ECM: Enterprise “compliance” management for your grant programs
For many years, I worked in the world of housing and community development. My departments used federal and state funds to develop affordable housing and support community development projects and services in my state.
As with most grant funds, we were required to use and disperse the funding in compliance with the program rules of the funding source – rules that were often voluminous and complicated.
The wrong technology is worse than no technology
During this time, my peers were deploying a wave of new technology solutions in response to our federal funders, who needed more information about accomplishments to show Congress. Needless to say, this presented challenges for my department and, at the end of the project, we seldom had any meaningful information for our own uses. But we did have a mountain of new data tasks and an annual maintenance bill.
Looking to technology to solve our issues was a great first step. Now, our next step should be choosing the right technology.
Veterans of grant programs know that every year (or more often, if there have been problems) federal and state auditors would be given an uncomfortable chair in a busy corner as they would plow through paper files to determine whether we were managing the programs appropriately. This is the compliance review, and the practice of using paper documents as proof of good program management is still in place.
The reality is that staff members may change, you may not have enough staff, your projects may run into roadblocks and the rules of various programs are not the same.
The good news? The right technology solution can help.
Enterprise content management (ECM) – or enterprise “compliance” management – offers the compliance support you need in four ways:
1. Manages required document collection for your staff
You know you are going to be judged on the completeness of your project file. The right ECM solution can offer visible indications of missing documents at the project level and across all of your projects.
This automatically reminds staff of missing documents every time they access an incomplete file. In addition, your quality assurance or compliance department can run reports to identify files with missing documentation before the auditor visits, every day if they like.
This kind of powerful reporting was never available in the mandatory data systems supplied by our federal funders.
2. Automates project management to ensure programmatic compliance
With ECM workflow management, you can automate processes and move projects through tasks or put them on pause until required information or documents are received and archived. Emails then remind staff of deadlines or required tasks.
Staff don’t always have time to open every record to be told what needs to get done. Now, overworked or inexperienced staff won’t miss a beat, saving your agency from repaying funds if you miss required tasks.
3. Connects documents and data for more staff efficiency
Imagine that instead of managing bulky project files, your staff can see a list of documents that correspond to the data record they are working with, and even see what is missing in a floating window on their monitors.
No filing, no file cabinets, no loss of time while you search for documents.
4. Manages ever-increasing files, regardless of retention periods
My department’s programs had retention periods that ranged from two years to 35 years to forever. I always intended to retire before “forever” and so do most staff.
So the big question is: Who is safeguarding that retention compliance over the decades? And what about the physical space and storage costs?
With ECM, you not only eliminate physical files – and the filing that goes along with them – you also have a reliable records retention and management solution that ensures documents are destroyed only when they are meant to be destroyed.
Shifting to a paperless world seems impossible given the traditions of our program funding and delivery. Unfortunately, grant funding is variable and we are operating with less staff than ever to deliver these critical programs and services to our communities.
ECM can help change that equation. And, eliminating the paper-based tasks means that your staff can focus on good projects, measurable impacts and compliant program delivery. Finally, you can have the compliance support you need and you’ll never receive one of those audit findings letters ever again.