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California Community Colleges Turn to Business Process Management for Grant Distribution

The California Community College system is turning to business process management software to streamline the work behind issuing grants to schools to help students in healthcare fields. The chancellor's office, which is responsible for allocating the funding it receives from the state to 112 colleges in 72 districts, will be adopting Process Director from BP Logix to improve its processes for awarding and distributing millions of dollars in grants for nursing and allied health programs.

In 2011 the Nursing and Allied Health Unit will manage about $20 million in grants for nursing and additional funds for other health areas with the goal of expanding the number of students in nursing and related fields.

According to Tim Calhoon, director of the college system's Technology Center, located at Butte College, the previous process was complicated, paper-intensive, and reliant on e-mail to communicate the status of applications. "The process for awarding grants was an onerous one. We needed a system that would embrace workflow, ensure a standardized system, and also look at the underlying processes," he said. "Eliminating paper and improving the accuracy of information collected for each grant submission was essential."

Traditionally, the grant process has begun with a "request for application" that the colleges with health programs respond to. Every grant application is read and scored by three people. Each scorer may tackle between 10 and 12 applications over just a few days. The scores from 10 to 15 readers are then averaged by the Chancellor's Office staff. It may take up to six months for final results to be tallied for any given grant, and multiple grants are being processed concurrently.

Another aspect of the search for an alternative to this mind-numbing paper-flow was to find a solution that could be used across colleges in other process-heavy areas. Calhoon and his team selected BP Logix's Process Director. The application includes workflow management, which models existing processes, allowing documents, forms, and tasks to be automatically routed as defined by business processes and rules. A timeline-based workflow feature does historic analysis of activities to provide alerts about potential future problems and delays.

Kathy Pulse, specialist in the Nursing and Allied Health Department, said she expects the online system to enhance the completeness of grant applications. That, in turn, will assist those colleges that had been previously less successful in competing for grants.

"An automated online system would put all colleges on a more equal footing when responding to RFAs," she said. "This would ensure a more equitable distribution of grant funding, particularly to previously under-served colleges," she said. "We always received a flood of applications at the last hour with our old system. If something was missing--a document, for example--a grant application might be deemed invalid--and declined." Under a new process, incomplete applications could be bumped back for additional attention by the applicant.

Process Director pricing starts at $30,000. The company's software is also in use at Columbus Technical College in Georgia and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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