System improves access to records
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 33 - June 18, 1998
Repetition may be good if your aim is Carnegie Hall, but if you are entering numbers into a database, it is inefficient. Fewer keystrokes is one of the blessings offered by the new accounting system which goes on-line for sponsored programs on July 1.
Currently, when a proposal is submitted for a research grant or contract, staff members in the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) must enter the same information in three databases.
First, they assign the proposal a number and enter information into a proposal-monitoring system that allows them to track the status of university research proposals by title or key words in the title, by principal investigators, and by departments. "The award amounts are entered, then we run monthly reports," said Bonnie Beasley, team coordinator in OSP.
The same data are also entered into the financial reporting system (FRS), where expenses and revenue are posted.
The project-authorization notice (PAN) requires that the same data be entered a third time. A PAN is issued when a project is awarded or additional money is awarded, for instance, Beasley said. "And the FRS and proposal-monitoring system have to be updated as well."
On July 1, with the implementation of the Banner accounting system, much of this process will change--and for the better, Beasley said.
"We'll still start with the proposal-monitoring system, but then the information will flow into the grant-and-fund record," Beasley said, "and later into the billing system." Information that will flow includes the project number, title, sponsor name and ID number, principal investigator (PI), and department or center code. New data, such as dollar amounts and budget codes, will be entered by the OSP staff.
"From the PI's perspective, the information will be on the web," Beasley said. "This means the PI won't have to wait for monthly printed reports."
Although the screens will look different than the printouts do now, the web reports will have the same information as the FRS printouts, Beasley said. PI's or departments will be able to print what they see on the web. In fact, each department or unit will be responsible for getting copies of their own reports. Now the controller's office is responsible for providing FRS printouts, Beasley said.
In addition to less repetition by OSP staff, and more accessibility by PI's and departments, the new system will have a greater capacity for queries, Beasley said. "You will be able to search by title, agency, PI, dollar amount (e.g. find all grants over $1 million), key words, status, and time frame (e.g., all grants awarded in 1997)."
Is there a downside? "Only the learning curve," Beasley said. For example, "All the screens have acronyms and you have to get used to what they are," she said. "And the names of things have changed. `Department codes' will become `organization codes'; `object codes' will be called `account codes.'" Additional information about account codes, etc. is available on the web at bannerfinance.co.vt.edu/index.htm.
Hands-on training is being provided to hundreds of future Banner users. Training for PI's and other users on the web reports will be in July. Each department contact will be notified soon of the training schedule.
Regarding PI's submitting information with a proposal, Beasley said, "The proposal-internal-approval form will have a few additional boxes to check." This form will eventually be placed on a web site. In the meantime, OSP staff members can send the form electronically to departments; however, different versions of windows and different machines may affect the way the form is received.
A final piece of good news is that "Everyone will be using the same system -- payroll, purchasing, and OSP," Beasley said.
Beasley and Pat Hobbs are the OSP representatives on the Banner Finance Implementation Team.