Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ARRA Stimulus Funds and Your ECM Project?

According to the US Department of Education, funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) should start becoming available in just a few days. That’s billions, as in almost 100 billion dollars worth of federal stimulus spending that’s expected to be distributed over the next two years to academic and research organizations across the country.

What could this mean for you or your institution? That probably depends upon how current programs are funded and how well you can capitalize on the potential windfall from ARRA. $53.6 billion of these funds will be distributed via the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) as a new, one-time appropriation. While these are intended to preserve existing programs and jobs, there’s ample opportunity for infrastructure improvements, including technology projects.

Each state has already been allocated its portion of SFSF money, and guidelines for acceptable grant requests are reasonably strait forward. We’ve collected information about how to submit SFSF funding requests at our Xythos ARRA micro site, if you’d like to learn more. The most important thing to remember is that the time to act is now. SFSF funds will likely go fast as there are fewer restrictions limiting their use. After all, the intention is help stimulate the national economy fast.

ARRA will also help bolster the budgets of several federal agencies that also work closely with the higher education and research communities. The most significant include:

  • NIH: $10.4 billion
  • NSF: $3 billion
  • DOE: $5.5 billion (1.6 billion for Office of Science)
  • NIST: $0.6 billion
  • NASA: $1 billion
  • Other: $1 billion

Current and newly proposed research programs may qualify for funding provided by these agencies. Once again, the key factor is timing. Some first round submission deadlines are at the end of this month. That’s the last day a request can be submitted for first round NIH funding, for example. Obviously, there’s plenty of work to get done quickly. So, we’ve also assembled guidance and resources about working with these agencies at our Xythos ARRA micro site to help you get started, if you haven’t already begun this process.

There are several reasons why enterprise content management (ECM) systems can play an important role in ARRA programs. First, a variety of academic and research initiatives supported by the program can benefit from ECM via support for distance learning, green initiatives and business process improvements that will advance overall institutional performance. In fact, industry leaders are recommending that institutions act strategically and consider programs that can provide lasting economic benefit vs. simply addressing current budget deficits.

Second, enhanced security and reporting requirements associated with most federally funded research programs almost demand some type of ECM solution to track and protect the myriad of data collected and exchanged between research participants. This challenge becomes even more acute as research is conducted among different institutions, government agencies and private industry. For example, ECM applications like Xythos EDMS can go a long way towards overcoming the security risks associated with email file collaboration by providing a common content repository.

Finally, the expanded monitoring and reporting requirements each state must agree to in order to begin receiving SFSF money may also benefit from features such as automated workflow and integrated records management found within leading ECM applications. In fact, some institutions are already using this technology to fast track grant funding requests and monitor approved research programs. ARRA compliance will probably be less of a challenge for these organizations as they can apply their ECM experience towards meeting the new guidelines.

While it may seem odd amidst the steady stream of grim economic news, there may never be a better time to think, and act strategically about your institution’s IT plans. Recessions create increased demands upon academic institutions in particular - sometimes exceeding their systematic ability to respond. ECM solutions can help extend the capabilities of faculty and staff to respond, as well as eliminate unnecessary costs and delays from critical business processes intended to serve the greater academic community.

We’re planning on investigating opportunities related to ARRA and associated stimulus programs as a matter of course at Xythos. I’ll try and keep readers up to date on that process here at EasyECM as well. In the meantime, please keep the good ideas coming. Thanks, Jim

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