The management of billions of dollars in grant funds is in flux due to the prevalence of dated, legacy systems or the continued reliance on paper-based forms and folders. Grant managers today face an environment fundamentally different than the one they encountered only a few years ago – one with more data, more demands, fewer staffing resources, and less time. Through survey data collected from numerous grant managers, a common set of challenges and obstacles emerged.
The 8 most common challenges that grant managers today face are:
Managing increasing numbers of grants, awards, and grantees with less staff and administrative support budgets. Having to do more with less.
Easily tracking and reporting grant life cycle performance data in real-time to enable timely interventions and take immediate corrective actions.
Systematically tracking the flow of grant dollars, terms and conditions, and amendments from federal awards to sub-awards.
Mitigating the inefficiencies and traceability issues arising from predominantly manual, paper-based business processes.
Consistently applying governance, compliance, and risk management principles across programs and grantees to manage fraud, waste, and abuse.
Facilitating collaboration, negotiation, and information exchange among grantees and internal users without the effects of email inbox overload.
Compiling, tracking, and reporting on structured data to comply with the Federal DATA Act standardized data requirements.
Complying with the White House Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) new federal regulation: Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, & Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.
To address these challenges head-on, grant managers need an effective IT solution to enable staff to be more productive and less encumbered by manual tools. While a plethora of grants management solutions exist in the market today, the optimal grants management solution should offer several key capabilities:
Performance Management and Tracking – There has been a broader shift away from managing grants for just compliance and timeliness to managing public funds for actual impact on mission. Instead of having to manually collect and compile key performance data from grantees, grant managers need a tool that automates this process. This will free up their time and focus to mission priorities and actual citizen impact.
Single Centralized Data Repository – The need for data aggregation is especially relevant to grants where the explosion of data, records, attachments, communications, etc. can confound even the best grant manager. Grant managers require a solution that serves to centralize grants data to make it easier to access and simpler to act on through google-like search capabilities without having to access multiple systems or tools.
Business Intelligence and Automated Reporting – The future of government IT is heavily linked to smarter solutions. Be it through machine learning, artificial intelligence, or just business-related automated notifications (i.e., if this is happening, then alert me), the expectation is that government will be able to do more with less principally because IT systems will emerge to make it possible. Grants management is no different. Agencies should require that their next grants management system be smart and BI-centric.
Business Process and Rules-Driven Workflow – Grants management is a business-process heavy domain with approvals, workflows, business rules, and data validations. As such, any IT solution should serve to reinforce good user behaviors and eliminate bad ones through the automation of workflows and approvals. This automation needs to include user-level tasking, time-based email reminders, and preventing users from taking actions that are in violation with pre-established validation rules.
Ease of Configuration Without IT Support – With the preponderance of Federal IT spend going towards the maintenance and upkeep of existing systems, not actual innovation, any future systems must address the capabilities to make on-going changes and deploy enhancements head-on. Given the regulatory-intensive nature of grants management and the annual changes associated with the granting cycle, a grants management solution must allow for some system modifications to be made by non-IT staff.
Native Interfaces with Third-Party Systems – Grants management, at a fundamental level, is the management of government funds. As such, having financial data integrated with programmatic data is critical to the successful tracking of and reporting on grants. Agencies must have an IT system that easily interfaces with its financial management system or ERP tool to eliminate the need for grant managers to access multiple systems to get a holistic picture of an award.
Up-to-Date with New Regulations and Business Changes – With the changes to how federal funds are managed coming out the Office for Management and Budget (OMB) and increased focus from new legislation on modernization IT systems and government data (DATA Act), agencies need a grants management system that is evergreen. The traditional downside of highly custom, legacy system is that the ability to keep them up-to-date and modern was incredibly costly and complex. New, cloud-based technologies make system updates faster and easier and should be a “must have” for any new grants management solution.
Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Monitoring – Beyond the ineffective and inefficient issuance of public funds, the citizenry trusts that its tax payer funded programs are being invested responsibly and without misuse. Given the sheer volume of grant funding – more than $600 billion per year – the likelihood of fraud and abuse is high. Identifying and prevent misuse is nearly impossible without IT. Through the combined use of meta-level patterns across multiple recipients, evolving risk-based algorithms, and proactive system generated alerts, a next generation grants management system can address fraud, waste, and abuse head-on.
Accessible Anytime, Anywhere via Mobile – It is no longer acceptable for government IT systems to be non-mobile. The entire world has fundamentally shifted to a mobile-first engagement model. The same expectation should hold for our government services. Agencies must mandate that their IT systems be accessible via mobile device.
In-Context Collaboration and Sharing – The convergence of business applications and social media is upon us. Instead of relying on emails between colleagues that lack the context of the work that needs to be done, modern IT systems need to unify communications and work (i.e., Google Apps) and enable conversations to happen alongside productive work. The next generation grants management system must allow conversations about the performance of a grant recipient to happen within the confines of the grant itself.
REI Systems has been at the forefront of the effort to redefine and reinvent the next generation of grants management systems. Our grants management solutions disburse more than $20 billion in grant funding annually across the Federal, State, and Local landscape. And with the release of our next generation grants management solution – GovGrants® – we are addressing the most common challenges grant managers face head-on.