The federal government provided $600 billion in grants in 2011 for more than 1,000 programs. It takes considerable time and paperwork to apply for and monitor these grants, which is where a grants management system can help keep everything organized and on track.

“Automation really allows grant-giving organizations to focus more on the actual content and performance of the grant rather than get bogged down in the administrative and manual tasks of the grant process,” says Joseph Rodrigues, director, projects - Electronic Grants Management and Administration System at HTC Global Services.

Smart Business spoke with Rodrigues and James Joseph, vice president, government services, at HTC Global Services, about grant management systems and the advantages of automating the grant process.

What are the benefits of automated grants management?

Among the benefits of automation, the most important is that the grant administration staff can provide quality services to their grantees and focus their efforts on the core aspects of grants performance and monitoring as opposed to spending considerable time on administrative tasks, such as paper management, manual verification and validation. The second most important benefit is timely completion of the various steps in the grant life cycle process. Other benefits include consolidated repository of grants data that enables timely and effective information retrieval, analysis and reports.

Automated review process enables accuracy and consistency of reviews across reviewers. Automation of post award processes and notification ensure compliance and timeliness.

What are the challenges faced by grantors in automation of grants?

The biggest challenge is to find a truly configurable grants management software that can be configured to automate all the grant programs in an agency. Most grant giving agencies give out multiple grant programs that have varied requirements in terms of regulations and business rules. Most grant automation products available may address a specific grant program or a specific kind of business rule set. The most cost effective and efficient solution is configurable software that can automate all the programs that an organization has to offer through configuration rather than expensive and time consuming customization.

How does automation benefit grant applicants?

The biggest challenge that grantees face is submission of a complete and error-free grant application by the submission deadline. This is enabled through an online application that is intuitive, has context-sensitive help and validation features with recommended corrective actions.

An automated system assists grantees in identifying potential grant opportunities, based on eligibility. The application process enables multiple grantee staff to work on the same application, thus facilitating collaboration. In addition, it also provides transparency of status, online progress reporting and improved communication and responsiveness.

Good automation software is user friendly, does not require any third party software or plugins and caters to all levels of computer proficiency.

How does a grant management system cut down on inappropriate payments?

The reduction and eventual elimination of inaccurate and inappropriate payments is one of the major goals of the federal grantors. Automation has been identified as the primary strategy to ensure that payments made are accurate, appropriate and verifiable.

Automation verifies that payments are spent in the approved expense categories. When payments are made, they are normally made against the budget specified in the application. If an award of  $100,000 is made, the award may be spread across several expense categories such as salary and wages, fringes, supplies, etc. When expenses are booked, they can be submitted only against the approved expense categories and/or within any deviation limits, if applicable. In the absence of an automated system, the grantor would have to manually match these expense categories and ensure that the expenses do not exceed what has been requested in the budget, which may lead to errors. With an automated system, all the validation and cross-verification is done by the system, thereby saving a lot of time, avoiding errors, overpayments and payments misapplied to the wrong categories.

What is the future of grant management systems?

The federal government has been trying to mandate transparency in grants. With the paper process through which the grants are given out, it’s very difficult to maintain transparency because it’s lost in the paper. If you have a system, it is possible to make the grant process transparent and minimize inappropriate payments. This is possible only through automation. The expectation is that the federal government will start insisting that a higher degree of automation is utilized in the grant management process.

With the proliferation of tools such as tablets and smartphones, grantees will demand that they can apply for a grant using these devices. Enabling mobile devices for grant management will be a trend in the future.

State governments will increasingly use software to automate the grant-giving process, submit their reports and help get all the grant money they can. Some already have. In addition, Software as a Service would be the preferred acquisition model.

JAMES JOSEPH is vice president, government services, at HTC Global Services. Reach him at (248) 530-2528 or james.joseph@htcinc.com.

JOSEPH RODRIGUES is director, projects at HTC Global Services. Reach him at (248) 530-2554 or joseph.rodrigues@htcinc.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by HTC Global Services.

Published in Chicago