In the Trenches: A Staffer Struggles with ADAPT
As a lab administrator in the chemistry department, Linda E. Ross uses the new financial systems implemented under Project ADAPT often.
But though the system was expected to make her life easier, Ross says that most tasks take her longer than before.
"We're in a whole new world, and there's no map," Ross says.
Just getting started in the web of new systems can be a challenge. The new software puts more than eight different tools on her computer desktop. She must memorize almost as many "passwords" to use the system's various programs.
And to do simple billing procedures, she frequently must use a complicated combination of applications.
"As a lab administrator, I need to know several of the ADAPT programs," she says. "We use up to four distinctly different computer applications for purchasing and reimbursement instead of one or two."
For example, say Ross has to reimburse a foreign post-doctoral fellow who buys a book for the lab.
"Before, we would make out one pink form with stapled receipts and send it to the business office," she says, estimating that the whole process took under five minutes.
Now, Ross needs at least 30 minutes to complete the same task. First she must register the student as a "foreign national vendor" by downloading a Foreign National Information Form from the Project ADAPT website, completing it and faxing it to the central administration's accounts payable department.
"A visiting scholar from England or Germany is treated like a foreign
company," Ross explains.
The next day, the student is officially entered into the system as a vendor. Ross then uses a different application called "Web Voucher" to enter the payment as if she were paying a vendor.
Meanwhile, Ross fills out a paper-based Non-Employee Reimbursement Form---known universally as a NERF and replacing a similar form once know as SNERF by hand.
On this form she must write down a requisition number generated by the Web Voucher program.
Ross then prints out the electronic form, attaches it to the receipts and NERF form. She tracks down the hypothetical foreign-student-book-buyer, who must sign the NERF form, makes a photocopy of the whole packet, and brings it to the chemistry department's business office for approval.
Once the transaction is approved, the student is reimbursed within a week. Under the old system, reimbursement could take as long as a month.
Sound complicated? Ross thinks so. But what's even more surprising to her is how administrators like her first learned this and other complicated processes.
"We have been inundated with training courses, but in the end, you figure out what you specifically need to do, on your own," she says. The first time Ross had to reimburse a foreign national, she spent about three hours navigating the system.
Ross says she understands the University's need and desire to obtain as much information as possible.
"Project ADAPT is all about getting more info from all levels of financial administration," Ross says. "In time, the different programs and processes may well become more streamlined, but in the meantime, the burden of identifying, and using, the correct reporting tool rests on the shoulders of each individual administrator."
One change that particularly challenges financial administrators like Ross is the new 33-digit account code system.
In the "good old days," account strings were only 14 digits long. Transactions that were made regularly in the lab were identified by a series of about 20 2-digit object codes.
Now, Ross sifts through 63 pages of codes to find the right numbers to use for purchasing.
"The four digit object codes [that designate the kind of purchase being made] are extremely specific," she says. "Finding the correct one can be a challenge in itself."
Ross's department has created a "cheat sheet" of over 100 codes for the that are used for items that are routinely purchased.
One of the most disturbing problems, according to Ross, is that mistakes are easy with the longer 33 digit code. One simple keystroke error can cause much bigger problems for her lab later on.
In the last three months, says Ross, she has caught about 5 different errors in her detailed reports.
"Finding and preventing the mistakes is like playing detective, which is time consuming, but kind of fun." Ross adds.
In principle, ADAPT applications themselves are supposed to catch problems like this, but in fact, many typos and digit transpositions can still get through.
Lab administrators try to help each other out by sharing the gems of information they can learn only by trial and error.
Ross says her department and others have been working feverishly to set up new programs that can make the University-designed systems easier to use for their individualized purposes.
"Communication between local financial administrators, departments, and schools is essential during this adjustment period. We can't wait for all solutions to trickle down from above," she says.