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implementing a new grants management system be proactive

Be proactive when implementing a new grants management system.

Whether an institution is implementing a grants management system for the first time or selecting a new one, there are some items which can be evaluated and defined internally even before the final software system is selected.  Addressing these items early will minimize some of the stress of making decisions regarding these while learning the new software.  Specifically, organizations should proactively review existing data, analyze reporting needs, and clarify roles and responsibilities. This should be performed across pre-award, post-award and compliance units before an organization is in the middle of the actual implementation in order to streamline “going live”.

Reviewing Existing Data

Whether your institution keeps grant data on paper, in a spreadsheet(s) or is currently using an electronic system, you need to assume there are inconsistencies in the data.  Some examples of frequently found data inconsistencies include:

  • Faculty names and roles are frequently found in multiple formats in historic records for the same person.  For example: John Doe, John D. Doe, John David Doe, J.D. Doe.
  • Academic departments frequently have name changes that create inaccuracies in reporting.  One department may have been reorganized several times such as Chemistry, Biology and Chemistry, Chemistry and Biology, Marine Biology, Center for Marine Science.
  • Dual affiliations often pose special challenges.  If a PI is a member of the Earth Science Department but is also affiliated with the Center for Marine Science, a decision needs to be made to standardize departmental affiliation.  This decision should address differences such as:
    • Indirect costs.  Do the two units provide the PI access to her/his IDC share in like ways?  How will the IDC returned to the department be managed?  Will the return be shared equally between the two departments?
    • Home department.  This plays into the IDC as well.  Will the two units share the credit for the award?  Which will manage the financial and compliance side?  Does this mean a special home department name that may vary on each award?

In order to ensure a smooth transition during implementation of a software system, it is important to identify these data issues and make determinations on how they will be handled within the new system.

Analyzing Reporting Needs

Reporting and metrics have become increasingly important for organizations.  From reviewing P-card purchases to justifying the necessity of more staff, institutional leadership wants hard data.  Simply saying everyone is overworked isn’t going to be successful.  Internally, having accurate and timely reports to track the quantity of tasks being managed by staff, such as grant submissions and purchases, can help validate these needs as well as provide necessary information on-demand and per scheduled timelines.  Of course, part of creating reports is ensuring the accuracy of the data (see Reviewing Existing Data above) and knowing what data you need.  Examples of possible reports might include:

  • Annual report of proposals and awards, including PI name, co-PI names, respective departments of PI and co-PI’s, date of award, amount of award, title and sponsor.  If your institution awards credit as a percentage for each PI/co-PI, this needs to be included as well.
  • Report on IDC recovery by PI name, co-PI names, respective departments (if IDC is allocated to each, as well as the percentage allocation).  This can be very helpful when IDC is allocated to schools, colleges, departments.
  • Comparisons of previous year submissions and awards with PI and co-PI names, departments, and sponsor can be run as annual totals to build charts, graphs, and annual report metrics.
  • Grant end date report, including project title, PI, sponsor and department(s)
  • Standard monitoring reports such as specified account code expenditures, budget line and total overages/negatives

Defining Roles and Responsibilities for Implementing a Grants Management System

Grants management systems are built around roles played by each area of the grants management team.  In this way, when personnel transitions occur, responsibilities do not “follow” the person but are transitioned to the new team member.  These roles can then also be applied to a routing process ensuring documents are available to appropriate individuals.  Planning roles for automation in a grants management system might go beyond the Sponsored Programs Office(s) to include the Compliance Office, Accounting and possibly even Purchasing.  Analyzing the flow of various documents and utilizing a Gantt Chart or other software assists in ensuring a document is promptly routed to the appropriate “role”, speeding review and actions.

Documenting the responsibilities of each role provides an organization the opportunity to assess workflow, workload, and the skills necessary to fill each role.  It is a good time to analyze identified roles to determine if there is redundancy, i.e. multiple reviews of an expenditure with no value added.  Many times, responsibilities have “drifted” from written documentation.  During this assessment of each player’s role and responsibilities, an organization may discover that time-specified tasks are out of date (new processes or software), someone else is now performing the task, or even that a critical task is not being completed.  Involving the people in each role to document their understanding of assigned responsibilities, then comparing that to the written “official” description can be informative.

Each of these activities are integral to a clean implementation.  “Garbage in, garbage out” is a true phrase when it comes to electronic grants management systems.  It’s easier to have clean data after an implementation if it is accurate and consistent when it is entered.

Choosing a Solution

The solutions provider you choose and their implementation team is another key in this process.  IT Works solutions are well-supported by an implementation staff with research administration experience and are innovative, easy to use, constantly evolving, diverse in report selection, and competitively priced.  There are numerous customer case studies and other literature on the ease of use, implementation and added value of a solution from IT Works.  For more information regarding the IT Works solution, contact our team.