Questions for GMLOB consortia leads

In October OMB released its new guidance so each agency can conduct a fit/gap analysis between its grants management needs and the capabilities of GMLOB consortia leads (Education, HHS/ACF, and NSF right now). That guidance includes templates to help agencies map their needs against provider capabilities.

Some of TCG’s advisors have been thinking about the fit/gap problem for several months. We see several questions that the GMLOB lead agencies need to answer so that client agencies can make the right choices:

1. What is the likelihood that the consortium could fail?

Agencies need to know whether the economic model is viable and whether the technology is appropriate for tomorrow’s needs as well as today’s. Agencies will be making long-term investments, and need to know that the service and service provider will be around tomorrow. Shared service providers need to guarantee that an agency’s interests will be well served in the long term.

2. Is the security model of the consortium in line with the needs of the client agency’s grant programs?

While all agencies have the same responsibility to keep their data secure, some agencies may assign different security level designations to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of different processes. An agency’s security designations, contained in the certification and accreditation documentation prepared for FISMA reporting, need to be equal to or less restrictive than the designations of a consortium with which it would partner. Agencies need to see the consortia’s security models to make a comparison.

3. Is the architecture model of the consortium compatible with the client agency’s target enterprise architecture?

Partnering with a shared service provider forces an agency to accept certain assumptions about the structure and future of the system architecture and of its capabilities. Many agencies are attempting to establish service-oriented architecture models that allow them to share services among various lines of business and within grants programs. Although all three shared service providers talk about SOA, none has a true SOA offering from the architecture through the pricing, as near as we can tell. Each client agency should assess how the consortia lead systems meet its broader architectural goals.

4. Is the process model of the consortium compatible with the client agency’s to-be process model, or is it sufficiently malleable to become compatible?

As a result of the move toward GMLOB, many agencies are conducting business process reengineering activities to improve their grants management operations. Agencies need to know the workflow for each of the consortia, and the structures in place for change. Without knowing exactly how the services support grants, agencies cannot evaluate them against its own workflow.

5. Is the business logic of the consortium systems compatible with the needs of the client agency’s grant programs?

Federal agencies need to contend with legislative and regulatory changes that affect their grants enterprise. They need to know how the consortia handle change. They need to see evidence of changes to date, and they need to know how each service provider plans to accommodate change in the future. If there is a change process in place, it should be documented and followed. If there is no process, agencies should beware.

6. Is there an overall cost advantage to using the consortium in a reasonable time frame?

The purpose of the Grants Management Line of Business is to save taxpayer money. Yet every agency must invest money to take advantage of a shared service provider. Agencies need to know the expected economic payback, and when it will be available. Service providers that do not have that information available have not thought through their business. Agencies need to know whether they will be able to migrate existing systems to the consortium, including data or even individual process steps. They need to know what is needed for migration. They need to know they can be involved in management and oversight of grant program processes at the consortia.

If agencies cannot get the answers to these questions, they should think twice about choosing one of the existing consortia. The ultimate purpose of the Grants Management Line of Business is to better serve grants applicants and recipients and the American public. They are not well served if agencies are forced to buy a pig in a poke. This is big business, serious business, and should be approached as more than a political football. But, then again, we could be just plain wrong. Let us know what you think in the comments!