In the complex world of education, a state's department of education shoulders a vast array of responsibilities. They are the guiding force behind public school districts, career centers, technology and vocational schools, public universities, and community colleges. Each of these entities heavily relies on federal and state grants to ensure their operations run smoothly.
One of the key tools in this funding ecosystem is an electronic grant administration application. This crucial platform is a digital bridge between licensed agencies or community programs and the grants offered by their state's department of education.
The grant management system serves as a robust data collection point. It gathers crucial information, such as how a grantee intends to utilize the funds they're seeking, proposed expenditure budgets, and the official contracts and agreements tied to the grant program. With a user base exceeding 5,000 active external users and 350 internal ones, the application is a vital tool for many.
In one mid-Atlantic state, the application was beginning to buckle under the weight of its responsibilities. Even routine tasks led to system crashes. With the varied demands of over a dozen program offices and fluctuating numbers of grant programs each fiscal year, there was a clear need for application modernization. This state’s department of education found itself on the brink of a digital transformation, one that would revolutionize its approach to grant application and management.
Overcoming system limitations and data overload
Navigating the antiquated system architecture was incredibly tedious—many administrative tasks required development effort. The attempts to correct issues turned into long, laborious endeavors, as every maintenance task brought forth a large library of interconnected stored procedures. It was clear that several crucial areas (grant application construction, workflow creation, contract document management, and reporting) needed a complete overhaul.
Grant applications are intricate, including countless data points such as student populations, educational program blueprints, expenditure data, student demographics, and other key variables crucial to the awarding and utilization of grants. Armed with this data, the local education agencies (LEAs) faced the Herculean task of budgeting the received funds, often including hundreds of lines of expenditures.
The challenge of processing this barrage of information through a web application pushed the system to its breaking point. It became evident that a transformative approach was needed to rejuvenate the system and ensure it could effortlessly manage the massive data inflow.
Holistic approach to modernization
Historically, the electronic grant administration system stood outside the realm of Azure DevOps, leading to manual system updates and changes. This outdated methodology was replaced with an automated process, saving a significant amount of time and effort, and marking a major milestone in the system's evolution. To promote workflow clarity and help identify tasks needing immediate attention, intuitive dashboards were added for both internal and external users. Compliance with federal Title I spending guidelines was woven into the system's fabric, further enhancing the application.
Previously, the preparation of contract documents and agreements to access grant money was the exclusive domain of IT staff. This process was democratized by integrating a document editor within the system. Now, internal program office staff can edit agreements, award letters, and other applicant-facing documents without the need for specialized IT skills. Moreover, grant administrators can construct application questions from a library of question types and organize them effortlessly using a drag-and-drop feature. This contributes to an efficient and user-friendly grant management process.
A revolutionized tool to secure state funds
The remarkable transformation of the grant administration system, spearheaded by CAI, created a robust and efficient platform for both external and internal users. The system is no longer plagued by data issues and is now equipped to handle significantly higher application volumes with ease. Tasks that previously took days to script and execute can now be completed in a matter of minutes, showcasing the significant performance enhancements.
The real test of the system's scalability came in 2020 and 2021, during the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent release of federal emergency funding. The revamped system rose to the occasion, supporting several unconventional grant programs and processing nearly 10 times the usual funds and about 5 times as many applications as in a typical year.
Not only did the system handle this dramatic increase smoothly, but it did so without a single audit exception from the federal government—a testament to its flawless operation. The addition of PowerBI, a business intelligence tool, further elevated the system's capabilities, providing crucial analytics, visuals for budget hearings, and audit efforts related to the COVID funds.
Today, the state's department of education can confidently rely on their grant administration application, knowing it is well-equipped to handle the anticipated increase in grant applications and any future demands that may arise.
Learn more about application modernization and how it can help you manage costs and improve operational efficiency.