Friday, March 3, 2017

6 Things to Look for in Grant Management Software

Source:USASpending.gov

My company InfoStrat has been working on government grant management since 1998, and we have seen and responded to a number of solicitations for grant management software.  This post summarizes what grantors are looking for in a software package, highlighting some recent trends that have emerged in this market.

Here are the top characteristics desired in a grant management software package:
  1. Compatibility with the enterprise architecture of the customer.  Most customers prefer to buy software that is compatible with what they already own in order to simplify support.  We see RFPs that specify the database, for instance, as Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle to be compatible with reporting tools already in use.
  2. Flexibility to meet grant program requirements and respond to changes in requirements. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all for grants.  A highway grant from the Department of Transportation is quite different from a neighborhood protection grant from a local police department.  Customers want the product to match their process rather than to change their business process to fit the product.  Specific grant programs and even federal guidelines for all grants are evolving.  Customers know that they may need to incorporate new data elements and create new reports to remain in compliance.  The most dramatic instance of this was in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), also know as the Stimulus, which created new metrics and reporting standards for grants.  In 2014, OMB announced uniform guidance which included accounting, audit, and administrative policies. 
  3. Ability to run on a government cloud.  This is a recent trend but has been picking up momentum.  Customers are asking for products which meet federal and other security certifications such as NIST and FedRAMP. 
  4. Integration with a grantee portal. Customers want to allow prospective grantees to research their grants online and submit their applications, view the status of applications, and submit post-award reports through a web portal.  They do not want to rely on custom coding of the portal but prefer web services to connect the portal with the grant system and allow content changes through configuration rather than custom HTML.
  5. Integration features and capabilities. Grant systems do not operate in a vacuum, so customers want the ability to link to an accounting system to issue payment requests and track payment status.  They also are seeking integration with other products such as Microsoft Office, email systems, and document management systems. 
  6. Vendor stability. The grant software marketplace has been fragmented, and some companies have written products for a specific type of grant.  Customers are concerned about the viability of small companies because of their narrow market and the chance of acquisition and discontinuation of the product as the industry consolidates. Government agencies do not tend to favor startups because they are less likely to be around for the full life of the product. This preference points toward software vendors that lead the industry and have demonstrated longevity. 
Perhaps what is even more surprising in reviewing RFPs is that many grantors are still relying on spreadsheets and email, or out-of-date tracking systems, to manage millions of dollars in funds.

For more information on grant management, see my posts:

Usage Scenarios for Microsoft Grants Manager
Estimating the Cost of a Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Implementation
Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Frequently Asked Questions

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