System aims to make accounting more efficient

The University of Minnesota has spent $50 million over the last four years buying and implementing the Enterprise Financial System, or EFS, to replace its 27-year-old accounting system, and it works âÄî for the most part. The new system went live on July 1, but problems were expected. There were early issues with the performance of some of the modules, but most of them stemmed from the complexity of the system and the learning curve, said Steve Cawley, vice president of the Office of Information Technology. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people use the system every day, and many of those users are novices, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the UniversityâÄôs Chief Financial Officer. People knew how to get the data they wanted out of the old system, and planners underestimated the difficulty of using the reporting tools that came with EFS. The University is working on user-friendly tools for generating standard reports, he said. Another problem has been incorrect data in the system. There are thousands of vendors the University does business with, and their account information all has to be put in correctly, Pfutzenreuter said. âÄúThis is a pretty typical experience that major corporations have when they implement a new financial system,âÄù said Cawley. More specific glitches have also caused problems. Pfutzenreuter gave the example of a professor who was on sabbatical for the summer, but was still conducting research and should have been reimbursed for expenses. Because he was listed as being on sabbatical, the system listed him as not eligible for a paycheck, and his request was denied. An issue that came up in early September occurred when someone tried to generate a financial report in a language other than English. Other languages were available in the menu, but using the other language caused all other reports generated to only give error messages until the problem was fixed, according to the EFS Issues and Resolutions website. However, a system change was necessary and there have been some benefits, Pfutzenreuter said. The people who analyze data as part of their job will find the more powerful tools that came with EFS helpful, Gail Klatt , associate vice president for internal audits said. The old mainframe-based College and University Financial System was installed in 1991, and was no longer supported by the vendor. The UniversityâÄôs technical staff had been maintaining and updating the software themselves for years, and there was a risk that the whole system would just stop, Pfutzenreuter said. The University considered replacing CUFS in 1998, when two other computing systems were replaced, but determined that changing CUFS at the same time as the other systems would be too disruptive and costly. The $50 million spent on this project was primarily on labor, servers, and consultants, Cawley said. The licensing of the software was about $5 million. Pfutzenreuter said he is hopeful that the system will be in much better shape by the end of the year.