Effort Reporting in a Digital World

Those of us that are involved in the Research Administration arena have a clear understanding of the level of effort (no pun intended) and dedication that administering an effort certification process for an institution can take. Many institutions currently employ manual processes that rely on paper and campus mail to get the job done. Once complete, thousands of forms are tucked away in filing cabinets in a basement waiting for that fateful day when the auditors show up and start digging.

Making the Leap

However, when it comes to effort certification, more and more institutions are making the leap across the digital divide. With an electronic effort reporting system, it is possible for your business processes to operate like a well-oiled machine, but it isn’t easy.  An electronic system is not going to be the magic cure for every effort-reporting headache, but it can significantly streamline and improve the business process. To get the most out of your system and bring maximal integrity to the process, I recommend taking the “full business process lifecycle” approach.

Shifting Our Sights Upstream

To do that, we must first shift our sights upstream of the effort reporting process itself. Cost transfers, faculty appointment policies, and accounting for 9/12 employees’ salaries are all examples of issues that could – and will – manifest themselves during the effort certification cycle. Too often, I have seen cases where the individuals charged with implementing the new system have little or no influence to change these upstream areas. Don’t let your organization fall into this trap; managing these challenges is key to the success of your implementation.

Taking Advantage of New Opportunities

Of course, implementing a new electronic effort reporting system does present an institution with new opportunities as well. Many of the institutions that I have worked with have begun to manage proposed and awarded commitments for the life of an award in their effort reporting system. Some have even taken that a step further and have incorporated into the system the other commitments on a faculty member’s time, such as instructional time mandated by the state or institution. When the entire picture is presented for certification, the integrity of the process and the data collected is improved.

To improve the integrity of the process even further, several institutions have incorporated a semester or annual faculty assignment process as part of the implementation. Taking these proactive steps has reduced the number of cost transfers needed after the fact and makes for shorter and more pleasant auditor visits. As a faculty member works with the department chair to outline the activities he or she will be assigned to for the upcoming term(s), they are documented in the system. This data is often needed for tenure and promotion, so chances are the information is already being captured somewhere, even if it’s in a spreadsheet. The faculty plan can then be used as a reference point to compare future payroll distribution percentages to the faculty member’s assignments.

Before You Leap

Before you make the decision on how to proceed with a new electronic system, take a step back and make sure the following conditions are met:

  1. Get the right people are on board.
  2. Analyze the sources of the data (internal and external).
  3. Examine the controls that are already in place upstream.
  4. Identify the areas where you can (and should) make improvements.

Taking this “full business process lifecycle” approach will help to ensure the success of the project.

Learn More

Interested in learning more? I will be co-presenting a session with Judy Hefren, Budget Analyst at Florida State University, at Alliance 2012 titled: Blasting Off to A-21 Compliance and Beyond – Leaving the Paper Behind!

Florida State University has left the world of paper when it comes meeting the effort certification requirements  for its non-exempt employees. The energy forces behind PeopleSoft for Human Resources have been deployed to create a paperless process for the after-the-fact confirmation requirements of the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-21. This new module uses payroll data to build a report for non-exempt  employees who are funded in full or in part from sponsored projects. The report is routed through a department representative to the employee for certification. The employee supervisor’s can also assume the controls and certify the report before it is finalized. Retroactive transactions result in a new orbit through the certification process.

Session #30450
Date: Monday, March 19, 2012
Time: 12:45 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.

Join us!

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