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December 5, 1996

Pitt plans to replace 3 financial systems with on-line Oracle system

By July 1, Pitt plans to replace three of its 1960s-vintage financial systems — general ledger, accounts payable, and purchasing — with a modern, on-line system called Oracle.

Arthur G. Ramicone, associate vice chancellor for Budget and Administration, said, "Basically, if you get down to the nuts and bolts of what Oracle is going to change, it can be summed up in two areas: a., it will allow for electronic requisitioning and purchasing, so it eliminates the paperwork related to purchasing, and b., it's an on-line system that will allow you to see how much of your budget monies have been committed or encumbered.

"In the past, there was a four-to-eight week delay between when you spent money from your budget and when you saw it appear on your level report. Now, as soon as you input something into the computer, it's going to show you that you've committed that money. So if you have $1,000 in your budget and you purchase something for $100, Oracle will tell you immediately that you have $900 left. Under the current system, it might take two months for that transaction to show up," Ramicone said.

And if you exceed your budget, Oracle will alert you — and your boss — although Pitt's system will not actually block the transaction.

"People who commit funds that take them over their allotted budgets will get a message on their computer screen informing them that they've exceeded their budgets," Ramicone said. "It's called an 'Oracle alert,' and a similar message will automatically show up on your supervisor's computer." At this point, Pitt does not plan to take advantage of an option, available through the Oracle software, of preventing personnel from overspending their budgets, Ramicone said. "Under that option, the system would actually block you from exceeding your budget. It would refuse to process the transaction. But we're not turning that [software option] on, at least for now," the associate vice chancellor said.

Oracle is expected to reduce paperwork substantially at the University. "In the past, if you wanted to buy something through the purchasing system, you filled out a requisition form, sent in your paperwork to the Purchasing office, and they placed the order," Ramicone said.

But with Oracle, authorized staff and faculty will be able to send their orders electronically to Purchasing. Or, employees who are authorized to use Oracle procurement cards may order their goods directly. The cards will be similar to credit cards, with account numbers and assigned spending limits. In general, cards will be available to employees who currently have purchasing authorization.

Faculty stand to benefit from the procurement cards, he said. "Under this system, if you're a researcher and you need to buy a piece of equipment or whatever for your research project on a Saturday night, you can actually shop for it and order it yourself, as long as you use an approved vendor." While Oracle will be fully accessible to PC users, access to the system may eventually be limited for Macintosh users, said William J. Madden, director of the Office of Budget, Planning and Analysis.

"For about the first 18 months-to-two years after the 'go-live' date [July 1, 1997], Mac users will be able to access the current Oracle software, which is a character-based application, through the Telnet program," Madden said. "But at some point after that, Oracle will go to a graphical-based application. The Oracle people tell us that, at that point, they will have developed a software that will give Mac users access to Oracle through the World Wide Web, but we're not sure that all of the Oracle functions will be available through a Web browser." That probably won't present a problem for most Mac users, Madden added. "The people who really would need to worry about limited Oracle functionality through the Web are the core users, the central administration personnel who use our financial accounting system on a daily basis. And most of those people already use PCs," he said.

Since November, Pitt has been offering information sessions for employees who will use Oracle. The last scheduled session will be today, 12:30-1:30 p.m., in 420 Benedum Hall. Hands-on training will begin in April, Ramicone said. Oracle represents the first step in an overhaul of Pitt's outdated financial records systems. "General ledger, accounts payable and purchasing make up about 30 percent of the University's total financial transactions," Ramicone noted. "The remaining 70 percent — payroll, for example, and research accounting — will still go through our old systems. We hope to have a totally new financial system in place within the next three-to-five years." Pitt officials won't say how much Oracle will cost, nor is it known how much money the University will save through increased efficiency.

Ramicone said: "We're still sorting out the total cost, but it's in the millions. We can't reveal what we paid for the software because we signed a confidentiality agreement with [the California-based] Oracle Corp. since we got it so cheap." The University administration hopes to avoid or minimize staff layoffs related to Oracle, according to Ramicone. "This system is going to require a different skills set, and we're going to have to redesign a lot of job descriptions," he said. "People who have worked in manual, low-skill processes will have to be retrained. But we're hoping to avoid layoffs by retraining people and through attrition." — Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 8

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