The university unveils today a Hopkins-developed, Web-based system that its creators say will make managing and monitoring research grant accounts as simple as online banking.
The Access to Financial Information system offers a direct and secure means for principal investigators and administrative staff at Johns Hopkins to peruse financial summaries--which are updated daily--of all their sponsored accounts.
Previously, sponsored accounts were tracked through somewhat cumbersome paper statements released at the end of each fiscal month. Wanting more up-to-date financial summaries, some individual departments developed their own "shadow" reporting systems, which varied from the crude to the sophisticated.
Michael Amey, assistant dean for research administration at the School of Medicine, who championed the development of the new system, says AFI represents "a major step forward" in grant account management at Hopkins.
"In the past, we have not provided timely enough information to faculty and administration to oversee their grant accounts," Amey says. "With this new system, they will be able to get access to financial data which is accurate as of the previous day's close of business. The Web provided the basis for getting this information to them."
AFI comes as the result of a recommendation made by a task force of the university and health system's Business Process Improvement Committee. The financial business practices work group wanted to create a user-friendly tool so that principal investigators and administrators could manage their accounts more effectively. Another aim was to significantly reduce delays in supplying researchers with account information.
Stephen Hinnenkamp, director of financial systems in the Controller's Office and AFI project director, says the delays created the potential for faculty and staff to manage their funds improperly without realizing it.
"In some instances, by the time a report would get to a P.I., it would be maybe as long as two months after the end of the business month," says Hinnenkamp, who serves on the financial business practices work group. A researcher could then unknowingly overextend his account, he says, which could lead to government fines being levied against the institution.
"The complex and variable requirements of managing grants and contracts from multiple sponsors makes timely and accurate accounting information very important to P.I.s," Hinnenkamp says. "By providing faculty and staff a Web interface with close-to-real-time data, we feel we have met a lot of their needs and made it a lot easier for them to manage sponsored accounts."
AFI, which is linked directly to the university accounting system, is available in all divisions except APL to all principal investigators and to their administrative staff with mainframe accounts who have accounting system access. AFI is not available at APL because the Lab uses a separate accounting system.
The AFI system can be reached through the Controller's Office home page, or by connecting to http://www.jhu.edu/afi.
After inputting his or her Johns Hopkins Enterprise Directory log-on name and password, the user is taken to an overview report that displays all accounts to which he or she has approved access. The report is a summary of expenditures and remaining balances in total or for an individual account.
From this report, the user may select links to specific account summaries or a master account overview. The individual account summary shows budgets, expenditures, encumbrances and the account balance. Budgets are listed by category, including services, supplies, stipends, travel, and salaries and wages. The report also includes a revenue summary listing moneys received, invoiced and over 90 days past due.
The master account overview summarizes activities for a specific master account and all its allocations. Users may see a summary of expenditures and remaining balances for the entire project or may review financial activity for individual allocations.
AFI displays both active and inactive accounts.
Each screen of data can be downloaded into Excel or Excel 2000 by clicking on a menu bar. The reports also display what are called burn rates, an average amount a principal investigator can spend on the remaining months of a project based on expenditures since the project's inception.
AFI allows researchers to worry more about science and less about money, says Thomas Kelly, director of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the School of Medicine and a faculty representative on a subcommittee that determined AFI's feasibility.
"What every principal investigator wants to know is, how much money do I have on my grant and what money do I have left to spend. It was hard to get that information in a timely manner in the past. This new system helps an investigator manage his grant and plan his science accordingly," Kelly says. "AFI is also useful for administrators who want to see an overview of all the grants in the department. An administrator and researcher can be looking at the same account summary from any remote location."
Michael Amey says AFI is the product of a unique collaborative effort.
AFI was developed by staff from the Controller's Office and Hopkins Information Technology Services in collaboration with an outside vendor and with input from more than 100 faculty and staff from across Hopkins divisions.
Amey says a huge debt is owed to the vision and leadership of James McGill, senior vice president for finance and administration; Stephanie Reel, chief information officer; Jerry Bridges, controller; and Judy Reitz, chief operating officer of the hospital and chair of the financial business practices work group; and to the technical expertise of Stephen Hinnenkamp and of Ron Cortese, AFI project manager with Hopkins ITS.
"To create such a system, everyone just worked beautifully together," Amey says. "There was just a huge effort and contributions from all these groups."
A majority of the active players in the creation of AFI recently got together to exhibit the new system to President William R. Brody. Brody, visibly impressed, said that AFI is a clear demonstration of how bringing together different divisions of the university can help solve a common problem.
Although AFI currently shows only sponsored account information, Amey says preliminary discussions have been held about expanding it to include all accounts.
Twelve training sessions were conducted over the past month to introduce faculty and staff to the system. Additional sessions are planned for February and March. For more information regarding AFI access and training, call an IT support center at 410-516 (or 955 or 997)-HELP.