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June 25, 2001

Budget distribution makes online debut

Linda Erhard is a business analyst for ITD


As part of Emory’s 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, Emory’s main accounting system.

With the 2001–02 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 Emory’s 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 department’s or division’s 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 concerns—and we’re very pleased with the outcome."


Back to Emory Report June 25, 2001