June 25, 2001
Budget distribution makes online debut
Linda Erhard is a business analyst for ITD
As part of Emorys overall budgeting process, approved dollars for
the upcoming fiscal year are dispersed to individual divisions and departments,
which decide how the money will be applied across approved spending categories,
known as subcodes.
For the past eight years, budget distribution information was disseminated
and collected on more than 150 individual, department-specific diskettes.
Each department had to load the program, key against it, save the data
and return the diskette to the Budget Office. The Budget Office would
then balance, consolidate and prepare it for upload to FAS, Emorys
main accounting system.
With the 200102 budget, however, that cumbersome and time-consuming process will end.
Working with the Information Technology Division (ITD), the Budget Office
has developed a web-based budget distribution system to take its place.
"We had been looking for something to replace the diskette system
for over a year," said Sabra Avery, senior budget analyst for the
Budget Office. "We considered a prepackaged system, but Emorys
structure and finances are so complex, nothing would have been an easy
or economical fit. After looking at other business applications using
the web, we thought we should be able to do something too."
"This application will serve as a single point through which budget
distributions may be accessed by individual departments, keyed against,
balanced, stored, retrieved by the Budget Office and prepared for final
upload," said Linda Erhard of ITD Administrative Services. She managed
the development and implementation of the budget system.
"We essentially translated the budget distribution process from
one that was based entirely on physical media, to one that is centrally
available and entirely electronic. In this case, the web serves well as
a tool that both conveys and stores information," Erhard said.
The system was written in Cold Fusion, a development tool designed to
interface between databases and the web. The application enables staff
members responsible for their departments or divisions budget
distribution to access the system from any computer using a web browser.
An Oracle database stores keyed budget information; however, critical
data such as FAS account numbers and past-year budget details are fed
regularly from FAS. The connection between a mainframe system and the
new budget distribution system represents a milestone in bridging legacy
technologies and newer, web-based systems.
Ease of use, according to Erhard, was one of the primary requirements.
"Our goal was not to design a system that was technically elegant.
Our goal was to develop a system that would serve the University in a
technically efficient manner," she said.
Dan Walls, dean of admission, already has tried out the new system. "I'm
in my 18th year at Emory, so I have experienced a wide range of budget
approaches going back to writing budget entries on a spreadsheet, to using
a computer disk, to the web-based system this year," Walls said.
"There is no comparison. The new web system is clear, intuitive,
quick and easy. I attended training with several other managers who have
been at Emory over time. We were all pleasantly surprised when, after
about 10 minutes of training, we were ready to go with the new system."
The system is geared toward individual access, allowing users with approved
IDs and passwords to access only those accounts under their authority.
Three reports, the "Budget Detail" for single and multiple accounts,
the "Division Summary Report," and the "Net Total University
by Account," also are available through the system. Each report is
dynamically generated according to keyed budget distribution information
and may be viewed on the web or printed to a local printer.
"Although we felt a homegrown system would better suit our needs, we were somewhat apprehensive that it would not be tried and true," Avery said. "Thanks to ITD Administrative Services, we rapidly overcame our initial concernsand were very pleased with the outcome."