Selecting a Research Grants Management System

The days of handling application submissions via email, organizing and tracking post-award activity on personal PCs, and paper-based peer reviews have come to an end. The research funding industry—and role of the grants manager—must modernize, and scientific grant makers must figure out the best way to minimize administrative overhead so they can maximize the time they spend accelerating scientific discovery.

As recently as a few years ago, grants management systems (GMS) were designed purely as productivity tools—automating manual tasks to make life easier for the grants manager. Fast forward a few years, and the role of the GMS and the expectations around it have expanded to encompass ease of use, impact analysis, and built-in collaboration capabilities that connect your organization with others in the research ecosystem.

In a nutshell, grants management systems have evolved from pure productivity tools to innovation platforms. A modern GMS not only drives efficiency and accuracy— enabling teams to do things better—but also serves as a platform for innovation and decision making—enabling teams to do new things.

For funding organizations looking for a way to streamline their grantmaking processes, ensure compliance, and maximize impact, keep the following things in mind as you evaluate solutions.

Expensive legacy technology

Answer: Embrace Cloud and SaaS.

In 2008, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff declared software as dead. It was a bold claim, inarguably ahead of its time. But he was right. The trend toward delivery of solutions over the cloud is accelerating. The reasons include significantly lower cost of ownership, easier maintenance, and “always on updates.” That is to say, when software is delivered over the cloud, updates and upgrades are effortless. Users are always on the latest version. There is no new software to install, no migration process, and no substantial system downtime. It’s a win for the IT team, a win for decision makers and budget owners, and a win for the end user.

Data storage chaos

Answer: A single system of record

Grants managers deal with countless applications, award notices, progress reports, and financial documents every week. Having this information spread across silos including emails, spreadsheets, local PC folders, cloud storage, and stacks of paper files is a recipe for inefficiency and noncompliance. An effective and efficient grants team needs a “single version of the truth”—one system to house all grant data. With a centralized data set and system, information that was once held in disparate applications and files can be easily shared, analyzed, or updated with minimal effort. A centralized and easily searchable platform with all grant applications, peer reviews, awards, budget data, and reports—is essential for security, predictability, and scalability of research grant making.

Lack of cross-functional support

Answer: Collaboration built-in

No longer the domain of just the grants manager
and executive director, modern grants management systems bring together everyone at scientific foundations—from research directors to board
members and marketing. Research grants management is a team sport. A purpose-built research GMS will provide collaboration tools that make life easier on the team—from proposal set-up to application review and award—and allows everyone to gain visibility into grant making efficiency and outcomes.

Siloed System

Answer: Open, community-focused platforms

The research grants management space is full of monolithic, siloed systems that don’t connect with the broader research ecosystem.

Look for a GMS platform that powers a broad community of other funders, institutions, and researchers. Ensure the platform embraces the use of persistent identifiers (like ORCID, ROR, and CrossRef DOIs for grants) that create connections between people and between people and programs. These types of platforms make it easy for researchers to find funding from multiple sources, funders to find the right awardees, and for all stakeholders to measure and track the impact of awarded grants.

One-size-fits all approach

Answer: A purpose-built research grant system

Mega ERP and cloud CRM platforms are not designed to meet the unique requirements of research grant makers. Instead, they provide “back office” functionality which requires heavy customization to make it work for the research funder’s use case. It’s the proverbial round peg into a square hole. If you pound hard enough, the peg will go in, but you may not like the results. Moreover, you might need to implement an entire suite of products in one go—and this can create unnecessary complexity and delays.

Similarly, generic grants management systems often lack critical features and connections that are essential for running a research grants program. Or they are optimized only for the grants manager and fail to provide the reporting and analytics required by boards and executives.

Answer: Seek out a grants management platform designed to support scientific funding.

Look for capabilities like integrated peer review capabilities, native connections to scholarly publishing data providers like ORCID and CrossRef, and built-in outcome and impact reporting. By sourcing a solution that comes with these capabilities out of the box, you’ll satisfy the requirements of all the constituents in your research and grant making team and enjoy a faster payback period on your investment.

Inability to measure and report impact

Answer: Integrated analytics and outcome reporting.

Traditionally, legacy grants management applications have kept grant staff from accessing the key data they need without engaging a team of analysts or developers. A modern grants management solution allows every business user to explore any combination of data, get answers instantly, and share these answers with his or her team. The goal of data centralization with native reporting is to deliver insights from business operations at the speed of business thinking.

Lack of mobile support

Answer: A solution that can be accessed anywhere, from any device.

Being able to access data through whatever device an end-user chooses is imperative to successfully manage grants. Creating an easy way for applicants and awardees to enter data and complete tasks while on the go helps improve data accuracy, currency, and availability. It also enables users to have access to the data they need, when and where they need it. Similarly, peer review teams are often geographically dispersed­—and in a post-Covid world, much of the committee’s work will happen remotely. Enabling your peer review committee to review applications and vote via smartphones and tablets is critical.

Download our Guide for Selecting a Research Grants Management System

The days of handling application submissions via email, organizing and tracking post-award activity on personal PCs, and paper-based peer reviews have come to an end.

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