An institution spending $600 million a year should easily account for and track its money, but the University of Wyoming is having difficulties with an outdated financial system.
To address the problem, a new $30 million fiscal system is currently being implemented. It would eliminate the dozens of current systems and secondary systems used by different departments and colleges that cannot easily share information, said Bill Mai, vice president for administration.
“It should streamline all of the accounting efforts on campus; it should help with student information from the standpoint of scholarship awarding; it should help with things as basic as billing procedures and, in the end — the top rung of this thing is the management reporting all of that can provide,” he said.
The current system is in poor condition — what should be simple tasks become long-term efforts, said Anne Alexander, associate vice president for academic affairs.
“I don’t think I can overstate how much we need this,” she said.
“It’s really difficult to find the data you need to make strategic decisions. It’s not that people don’t have that data — it’s just all over the place.”
Several different systems are currently being used that cannot easily communicate together. Some department heads or other administrators are using shadow systems, such as spreadsheet programs, completely outside all UW fiscal programs because there is little training in the official system.
“We’re using a late 20th century high-tech system,” Alexander said. “It can take multiple days, sometimes even longer, to find information when it should take no more than a few hours.”
President Emeritus Dick McGinity focused on creating a fiscal system since he took office in January 2014.
“We owe it to the people in the state and their elected representatives to be much more transparent about how resources are deployed in the institution and whether they’re being deployed effectively or not,” he said. “To employ the resources the university gets, whether it’s from the state or tuition or fees, we have a responsibility to manage those as effectively as possible, and we need a system to do it. The absence of such a system was adversely affecting all parts of the university.”
The system could also affect students in several ways, Mai said.
“We currently have a student information system out there, and it’s not terribly well-tied to the rest of the university systems,” he said. “(A new fiscal system) makes a lot more sense for students in terms of scholarship awarding and how they pay their bills — about every level you can think of.”
The project’s total estimated cost is $30 million, although Mai said negotiations with the firm are ongoing.
“It’s a big, big effort, and that’s why it’s so expensive,” he said. “It’s not just fixing one little thing. It’s basically restructuring all the information on this campus that has to do with its operations.”
About $20 million is needed for the FY 2017-2018 biennium. The Legislature has appropriated $5 million in one-time funds while also earmarking another $5 million in the block grant that cannot be used for any other purpose.
The remaining $10 million will be funded partially from a sweep of funding in Oct. 2015 and reserve accounts. The sweep collected unused money from FY 2015. The remaining $10 million for the next biennium has yet to be identified.
“The university will have a hard time coming up with that money,” Mai said.
Administration is currently selecting a vendor for the system. While Huron Consulting Group is setting up program implementation, they do not make a financial system. Mai said they’ve narrowed the group to a couple system provider and reporting tool that makes use of the data.
The accounting piece of the system should be implemented by July 1, 2017, although the entire project should be complete by early 2019.
“It wouldn’t be complete, but it’d replace the accounting part of the systems we have,” he said.
“I think that’s a discrete piece of the overall effort.”