Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | One of the most important things state and local governments can do with their remaining Covid-19 funding is to invest in digitization.
State and local governments have until December 30, 2020 to dedicate federal funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund for Covid-19 related costs. For many, the ever-nearing deadline is panic-inducing and begs the question where should these dollars go to make the most impact?
This funding presents a unique opportunity to invest in accelerating the digitization of mission-critical processes, which will allow governments to get services faster to those who need them most.
Two of the most essential and interconnected processes that must be digitized in order to continue serving communities are grants administration and procurement. Quickly disbursing grant funding has become a crucial role of governments during the pandemic, helping community organizations or businesses to procure essential goods and services, like PPE, ventilators and online learning platforms. Ultimately, only those who are able to ride this new wave of digital acceleration will be able to both receive federal funding and quickly distribute that funding to their communities and ensure business continuity.
State and local governments that still have yet to decide where to allot their remaining funding should seriously consider using that money for digitization efforts as that will allow agencies to access resources faster, optimize spending to maximize community impact and harness technology as a force multiplier.
Access Funding Faster
Speed and efficiency are key for a successful pandemic response and to ensure fiscal survival. Online processes are helping governments automate and streamline normally long and tedious searches for grant funding. Additionally, cloud-based systems drastically reduce time for state and local governments to track how each grant dollar is spent.
At the onset of coronavirus, the California Department for Housing and Community Development (HCD) needed to quickly deliver community development and disaster relief funding statewide. Through digital grants management, HCD was able to integrate its state financial system and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) federal reporting system to help streamline the distribution and tracking of funding. Now recipients throughout the state can access this funding faster. At the same time, HCD is now successfully managing over 7 programs and 100 subawards while getting out over $3.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and CDBG-DR (Disaster Recovery) funding. And HCD is better able to administer emergency grant funding under the CARES Act to allow organizations to help homeless populations during the pandemic.
Optimize Spending to Maximize Community Impact
As the number of grants and public procurement projects grows faster than the rate of available resources, naturally, the focus turns to process efficiency and optimization.
By eliminating their hardcopy and manual processes in 2017, the Metropolitan Commission in San Francisco (MTC) slashed procurement project times as much as 67% by allowing their teams to run complex RFPs in a month versus the typical 60 to 90 days. Additionally, MTC saw 200% faster project cycles compared to old processes. Digital procurement processes ensure efficient spend in a way that optimizes stakeholder and community impact while demonstrating compliance across all checkpoints. This is especially important during the pandemic when goods and services like PPE and hand sanitizer need to be delivered to constituents at record speed.
In the wake of the pandemic, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey launched the cloud-based Arizona Public Assistance Express Pay Program in an effort to expedite the disbursement of Covid-19 funding across the state. This program eliminates disparate hardcopy and manual tracking processes and streamlines the delivery of public assistance to local governments, tribal communities, schools, nonprofit organizations and houses of worship for FEMA-eligible projects related to Covid-19 response and recovery efforts. Now, Arizona has been able to centralize the release and tracking of funds, as well as accelerate the timeline of reviewing, disbursing and reimbursing grants from months to days.
Harness Technology as a Force Multiplier
With limited resources, grants management and procurement technologies have shifted from a “nice to have” to a “must have.”
Academic institutions in particular have seen dramatic changes in order to offer a variety of learning options for students during the pandemic. Recent reports show that when comparing 2019 to 2020, schools have seen a 122% increase in purchasing tablets and computers and a 183% increase in cybersecurity-related software and equipment purchases.
Digital tools can enable procurement teams to respond to these needs quickly while maintaining federal compliance in the procurement process. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the San Antonio Independent School District (ISD), which serves approximately 54,000 students in 86 schools, began evaluating RFPs within one week of securing digital procurement software. San Antonio ISD now runs approximately 65 bids and RFPs every year. The district estimates it saves 12 hours per project—giving the team back 780 hours, or 32 days of time, to spend on more value-added initiatives and activities. These efficiency gains are especially critical now, as schools are running 367% more cleaning and disinfecting procurement projects, 122% more tablet and computer procurement projects, and 183% more cybersecurity-related procurement projects.
At the end of the day, digital transformation is no longer something to achieve in the future: it’s happening now, at a more rapid pace than ever before. State and local governments simply cannot afford to wait to modernize their mission-critical processes and systems, especially when millions of dollars needed for aid is contingent on doing it right from the get-go. Public-sector organizations that take advantage of the remaining funding they have now will emerge stronger and ready for whatever the future holds.
Corry Flatt is the founder and CEO of Bonfire. Corry is responsible for driving Bonfire’s strategic direction while overseeing the company’s commitment to help procurement teams make the right purchasing decisions, easily. James Ha serves as president and CEO of eCivis, guiding the company’s strategic direction as well as overseeing all facets of business operations in helping state, local and tribal governments simplify their grants management.