With the finance module of the Banner Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system online, Thomas Lauer and other Ball State principal investigators (PIs) are able to check on the balances in their grants with a few keystrokes on the computer and a few clicks on the mouse.
“This capability will allow more efficient use of grant funds,” says Lauer, professor of biology, director of the Aquatic Biology and Fisheries Center, and Ball State’s 2010 Researcher of the Year.
Lauer received about $100,000 in grants in the 2010–11 fiscal year for research, including his longtime studies of yellow perch populations in Lake Michigan. All of his grants are active at the same time, and the end of the grantors’ fiscal years is crunch time.
The former process to check balances and available funds for salaries, supplies, travel, etc., was not so immediate. Lauer had to request a report from the Contracts and Grants Office, whose staff had to keep a backup Excel spreadsheet to find out how much was unspent and how much was already committed to such expenses as salaries and fringe benefits. The new system shows the grant’s budget, budget availability, and other records since its inception.
The ability to check budgets online and any time is just one way administering grant funds will become more streamlined and convenient. (And, yes, you can still check on your balance by making a phone call to Contracts and Grants.)
The system also uses a new, paperless process for setting up the accounts that give PIs access to their grant money. Not only does this change save trees, it saves administrative time and allows PIs to start spending their grant funds much sooner, says Kathy Lucas, director of the Contracts and Grants Office, which is responsible for administering the funds, complying with federal and state regulations, and keeping records for audits, among other duties.
With the former paper form, the process could take three weeks or more, because the form had to physically go to several offices and buildings for approval. If there was a delay, it could take several phone calls to find out whose desk the form was on.
All the approvals are still required with a paperless process, but no one has to walk a form to another office or another building. And finding out where the form is in the approval process is a few clicks away on the computer.
“We are so excited about Banner,” Lucas says. “It’s going to help a lot.”
Components of Banner Digital Campus from SunGard Inc. will be used to manage the systems in finance, human resources, student services, financial aid, and advancement. After training sessions and extensive testing, the finance module was the first portion of Banner to go online on July 1, 2011. The process for implementing Banner across the entire campus is expected to take until December 2012.
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