Legal Services Corp. starts at beginning to modernize grants system

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The Legal Services Corporation is detailing every step in its grant making process as part of its systems modernization effort.

The LSC is developing a modernization blueprint of the current processes and what the future ones will look like.

Jada Breegle, the LSC’s chief information officer, said she plans to automate business processes and consolidate data under the new grant-making system.

But before she can do that, LSC will develop an enterprise architecture detailing the “as-is” state and the “to-be” vision.

Jada Breegle is the Legal Services Corporation’s chief information officer.

“I want to make sure that all of our grant processes are automated in the new system because today they not quite all automated,” Breegle said on Ask the CIO. “What we are starting with is a business process analysis of all of our grant making processes. We will do that with ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ processes before we purchase and implement a new system.”

Breegle, who came to LSC in October after spending 17 years at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and then four years at the Federal Retirement Thrift investment Board where she was the deputy chief technology officer, said about 20 percent of all grant processes are not automated, depending on Excel and Access databases, and what is automated isn’t all in one place.

“This is a really common problem having data in many places and having a hard time getting it all together,” she said. “The first thing we had to do was write down all the processes that were included in grants management. That has all been written down and approved.”

LSC issued a request for proposals on Feb. 13 for a vendor to help the agency document all of those grant processes through a series of meetings and interviews.

Breegle said LSC then will use an agile development methodology to implement the new system.

Proposals are due March 16.

This is the second time the LSC is trying to modernize its grant system. In the RFP, the agency says it issued a solicitation in 2015 but “encountered some challenges with the buildout.”

Then, LSC will move to phase 2 of the project where it may hire a contractor to prepare a cost‐benefit analysis that compares at least three alternatives for a grants management system, including Salesforce and a commercial off‐the‐shelf grants management system; document LSC’s business and technical requirements for a new grants management system; assist LSC with drafting the grants management system RFP; and facilitate a comprehensive vendor evaluation and selection process.

“I want to come out of this with the process that I need to automate that would be a successful grants management system for us,” Breegle said. “The idea is I want to know the totality of our requirements. We aren’t that complex to figure it out. This isn’t a weapons system. This is a grants management system. We probably have about 40 processes that have to be automated. It’s a finite amount.”

She said the second RFP for the actual grants management system may not come until 2019.

“We are committed to actually having everything in the cloud, and we’ve already made that move in most of our systems so any shared service or cloud services, we are there,” she said. “It’s so exciting coming from DoD and FRTIB, we were a little cautious about the cloud. I’m so excited to be here where we are 100 percent in.”

The LSC has been updating pieces of its current grants management system over the last few years. Breegle said one of those efforts relied on the agile methodology to modernize the piece of the system where grantees provide a report to LSC describing their staffs and the cases they’ve done over the last year.

Data is another big priority for the LSC that is directly related to the grant management system modernization effort.

Breegle said she wants all employees to be able to find the data they need when they need it.

“We have an office of data governance and analysis and they are using data from a bunch of different sources including the data our grantees report to us,” she said. “They are using visualization tools to create maps and dashboards, and then they post that data on data.gov.

Breegle said another priority is improving the LSC’s governance processes. She said the agency developed many of these processes, such as incident management, access management and security management, organically over the years, but now they need to be formalized.

“I’m drafting them as we go and trying to fit them around the LSC culture, which is different than being in the DoD or other federal agencies,” Breegle said. “I don’t have a working group yet, but that is one of  my governance priorities. I’m setting up an IT steering group and the hope is they can help me vet priorities and help me with some of the processes that have to be written.”

She said the charter already is written so the IT steering group should be in place  in the next few months.