BAI: New Campus Computer Systems Offer Improved Processes
by Kathleen Phillips Satz, Berkeley Administrative Initiatives
By Kathleen Phillips Satz
BERDAHL: There are a lot of reasons why these systems are needed if we are to get complete, up-to-date and pertinent information information we need to do our jobs. We have a dated system in place one that does not provide the range of answers to the kinds of questions we want to generate. We need a system that is more immediate and online, that provides more information.
Q: This is a huge undertaking. Are you convinced this is the best approach?
BERDAHL: This was underway when I came, but I know that a lot of effort went into thinking about what we needed and reviewing the proposals of various vendors. A decision was made to go ahead. I think that that was the right and necessary decision; I also think it is an irreversible decision.
MITCHELL: Its important to recognize, too, that there is a difference between our ideal of what we would like to implement and what we are implementing at the moment. Even though PeopleSoft was determined to have the best available product, no vendor had designed a program for the particular needs of higher education. So a great deal of time has been spent looking at our needs and how we might customize the software to meet them.
Q: Who decides and how are decisions made about implementation?
MITCHELL: We have a Senior Management Implementation Team (SMIT): Alison McGill, controller and executive director of Financial and Business Services; Jack McCredie, associate vice chancellor for Information Systems and Technology; Alice Gregory, director of Human Resources; and Patti Owen, manager of Academic Personnel. They are responsible for setting the projects scope. They work with two control unit management groups that include representatives from each control unit, who are responsible for representing what the units desire. For policy decisions we have the BAI Steering Committee with broad campus representation. To the extent that SMIT or the steering committee believes policy decisions should be made at a higher level, those issues come to the Chancellors Cabinet.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about the systems that need to be set straight?
MITCHELL: There was a notion on campus for a long time that the Berkeley Financial System was going to replace everything. It was never intended to replace everything. Most of the shadow systems will no longer be needed, but there are subsidiary systems that feed into the general ledger. These contain a level of detail that is important to individual units, and will be converted to integrate with BFS. Part of our Year 2000 project is to work with all these subsidiary systems to make sure they are fully compatible.
Q: At this point is the campus in consensus on the BAIs?
BERDAHL: Certainly the cabinet, which is ultimately the central policy-making body, agrees on the need to move forward on this judiciously. We have hammered out all the decision process issues, and have consensus on how we will go forward with this. If you are asking whether everyone agrees with all the details this system needs to produce on day one, the answer is no. That we have to say honestly. The answer is that we will probably never have complete consensus about all those details. There will always be people who think the system should be one way or the other, who want one format instead of another. Ive never seen anything as complex as this that has uniform agreement. The campus agrees on the decision-making process.
Q: To what extent is the BAI supposed to be a cost saving project and to what extent is it intended to be a modernization project?
BERDAHL: First of all, it may not be cost saving, but it will be long-term cost avoidance. To have a system like we have now, that is increasingly less responsive to the accounting and reporting needs of the campus and is not amenable to change, becomes increasingly more of a problem. The cost of keeping the status quo grows substantially with each passing year, and I think that is really what we are talking about as far as cost savings.
Will there be a need for substantially fewer people working in business offices around campus? Probably not. There will also be some costs associated with equipment. In terms of implementation costs, we have compared our anticipated costs with those of other universities installing this kind of system and they are comparable. It is expensive, no question about it.
Q: How does the concept of decentralization fit into the BAI project?
BERDAHL: The function and the virtue of decentralization are that it gives a lot of autonomy to local decision-making in the allocation and deployment of resources. The benefit of the new system is that it will provide better, more useful, more timely information. All financial systems are controlled centrally. You dont keep the official record of your checking account the bank does but you can go to the ATM and get an up-to-date record of your transactions. It used to be that you had to wait until the end of the month and get your statement in the mail.
MITCHELL: We now have annual financial statements; the goal is to have monthly financial statements. With the new systems, you will not only have online access to information, you will have more accurate and current information.
Q: Any final message to the campus?
BERDAHL: I dont want to over-promise what we will deliver on day one. There is no new system as comprehensive and complex as this that does not produce some dissatisfaction when it is issued. So there will undoubtedly be people who say Why did we do this, it doesnt do what I wanted, Ive got to relearn how to process this document, and all the rest. I dont want people to expect this to be without a hitch or some dislocation.
MITCHELL: I would add that the project teams have been working very diligently with the campus to make sure the software responds to the campuss requirements. Secondly, we understand how critical training will be to a successful implementation, and the development of our training program is well under way.
BERDAHL: I think it is important to add that this is a system that will
be constantly evolving, and that is what we want. It is important
to have a system that can continue to improve, that isnt frozen.
Chancellors Cabinet Approves Security Policy
In April the Chancellors Cabinet approved a basic security policy for financial transactions and reporting under the new Berkeley Financial System.
For financial transactions such as requisitions, purchase orders and payment of invoices, the system will require two authorized users, a preparer and a reviewer, to approve a transaction, in order for it to post to the system. If the transaction crosses department lines, the reviewer will be responsible for making sure the other department agrees to the transaction before completing the reviewer step.
For financial reporting, authorized users of the system will have access to all information except provisional accounts, which will be available only to deans and control unit administrators. Vice chancellors will have access to all university accounts.
The BAI Steering Committee discussed and forwarded this security policy to the cabinet in order to reduce the number of individuals required to handle transactions, in keeping with the Chancellors goal of streamlining administrative processes.
Extensive analysis of alternative reporting structures, and the cabinets own philosophy, led to the change in policy.
The campus will learn more about the purchasing and accounts payable processes in the new system at two campus demos this week: May 13 and 14, 10 a.m. to noon, in Sibley Auditorium. Seating is first come, first served; no pre-enrollment is required.
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