Good-bye, Budget Codes
by Kurt Riesselmann
In April,Fermilab will join the world of modern project accounting.After months of intensive testing,Fermilab ’s Business Services Section will “switch on ”the lab ’s new Oracle Projects software system.
“For several years the Fermilab directorate has favored plans to improve the financial management of our laboratory,”said Bruce Chrisman,associate director for administration.“The old budget code system,introduced more than 30 years ago,is no longer up to the task of providing answers to the questions that Fermilab managers and group leaders have about projects, from overall budget performance to the status of individual tasks.”
The old system,which is closely tied to the organizational structure of the laboratory,has been ineffective in handling complex projects that involve people from different organizations within the laboratory,such as the NuMI construction.
“At present a manager sees,for example,just one big number for the cost transfer for labor between two groups,”said Brad Trygar,the project manager responsible for implementing the new system.“In the future,authorized people will have immediate access to the details behind this charge.They can,for example,easily retrieve the list of names of people who worked on the project.In the past,it would have taken hours to find the information. The level of detail just wasn ’t readily available.”
In future,lab managers will be able to “drill down ”into the reports they obtain, and they ’ll have access to many resources on-line.Rather than emphasizing the organizational structure of the lab (divisions,departments,sections,etc), the new system promotes budgeting by activity,recognizing the increasing number of lab-wide projects.Within a project,managers will define tasks and task numbers.Employees working on a specific task or making a purchase related to a certain task use the corresponding project and task number to charge an account.
“You can use the concepts and tools [of project accounting ]to manage virtually any type of effort,from the construction of a shopping mall to the development of software,”said Ann Nestander,a NuMI budget manager who worked for 15 years in private industry before joining Fermilab.“In a way,the lab is jumping on the bandwagon that a lot of companies are already on.
“The new system will help people to become more effective project managers by providing information that will enable them to identify potential budgetary problems sooner.In particular,it will be a big help to be able to quickly see where they stand with respect to a project ’s labor efforts because they will now be able to make direct comparisons between man-hours spent and actual cost versus the cost estimate.The new system will put everyone in the same mode,thinking in terms of budgeting by activity versus budgeting by organization.”
The new system will replace a proliferation of homegrown tools in different groups throughout the lab.The introduction of a common set of tools will allow for easier transfer of data among various applications and organizations.Setting up new project accounts and providing cost-estimates for a new project will also become easier.
To find the best software system,a core team of advisors surveyed lab employees who regularly use accounting tools,and developed a desired- features list for the new system.The team then began to evaluate software packages,looking for off-the-shelf software that required little customization.With financial support provided by Universities Research Association,which manages and operates Fermilab for the U.S. Department of Energy,the laboratory implemented the Oracle Projects system.
Switching to the new system will require various levels of training.The most noticeable change will be the demise of the old budget codes. “Everybody knows and loves their three budget letters,”said Connee Trimby,budget officer in the Directorate.“We have come to the limit of what we can do with our three-letter system.Our accounting system hasn ’t changed since the laboratory started.The new system represents a complete overhaul of our accounting process.There are extensive behind-the-scene changes.”
Relatively few people will need to learn the details of the system.For most people,it is sufficient to know the project and task numbers that replace their budget codes.Employees can look up those numbers on the Web at www-bss.fnal.gov/apps.html.A series of town hall meetings,held in February,provided key employees in different divisions and sections with additional information.(The presentations are available at http://www-bss.fnal.gov/project/.) People who need specific information will receive hands-on training.
“Hopefully we won ’t feel too big a hiccup when we roll this out at the beginning of April,”said Chrisman.“It is a very important project for the lab. Although switching to the new system will require some adjustments and training of employees,the pay-offs will be substantial.”
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|last modified 3/07/2003 email Fermilab|