6 Questions to Ask When Evaluating Grants Management Systems

This post is part of a Bad Rabbit series on selecting RA systems:

So, you’re considering grants management systems. Maybe your volume has increased, and you need a more robust system to organize and submit proposals. Or perhaps you’re looking to reduce compliance risk without increasing workload.

There are many potential benefits to an electronic grants system, including:

  • System-to-system proposal transmittal to Grants.gov

  • Integration with other eRA and Financial systems

  • Automated data collection and customizable reports

  • Process workflow automation, in-system communications and notifications

Sounds great, right? But if you’re starting from scratch, the world of grants management software can be overwhelming at first. The good news is, you’re not actually starting from scratch. You have all the information you need to make a decision, provided you ask the right questions.

Who are you?

It sounds like an existential question, but this is practical stuff: before looking at grants systems, assess your institutional identity and needs.

  • How big is your research institution?

  • Who makes up the grants administration team?

  • What are your priorities? Pre-award and S2S submission, automated workflows, award management…which processes and features are most important to your team?

  • Do you need a stand-alone grants solution, or something integrated into a comprehensive eResearch platform?

  • Is your culture “we are unique,” or more adaptable to a product’s built-in functionality?

Did you notice how we snuck a bunch of extra questions in here? A grants solution should be scalable and configurable to meet your institution’s needs. So, before you start looking at systems, it’s important to define what those needs are.

How important is system-to-system submission?

System to system submission capabilities (S2S) lets you format and send proposals from your grants system directly to Grants.gov, eliminating time-consuming data entry and ensuring submissions are complete and accurate. If you’re a smaller institution without much federal funding, you may not need S2S capabilities. But if your portfolio includes a significant level of federal funding, an electronic grants solution with S2S can make life significantly easier.

How might your workflow be improved?

Workflow and approval/review routing are critical in considering grants systems. Let’s say you’re a research team member working for a PI in a human subjects study. You may need a review from the IRB ensuring that you’ve correctly classified your research. You may need a budget waiver for a non-standard F&A rate. You may need a facilities sign-off for your lab, and an IT sign-off for new technical support needs. That’s a lot of touch points to track!

Grants systems can send automated notifications, gather signatures and approvals, and track tasks in an easy-to-read work queue. Consider how your workflow might improve if study information is managed in a dedicated, secure space.

What type of security do you need?

A flexible security model increases overall system usability and increases the chance that it will support your institution’s processes. Here are a few extra questions to ask when evaluating grants solutions:

  • Does the system allow for collaboration while protecting confidential information?

  • Can you configure the system to enforce institution-specific policies?

  • Who has access to what, and can you customize those settings yourself?

Of course, security requirements vary from institution to institution. The right grants system will meet your unique security needs.

What’s the scope of your implementation?

Proposals and awards can have a really long life. When you evaluate electronic grants systems, consider the scope of functionality you need. Are you interested in primarily in pre-award, post-award, or both? Are some functions already performed in another system, so not necessary in a grants system? How will you draw the line between the two? And if your ERP handles the actual project budgets, what scope of post-award functionality do you need in a separate system?

A robust grants system can show you the full history of a research project, from application to award, renewal and closure.  It may also let you track detailed awarded budgets, modify and track award lifecycle changes, and even track relationships between proposals and awards. All of this can be extremely useful…but only if you really need it.

Consider whether these features are necessary—and whether the systems that offer them fit your budget.

Why not use your existing ERP to manage grants?

Many ERP systems have modules that can support proposal development and award management. But although these systems excel in financial management, they generally don’t match the breadth and functionality available in specialized grant systems, such as system-to-system proposal submission. Relying solely on your ERP for grants management process means a lot of time-consuming manual work.

ERP system structures and interfaces can be very complex and difficult to understand—and often, access to ERP information is limited to a small group of users, which limits its usability for goals related to transparency and process automation.  ERP modules can also be difficult and very expensive to customize to suit the needs of a grants office.

Some institutions choose to build integrations that share information between their grants solution and ERP, pulling proposal or award setup information from grants and building new awards in the ERP, leveraging the best of both systems while reducing duplicate data entry requirements.

Choosing a System

The right grants management system will improve workflow, reduce burden and compliance risks, and maximize the efforts of your research team.

The table below shows some common grants management systems. View product webpages for additional information.

Product Description
Cayuse Grants Cloud-based Grants Management solution with pre- and post-award support in one sytem. Additional Cayuse 424 product supports fast, accurate completion and submission of federal grant proposals.
Huron Grants Robust, customizable system with system-to-system proposal submission, post-award features, and integration capabilities.
InfoEd Grants & Contracts Includes system-to-system submissions and strong customer support. Funding Search, Pre-Award, and Post-Award solutions can be used independently or as a cohesive whole.
Key Solutions eGrants Module Prepare grants applications, route them for internal approvals, and submit to funding agencies from within a single platform. Online platform supports S2S, sub-award funding, and post-award budget management.
Kuali Research Cloud-based, open source software supports pre- and post-award management, S2S submissions, and integrations with financial systems
SmartGrant Cloud-based RA software with modules for Pre-Award, Electronic Routing, S2S, Post-Award, and Advanced Reporting.
Streamlyne Research Cloud-based, integrated modules include pre-award support with system-to-system capabilities and post-award module to track and maintain funded awards