UC Merced’s required transition to our own financial system, the Oracle Financial System, necessitated a steep learning curve for our faculty and staff. This process has been challenging. It also generated significant operational issues as we continue to learn the system that will help the university reach our goal of becoming an R1 institution.
Our response to the procurement issues was quick, direct and focused on both near-term and long-term solutions. Our response yielded significant improvements and greatly reduced our backlog of requests and service times. However, this was only the first part of our response. Our long-term response – providing additional support staff for the system – is still in the process of materializing. These decisive steps will provide not only added support for procurement but also help address some of our issues with account balances and invoices.
The largest contributing factor to the challenges of accessing reliable, real-time account balances is that a significant number of financial transactions over the past year have been processed without POET information. If POET information is not provided, the financial transactions will not show up on account balances, making the balances less accurate. The remaining issues with account balances involve data conversions that predate any financial transactions being processed on accounts.
Addressing these issues requires three essential steps:
- Developing user-focused enhancements to ensure POET information is provided on all financial transactions.
- Clearing out all prior financial transactions with missing POET since the Oracle system launched.
- Addressing any remaining data conversion issues.
We will work immediately on the first steps in parallel, then proceed to the third step.
Last week, we made progress on the first step with the release of a new enhancement in Oracle’s self-service portal that requires users to only input their Project Number and Task Number. Following this provision, the system will auto-populate the remaining POET and CoA information. This should significantly reduce the user/faculty burden.
We are working on other enhancements that will further reduce the user burden. These enhancements are based on the same principles of minimizing the information required to conduct a transaction, to the extent allowed within Oracle, and working to ensure POET information is provided. We are committed to continuing to make progress in this area and we greatly appreciate the feedback provided by the Procurement Task Force, which included faculty, who helped shape this and our other future enhancements.
All three of these steps have been the focus of the Oracle Data Integrity Project. Progress to date has been slower than we had hoped. To address this issue, we have re-engaged our launch partner, Deloitte. Starting this week, we will bring Deloitte back to campus to support the three steps outlined above. We have an ambitious goal of resolving these issues over the next three months and stabilizing the university’s use of the Oracle system. However, university leadership has made the decision that our partnership with Deloitte, regardless of cost, will continue until these issues are permanently corrected.
In addition, members of the research community will be engaged with our Deloitte partners to ensure that corrections to the system remain consistent with the needs of end-users. The initial phase of Deloitte’s work will include a needs assessment of our known issues to ensure the solutions we are working on will support the system long-term, so Deloitte can suggest alternative/additional solutions that will meet our business needs
Our engagement with Deloitte will initially prioritize externally funded accounts. This means you will first see progress with your contract and grant accounts before you see progress with your start-up, incidental and IDCR accounts, as these are internally funded accounts. We will also prioritize externally funded projects that are nearing the end date of their funding cycle. Once we have made progress on those funds, we will proceed to the other accounts.
We acknowledge this will generate some anxiety for researchers who are trying to manage the spending on their grants with their research administrators. A significant step is being taken to ease this concern whereby the university centrally will absorb any overage on grants that expire over the next four months, up to $10,000 per grant/contract, that are not eligible for a no-cost extension or that have not been updated by Deloitte and our team to provide accurate account balances. We hope this commitment will provide researchers further reassurance that we are in this together.
We have received a considerable number of questions regarding a timeline for resolution. We, like you, want these issues resolved as soon as possible to ensure our mission is supported. However, these technical and procedural difficulties are multifaceted and require everyone from our users to the staff supporting the system to make changes in how we have historically operated.
Thus, through our partnership with Deloitte, we expect you will be able to see improvements with your account balances within the next 60-90 days. You should also expect to see additional user-focused enhancements designed to improve the flow of information within the system within the next 30-60 days. This is not to say that all of the issues we are experiencing will be completely resolved in this time frame. For example, while the number of transactions that are missing POET information has been going down, the number of inaccurate account balances has not. Much of this is due to the cumulative nature of inaccurate data flowing into the system.
There are significant additional efforts, including improvements in how users interact with the system, required to ensure long-term solutions and confidence in the system. With this in mind, we will monitor and report progress both through the Friday Research Newsletter and other targeted communications along the way. If we anticipate we are unable to provide material progress on these issues during the next few months, we will communicate this and convey how we are revising our strategy.
Another recommendation suggested by faculty is greater faculty input. For the near term, we are constructing an Oracle Advisory Committee, developed in partnership with Senate leadership to help leverage the existing Senate structure and to ensure faculty input is provided on our future steps to improve the Oracle system. This committee will serve as an advisory body on a range of issues and solutions with respect to the university’s research accounting and financial enterprise systems, and to ensure effective and timely communication between faculty and administrative partners charged with research accounting and financial systems. This will include assessing the sustainability of the service models supported by the Oracle system and its alignment with the university’s service expectations. This group will also help disseminate information back to the Senate regarding system issues and progress.
Moving forward, to ensure experiences like those involving the Oracle system do not happen again, the Chancellor and university administration will partner with the Senate on a policy that will inform any future launches of an enterprise-level system change of this scale to ensure faculty are consulted and a part of the decision-making.
We greatly appreciate your partnership in working to learn the new financial system and helping to realize the complete long-term benefits of the Oracle system. Through your efforts, and our efforts to improve the user interface we will be able to address our data integrity issues. Together, we will see real progress in the near future.
Kurt Schnier, PhD | Interim Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer
LeRoy Westerling, PhD | Academic Senate Chair