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Frequently Asked Questions

Question

Answer

What is the objective of the Finance Reporting Project?

The Finance Reporting Project objective is to implement a system and supporting processes to provide visibility of all actual, forecasted spend and income, across all departments. Currently UCL is unable to see an accurate consolidated forecast position against budget, for the whole of UCL, throughout the year.
This information will help to enable the best financial decisions to be made, in terms of the amount of cash required, the most appropriate investment of UCL funds and to demonstrate a level of financial control appropriate to the size of the organisation.
As an example UCL has incurred significant additional expense (£600k) arranging financing for potential deficits, which based on information at the time was thought to be needed, when in the end it wasn’t used.

Since most of the accounting uncertainties relate to Discretionary Funds, why not just concentrate on putting these right, and not go to the trouble of implementing an expensive new reporting system?

It is not true to say that most of the accounting problems are due to discretionary accounts – these form an element of the problem. The most significant issue is that budgets are not prepared for most of UCL’s activities, and departments do not participate in a formal forecast process, which is an essential part of being able to report accurately on financial activity, both within UCL and to inform third parties (e.g. HEFCE on whether UCL will meet its financial targets or not).
It is simply not possible for an organisation of the size and complexity of UCL to gather this information using spreadsheets. Therefore, in order to make collecting budget and forecasting data for all activities as easy as possible the decision was made to select more appropriate software.

Does this mean the departments will lose control of their discretionary funds?

The objective is not to take control of the funds away from the departments but purely to be able to have visibility of the forecast income and expenditure to ensure the most efficient use of UCL funds and their investment.

Do these efficiencies mean there will be additional funds available for departments?

Ultimately efficiencies gained from the project will improve the overall UCL position. Any such efficiency, once made, could be used in a number of ways including reducing central costs.

Why doesn’t the project include detailed forecasts for Research Grants?

At present, the Research Services section of Finance and Business Affairs forecast research grants at the UCL level. In the future, it is intended that the forecast will be more detailed. However, the forecasting process is prone to a much greater degree of inaccuracy as the level of detail increases. Hence, it has been decided to forecast at Faculty level, and to provide FMAs with other relevant information which is available through the Corporate Planner tool, to help with the development of a forecast at departmental level.

What is this new system and how will I be able to access it?

The initial part of the project was a software selection exercise. The most appropriate software available was judged to be Business Objects Planner software (BOP) which is now being implemented.
The BOP system will be accessed by user departments through the WTS system. Use of BOP and WTS will be covered during the training programme as part of the project.

What is the timeframe for implementing BOP?

The project was started in 2007, with the design and build of the UCL BOP system, culminating in a test pilot exercise in December 2007. Suggestions from this pilot have been included into the system design for initial rollout to commence in May 2008.
There will be a gradual rollout, across all UCL departments, with an additional group brought on stream each month from June and currently scheduled to be completed by the end of the calendar year.

When will my department be included into the BOP rollout?

The rollout plan is being developed based on a number of criteria. The project team are working with faculty staff to prioritise and schedule the rollout to departments. Once a draft of the members of a rollout group has been developed it will be communicate and confirmed with those departments.

Is there an opportunity to expand what is contained within BOP?

The initial design phase and rollout of the solution is well underway and is based on a scope agreed through the project board and UCL’s senior management. This is seen as the initial implementation of BOP and there will need to be a facility for future enhancements.
Requests for new features and enhancements will be collected and prioritised in collaboration with the FRP user group.

Can I get involved and help shape future requirements?

Details of the FRP user group are held on the FRP website. Please contact the chairman for inclusion into the group.

Who will be using the BOP system?

From discussion with the user group it is envisaged that the main departmental users will be the Departmental Administrators and finance staff. Some other departmental budget holders may want access or to be given reports from BOP.

What’s the timetable / process for update?

Most departments will initially use the BOP system to update their forecast quarterly. Some departments already have a monthly process in place so will update their forecast monthly.
There is a 15 days cycle which includes the release of the workbooks to departments, update of the forecast and approval by the Faculty and Finance and Business Affairs.

How much work will this be for the departments?

The accounts in the workbooks have been limited to exclude control and suspense accounts
To help prioritise the review and update activities accounts are shown as material if they have a brought forward balance or allocation/reserve adjustment of over >£50k, annual income of >£20k, or deficit balance brought forward of >£5k.
The time required to update the workbooks is being monitored as part of the pilot process. From the original pilot the time required per update ranged between 1 hour and 4 days. From the latest Pilot, which used the latest version of BOP, the average time required was approximately 13 hours including preparation time. As people become more familiar with the system and a number of the issues it will highlight are reduced the time required should also reduce.

If the department has not received the funds how should they budget for the account?

The income should be shown in the future forecast for the account when it is thought to be received or taken from reserves. The workbook validates the planned expenditure against the income forecast for the whole year.

What level will the budgets be held at?

Income budgets and forecasts will be held at a summary level depending on the type of income involved. For expenditure, separate budgets and forecasts will be needed for staff costs and non-staff costs.

Will all accounts have to be made to have a positive balance?

The system will be set initially so that no account currently in credit can go into deficit. For those accounts currently in deficit the system will not allow the position to get any worse.

Why is to drill down to transactions not possible?

Two methods were considered to enable drill down into transactions:

  • Build an interface from BOP to FIS
  • Bring all the transactional information from FIS into BOP

The first method was too costly to implement relative to the perceived benefit. For the second method, due to the extremely large number of accounts and transactions across UCL, the amount of data required to be brought into BOP would be prohibitive, and would slow the system down to unacceptable levels. Therefore, it was decided to use existing drill down reports within FIS to accomplish this.

Will it be possible to write tailored reports for specific departmental purposes?

There are a number of standard reports available to the user. The results of the reports are available in excel and can therefore be manipulated as with any other excel information. In addition there is an adhoc enquiry facility which allows the user to create simple enquiries.
Standard reports can only be amended or created by Finance and Business Affairs. Report requests from Departments should be raised with BOP support desk and will be considered by the Financial Reporting Project User Group (where necessary) to assess if proposals could benefit all UCL departments, and to ensure consistency. Where appropriate, individual requests for specific reporting will need to be agreed with staff in the Planning & Management Accounts section of Finance and Business Affairs.

What is required at period end and why?

In order to ensure that the surplus or deficit reported to Finance Committee and the Senior Management Team is accurate, Finance and Business Affairs need to make certain adjustments to the accounts. These are

  • Adjusting the surplus or deficit down for costs not yet appearing on FIS (Accruals) and for costs relating to future periods (Prepayments)
  • Adjusting for the cost of capital items bought in the period (capitalising assets) and charging depreciation for the period the equipment is used

This will be done at each quarter end during the year. Departments will need to inform Finance and Business Affairs of any large accruals or prepayments of which they are aware. However, the process for adjusting for capital purchases (e.g. equipment) is still being examined, and it is likely that this will largely be undertaken centrally by Finance and Business Affairs.

What information will already be entered on the budget workbooks before departments are asked to review them?

At the start of financial year all the workbooks will be populated by Finance and Business Affairs prior to issuing for review – the information will based on what happened in the previous year. These workbooks will then need to be reviewed and amended (as required) – concentrating on material accounts.

How will the Forecasts be updated during the year?

Each quarter (or month for those undertaking monthly forecasts) the workbooks will be updated with actuals from FIS for the year to date, and with HEFCE funded staff forecasts through to the year end. All other figures for the remaining months of the year will be as per the previously approved forecast which departments will then need to review and update as necessary.

Can I see my workbook outside of the forecast exercise?

The workbooks are available to users who have access to the workbook up until shortly before the next forecast exercise, when they will be rebuilt for the next process. At the end of each month, after FIS is closed, the actuals for that month will be updated in the workbooks.

Who is the system administrator and what do they do?

The System Administrator is a designated member of Finance Staff who is responsible such things as setting up new users, allocating responsibilities, updating leaver records, entering any global settings.

What is a Standard Planning Method (SPM)?

A Standard Planning Method is an automated method of spreading an annual forecast over a period of 12 months. Currently there are five pre set methods i.e. Manual, Even, Previous Fin Yr, Previous 12 months, Current Forecast.

How do I do Inter Departmental allocations?

At present these have to be done centrally. You will need to contact your Faculty Management Accountant or Management Accounting Officer in Finance Division.

Why does Capital Expenditure on Equipment over £25k need to be identified separately?

UCL’s Accounting Policy for equipment requires expenditure on equipment and furniture costing more than £25,000 to be capitalised i.e. taken to the balance sheet and depreciated over its expected useful life. This information therefore needs to be collected so that Finance and Business Affairs can make the necessary accounting adjustments (which do not affect the individual departmental accounts to which the expenditure has been charged). All equipment and furniture purchases of less than £25,000 will be expensed i.e. written off in full to the I&E. For example:

  • A centrifuge costing £50k - capitalise
  • A photocopier costing £5k – expense
  • An order for 20 computers of £2k each, which are to be used in one facility (e.g. student cluster room)– total cost in aggregate is £40k and so will be capitalised
  • Two individual orders for 10 computers of £2k each – total cost in aggregate for each order is £20k and so both will be expensed.

An order for a centrifuge costing £50k and supporting computers costing £5k – total cost is £55k and so all would be capitalised.

If an account is currently used to show income from more than one source how will this be handled in future?

Accounts should not record income from more than one source type. If necessary a new account code should be set up using the appropriate source code.

As part of the project there is some activity to look into the use of some account codes and create new accounts or usage rules where necessary.

When will the cash allocations be made to departments?

The 2008-09 Faculty Allocation will be pre-loaded to the department recurrent grant accounts prior to the workbooks being built out in October.

Does it matter when I create new accounts?

New accounts need to be created in FIS before they can be entered into BOP. It is recommended that these are done as early as possible to allow time for them to be created. All existing accounts are then created in the workbook.

New accounts can be created within the Forecast Process timeframe. Once they are created in FIS they will be brought over to BOP for the following day. The user will need to contact BOP support to have the new account included into their workbook. If new accounts are not created in FIS they cannot be created in BOP.

When I add new accounts they don’t show up on the summary page?

Accounts can be added on the entry sheet of the workbooks at the bottom of the worksheet. For these to show up on the summary page, you need to refresh the summary page by pressing “CTRL L”. This will insert a new line in the relevant source code area of the summary sheet. Only one line will be added which will be a summation of all new accounts for that source.

How should I structure the comments on the entry sheet?

Many of the comments in the entry sheet are mandatory. They should be used to explain the particular movement of funds and will show up in FIS GL as a journal line description. The comment should therefore explain the action taken, e.g. for a transfer from one account to another the comment could read “TFR £1000 to/from <account number>”

Will I be able to save my workbook with errors in it?

The workbook can be saved at anytime with errors in it to continue processing it later. At the end of the forecast process if there are validation errors still existing in the workbook, there is a system administration process to allow the workbook to be saved and forwarded to ensure the updates are not lost for the next forecast period.

If I have advanced my workbook can I retrieve it?

Once the workbook has been advanced to another person they have control of that work book. That person would have to return it to you. If they are not available the system administrator can override this and send it back to you. This should be requested through the BOP support desk.

Can I use Cut and Paste in the workbook?

The workbook is just an excel workbook which has a large number of formulas in it. In the same way cutting and pasting in excel can break formula references, this can happen in BOP.

It is recommended not to use Cut and Paste or move/drag cells in the BOP workbook. If it done by accident the Excel undo function can correct it.

If this has been done and you attempt to save the workbook you will see the error message “Unable to save data to the database. There is an error in a coded column”. If this happens please contact BOP support.

Is there a timeout facility in BOP?

There is no timeout facility implemented in BOP at present.

Who should be setup as the budget manager?

The budget manager is enterable in FIS against each account. The department can decide on how or whether to use this feature. It allows the grouping of accounts within the BOP entry worksheet, for example, it could be used to contain the academic responsible for a number of accounts or a member of administration staff managing a number of accounts.

How will the Forecast process timetable allow for staff absence?

Departments should consider having a backup member of staff trained on BOP. If the relevant staff are going to absent during the forecasting period they should notify their FMA and arrange for a suitable timeframe for completion, within the forecast window.

If anyone other than the usual person is going to complete the forecast exercise they will need to contact BOP Support to have the workbook allocated to them.

If there are people absent who are in the approval chain there administrative procedures to be able to forward or retrieve workbooks, available through the BOP support desk.

If an income exception exists, how can users reflect its correction?

This would have to be fixed through FIS GL and a comment put in the comment sheet in BOP until next forecast updates it in BOP.

Where do salary projections come from and what’s included in the data?

The salary projections for HEFCE funded staff will come from the SBF system using data taken from the HR ResourceLink system and will be updated each month. Consideration is currently being given as to whether this should be extended to produce the staff cost forecasts for departmentally funded staff.

If I have an issue with the BOP system who should I contact?

There is a BOP Support desk facility who can be contacted through BOPSupport@ucl.ac.uk or on 48336. The contact details are also published on the FRP website.

Who should I contact regarding the Financial Reporting Project?

Comments should be routed through the User Group, Project Board or directly to the team. Please see the list of Project Board and User Group members or contact June Campbell on extension 46363.

 

This page last modified May 19, 2014 by Web Editor.


 


 

 

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