effort, we will finally truly have an integrated research support and service platform in IRRI that will drive better research deliveries and outputs.

The bottom line is, no matter what challenges come our way, we need to remain connected, supporting one another. Challenges and shortcomings are everywhere but if we continue to focus on the job at hand, we will succeed.

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Missions Accomplished

The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement

The Zeigler Experiment Station (ZES) provides professional farm management services, mechanization and postharvest, and training provision for on-field research support. Through the ZES Quality Management System (QMS), the platform is committed to achieving and maintaining a high standard of quality in all aspects of the delivery of its services and support within IRRI and across the global IRRI network. The target is to achieve at least an 85% satisfaction rating from clients/partners and 90% annual recovery of costs. By partnering with key stakeholders, IRSP identifies issues in our services and operations, proposes solutions, and implements improvements.

IRSP provided assistance to IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC) staff in setting up and implementing the center’s full cost recovery system for land, irrigation, and farm equipment rentals in its headquarters in Varanasi. The FCR will further strengthen the sustainability of ISARC.

Excellence is a continuous process of initiatives, effort, smart direction, and meticulous execution

The IRRI Service Laboratories are an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited cluster of laboratories that provide solutions to testing and instrument support services needs of the research and agricultural industry.

The continuous ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation of GSL and GQNSL provides assurance of the reliability of our test results, provision of quality customer services through its competent staff, and continuous improvement in its quality management system.

A collaborative effort and strategy to achieve volume forecasting of the laboratories’ requirements from IRRI projects were implemented to effectively plan for the procurement of resources required to deliver quality services, and maintain lab operations under full cost recovery.

Business process improvement and the potential outcome of the change

IRSP successfully completed the modernization and integration of the International Rice Genebank activities.

The Smartsheet Request Logbook, linked to the GSL Service Planner, provides staff with rapid access to details of individual requests for sample-related information, vendor, Seed Health Unit, shipmentrelated specifics, and tasks assigned to each team member. The automated reminders and notifications for succeeding steps in the workflow are also integrated into the logbook to streamline the requests process workflow.

The platform helped establish the Grain Quality Laboratory at IRRI Bangladesh. The technical online support included the procurement of essential equipment and instruments and the renovation of the facility for the state-of-the-art analysis of various economically relevant grain quality traits and in addition nutrition value from pre-breeding and breeding materials.

IRSP provided its expertise online to help the Centre for Excellence in Rice Value Addition (CERVA) meet the general requirements for the competence, impartiality, and consistent operation of laboratories to get its ISO/IEC 17025 Accreditation. The platform also provided online support for the laboratory’s service operations and FCR implementation. These process improvements show beyond doubt CERVA’s capacity to operate competently, generate valid results, and take its place as one of the top-notched laboratories nationally, regionally, and around the world.

The platform supported ISARC in establishing the Speed Breeding Facility. Speed breeding is an emerging strategy among plant breeders to speed up varietal development through advanced technologies and protocols.

Success requires learning as fast as the world is changing

IRSP launched an initiative to develop, train, and prepare our core teams tasked with teaching and developing an innovative mindset and culture, strong problem-solving skills, and the desire to make breeding operations and strategies better.

The Seed Health Unit upgraded its pathogen screening tests to enable the faster delivery of healthy materials compliant with international phytosanitary standards. Its operational manual was augmented to include a risk-based and continuous improvement approach. Thorough planning, regulatory and statutory requirements, and customer needs and expectations were considered in redesigning the standard operating procedures and technical protocols.

The new updated policy of the Stewardship Support expands the zone of influence from transgenics to other new breeding areas such as wild rice, native traits, and gene-editing tools. The unit also successfully passed the stewardship audit of the Direct Seeded Rice Project.

New collaboration

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Transforming rice science, innovation, and R&D landscape through public-private sector partnership

In June 2021, the institute launched the IRRI Bioinnovation Centre (IBC). IBC offers lab and office space, high-end equipment, scale-up facilities, technical support, and centralized research support and services to private companies and start-ups to support innovations, translate discovery to products, and nurture future technologies. Within one year of its establishment, five research centers have signed an MOU with IBC to carry out various types of research
partnerships with IRRI.

A collaborative project between IRRI and BASF is paving the way toward a public-private research and development consortium for direct-seeded rice and the development of herbicide-tolerant rice varieties that can thrive in Asian agro-climatic conditions.

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