Financial Management Information System

New financial system speeds information access, accuracy

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

Faculty and departmental administrative staff will soon have instant access to up-to-date information on their unit's financial status and employees, and the ability to generate detailed reports thanks to sweeping changes to the university's financial information system.

At present, the types of reports generated from the Financial Records System are limited in scope and, since many transactions take two weeks or more to enter the system, not current. Also, requests for certain reports must currently go through Financial Services rather than being generated by the end user.

Ian Burgess, manager of Financial Information and Reporting in Financial Services, said the changes in the application now taking place will greatly enhance access to financial information for both Financial Services and the university community.

"Information that is now generated in hard copy and then manipulated at the departmental or faculty level to meet specific reporting requirements, will be available electronically," Burgess said.

Information will be available to all users in Microsoft Excel, allowing them to further customize reports on grant or operating fund activity, for example.

Beyond the improved reporting capabilities, the new system will also allow administrators to enter transactions into the system directly rather than submitting them to Financial Services on paper and then having them entered centrally.

"The new system is intended to be a distributed one whereby, as departments are connected and the process is developed, they will be able to enter their purchase requisitions, requisitions for payment, internal requisitions, cash receipts, time sheets and employee information directly from their desks," Burgess said. "The entries will be processed overnight allowing for quicker access to information."

Connectivity remains an important issue as the university's computer systems are upgraded. Burgess said that, to take full advantage of the new system, all departments will require at least one PC operating in a Windows '95 or NT environment. Initially Macintosh computers won't be able to access the system. Inquiry access will be available via the World Wide Web until departments are properly connected.

Faculty and other staff representatives are contributing to the project through involvement on a number of committees established to ensure the needs of end users are met, Burgess said. And two faculties, Medicine and Arts, are working with Financial Services to test the new system when it comes on-line, scheduled for the fall of 1997.

Another change that comes hand in hand with the new system is a move away from a 10-digit chart of account, a series of numbers used for financial transactions and comprising an account code and object code. Under the new Financial Management Information System, the 10-digit chart of accounts is replaced by a longer series of chart fields that will allow better reporting of the source and use of funds. Burgess said that although the new series includes a maximum of 44 digits, only 25 of those are active and usually only a few of the 25 will have to be changed from one transaction to another. Some of the chart fields will appear by default in the electronic forms used to record a transaction.

The series of chart fields includes codes representing: fund -- the classification of revenue according to purpose; project/grant -- used to track assets, liabilities, revenues and expenses to a specific activity, contract or grant; department identification; and account -- nature of a transaction by type. Business unit and budget year will appear by default on electronic forms. Two optional fields will allow further classification of transactions by users. Burgess said entry screens or forms can easily be customized and pull-down menus with code choices and descriptions will be added to various screens to make filling them out less of a challenge to the memory.

To help administrators learn how to best use and adapt the system for their purposes, Financial Services will provide training prior to and during the introduction of the system. Although support measures are still under consideration, Burgess said a central help desk will be established to help staff with questions and problems relating to the new system.

Testing of the system will begin this summer, and it is scheduled to replace the old system completely on Oct. 1.

A future column will deal with the human resources/payroll aspect of the system and with changes in the purchasing system.