How to move grants management to the cloud
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Sep 16, 2016
In Kaua’i County, Hawaii, grants management has long been an important part of local government operations. It’s also been handled using paper.
When the county began a push to minimize paper and add web-based systems, County Grants Program Coordinator Ann Wooton saw an opportunity. Soon, the county will use StreamLink Software’s web-based AmpliFund grants management software for tracking grants the county receives and makes. This type of software lets governments manage internal business processes for receiving grant money, managing the distribution of that money and then tracking and monitoring the programmatic and financial performance of the grant.
“We like the fact that it’s a web-based system,” Wooton said. “Anyone in the department can just log in and look at the documents if they need vs. having to call somebody for a file,” she said. That makes it “a lot more convenient for anyone who may have a question surrounding a grant that we have or that we’ve given.”
AmpliFund Public Sector software -- it also comes in pre-award, full cycle, federal and specialized modules -- is also expected to save time for Wooton and other grants administrators. Just how much, she won’t know until it’s been in use for a grant award cycle or two.
“In some of the programs, especially ones that have a lot of requirements and documents,… I think it will save us a lot of time and effort in looking for papers or maintaining papers or files,” she said. “And then anyone can access documents; they’re not locked in somebody’s office that’s on vacation.”
She’s still in the process of adapting the grant application the county awards from its general funds and community development block grant funds. It’s in draft form now until the workflow aspect of the application is ironed out, but Wooton said she expects to move forward with it next month. She plans to roll out all applications this year and next year get to the point where actual data from the accounting system can be rolled into AmpliFund and linked to awards.
The county didn’t have to add any infrastructure to use AmpliFund; it’s as simple as going online and logging in, Wooton said. Plus, employees can access the cloud-based system remotely. Plus, the interface is similar to the county’s other web-based systems, making acceptance of the new approach easier. “It’s nothing foreign that folks are going to have a hard time understanding,” she said.
Ease of use is an important feature of AmpliFund, said StreamLink CEO Adam Roth. “We’re never going to be a server-based solution, so there’s going to be very little infrastructure that [agencies] need,” he said. AmpliFund is built using an open API, so it seamlessly connects to existing ERP databases, financial and human resources systems, detailed insight into how money is flowing in and out of the organization for more effective management.
AmpliFund can standardize grants processes, create core systems, provide access to data at all layers of the grant and collect and manage both financial and programmatic data. Together, that gives governments greater visibility, ensures compliance with new federal grant requirements and also allows agencies to draw down funds in their allotted timeframes, Roth said.
Kaua’i County’s push for less paper is a common internal driver in grants management. Another is citizens’ desire for transparency akin to the open checkbook systems that lets citizens see how government funds are spent. External sources, especially the federal government in the form of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, the Office of Management and Budget’s Uniform Grant Guidance and the Treasury Department’s “Do Not Pay” initiative, are also forcing state and local governments to be more open and report on grants in machine-readable formats.
Grants managers are also facing greater pressure to track post-award performance. “It’s no longer just acceptable to say, ‘Hey, we did X.’ Now it’s ‘How did you ensure that subrecipients A, B, C and D were able to accomplish what they said they were going to do?’” Roth said.
A final motivator is old-fashioned return on investment.
“We see anywhere from a 15 [percent] to 40 percent uptick in unspent revenue in the first year of implementation with a software system,” Roth said.
Governments are taking notice. He’s seen a 700 percent to 800 percent increase in the number of state requests for information and proposals for grants management upgrades.
After all, big numbers are involved: The federal government manages about $600 billion in grants annually, and state and local governments depend on those grants for 20 percent to 30 percent of their revenues.
“When there’s pressure that gets created relative to how those dollars are being managed. These are real issues for state and local governments to figure out,” Roth said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.