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Grants System Helps Chicago Control Public Health Spending

Key components of the Chicago Dept. of Public Health's new system include CA Clarity, Appian software, and a number of Microsoft products.

About two-thirds of the Chicago Dept. of Public Health's annual $200 million budget comes from grants, most notably from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while one-third is funded by the city's corporate budget. But until now, procurement and payment of the department's grant money was managed primarily by legacy paper-based, manual processes -- a system that gave little visibility into budget spending along the way.

That's changing with a new grant management system that CDPH rolled out a couple of months ago as part of a larger initiative that includes transforming the department's grant and finance units into an integrated financial management shared services organization.

In the past, most CDPH grant work focused around manual transactions rather than analytics. With paper documents sitting on people's desks, especially when workers were out of the office, sick, or on vacation, "we were never in the position to forecast the effectiveness of spending," said Carlo Govia, CDPH first deputy commissioner and CFO.

As a result, grant money sometimes went unspent even when it could have been used for public health initiatives like awareness programs and emergency preparedness. In fact, in 2006, because the grant team had little ability to crunch numbers or create reports, 10% of grant dollars went unspent.

CDC later allowed the department to reallocate those funds, but in other cases, unused grant money gets returned, Govia said. "In times of declining grant dollars, you need to maximize your grants," he said.

The department's new financial management shared services system is replacing those old mostly manual grant processes, providing better visibility into the pool of money allocated for city public health programs, such as for immunization, and disease prevention and awareness, including H1N1 and HIV/AIDS.

In the past, there was an Oracle financial system to set up budgets, "but the gap was a lack of visibility to in-process transactions," Govia said. Time that was spent assembling spreadsheets is now used to "crunch numbers," he explained.

"There's more integrated workflow between grant people and the financial team, more visibility to make better decisions," said Govia. "We've moved away from silos of grants to a fully integrated system, he said.

As a result, Govia said the department has "better visibility into the bigger picture."

Key components of the department's new system include CA Clarity, for grants application, award, and closeout management and Appian software for procure-to-pay workflow of requisitions. The system also includes a number of Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Dynamics GP financial accounting system; Microsoft Enterprise Reporting budgeting system; Microsoft XLR financial statement reporting; Microsoft PerformancePoint Server for data warehousing and analytics, and Microsoft SharePoint for electronic content management.

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