eTRAC is keeping track of university research funding

A recently rolled out financial tracking system at the University of Alberta (UA) hopes to ensure research dollars don’t go over — or under — budget.

The latest version of Vancouver, B.C.-based Sierra Systems Group Inc.’s eTRAC (electronic Tracking of Research Awards and Contracts) debuted in the spring of 2006.

eTRAC is essentially a financial reporting tool that ensures accountability for the research projects being conducted, according to Paul Sorenson, vice provost of Information Technology at UA.

Sorenson said the system addresses the school’s need for sound fiscal management of their research contracts because UA is one of the most research intensive universities in Canada.

“We have over $400 million a year in research funding coming in — a lot of it from the federal government and provincial agencies,” he said. “In working with those agencies we need to implement systems that will allow our researchers to have the information they need.”

Information includes accurate data on the status of their research funding and how it’s being spent, he said.

“It behoves us as a university to make sure that the money is properly spent and spent on time.”

eTRAC also provides the benefit of real-time access to data, according to Abe Van Dorp, Sierra Systems director of consulting services.

“The previous application was basically monthly updates so they were essentially a month behind all the time,” said Van Dorp. “The improved reporting gives the researchers a better picture of where they are in terms of finances on their individual projects.”

Sorenson said that while the earlier 2004 version encountered some difficulties, this latest version is proving to be much better.

“There are still some things we need to do because we’re also upgrading our whole financial People Soft system,” said Sorenson. “Once that’s done we’ll probably be moving forward on a continuous basis with even more improvements.”

As for who can access the information, Sorenson said it’s already been rolled out to some of the administrative and secretarial support within the faculties.

“We’ll continue that roll out to the faculty themselves, but we’re still doing some training,” he said.

Because faculty “don’t tend to like to go to training sessions” they’re currently spending a fair amount of time on web-based training, said Sorenson.

“The main thing that eTRAC brings to the table in terms of a financial reporting system for research versus our old system is it has included project based accounting,” he said. “It relates the rate of funding to the actual guidelines of the research projects that they proposed.”