Government department fishes out .NET solution

The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) in Canberra is managing research grant applications for industry development with a .NET system that lets applicants develop submissions in real time.

Under the Commonwealth Government portfolio of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the FRDC commissions research projects for the fisheries industry from around Australia every year.

To complete an online submission form, applicants use an MS Passport protected Web application via the FRDC Web site. Forms can be saved in progress, and applicants can specify a form's ID number to work on a submission simultaneously.

Once complete, the form's contents is sent to FRDC's SQL server. This connects to an in-house integrated accounting and project management system, which can share the information with external databases.

Prior to the .NET system, implemented by Sydney-based consultancy Superior Software for Windows (SSW), applicants mailed MS Access-based submissions to the FRDC on disk.

The major impetus for the .NET system, adopted in 2001, was the requirement that applicants also post multiple copies of their submissions to the 10-member FRDC board.

FRDC business development manager John Wilson said the old submission method was a time-consuming process for both applicants and the FRDC.

"We'd be uploading these [submissions] from disks into our project management system, plus there'd be a lot of printing," said Wilson.

Submissions were also in an inconsistent style, which made the board members' reading task harder.

"A lot of this proposal process is state based, and submissions can vary between states," said Wilson.

To address this problem, the FRDC looked to Microsoft's .NET.

"In a Web environment we can ensure consistency," Wilson said.

Applicants can download MS Snapshot and display their completed form as an Access Snapshot file for printing. The FRDC board then receives a common set of documents to read.

While no study of the effects of the system has been conducted, Wilson said the benefits were obvious.

"We can manage our process more closely than before," he said. "We can create read-only passwords to collaborate with applicants in real time.

"Disks also have the problems of corruption, getting lost, and [previously] if you wanted to locate a submission you would have to sort through all these disks.

Using .NET, the FRDC can also store and sort submissions made via the Web site regardless of their status.

In 2004 the FRDC will move earlier stages of the submission process to the .NET system as well. In the shorter term, it will takeover hosting the application from SSW to more closely control its security.

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