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TAMS and Consequences

November 19, 1999

Mark Miester

The new millennium may still be two months away, but at Tulane, a new era has already begun. On Sept. 7, Tulane Accounting Management Systems (TAMS) went online, officially replacing Financial Records System (FRS) as the university's accounting system.

The changeover affected more than 1,000 faculty and staff across the university who use the system to create purchase requisitions, manage accounts payable and perform countless other accounting functions and queries. "It's not just a new software," says Robin Stead, operations manager in the cell and molecular biology department, of TAMS. "It's a whole different mindset."

Designed for Tulane by Oracle Corp., TAMS is an integrated package of financial applications. The new system, which took almost two years to develop and test, replaces the outmoded, non-Y2K-compliant FRS system with a relational database accessed by seven functional applications.

According to Grady Baker, team leader for TAMS training and communication, TAMS offers greater flexibility, greater functionality and a more intuitive interface than the previous system. For many users, TAMS also offers a few headaches.

"There are things required in TAMS that weren't required in the previous system, so when you have someone who needs a purchase order you may not have all the information," says Denise Turbinton, office manager in university publications. "You have to stop whatever you're doing to find the remainder of the information that you need."

Turbinton isn't the only user with problems. In the two weeks following implementation, the TAMS help desk logged some 1,300 calls-an average of 150 per day. That figure has since dropped to about 80 calls per day.

According to Baker, most of those queries have dealt with purchase requisitions, the most commonly used TAMS application. Another prevailing topic among help-desk callers has been how to fill out the forms.

"Considering that we rolled out seven applications to 1,000 faculty and staff at one time, its been a big success," Baker notes. "We've resolved 93 percent of the calls we've received, which means that the user's problem was resolved while we were on the line with them. By help-desk standards, that's amazing."

"I think if people find it different or more difficult, it's just a learning curve," says Elaine Dares, senior project analyst. "It's not like the system they looked at before. They need to learn how to access the information they're looking for."

Stead agrees with that assessment. "Once I got over the initial hump, everything has gone pretty smoothly for me," she says. "The flexibility of the software creates a lot of questions, but once I entered a number of requisitions, I began to feel much more comfortable with the system."

Dares adds that the greater flexibility offered by TAMS more than outweighs the problems involved in the changeover. "There are a lot of shortcuts that can be utilized in requisitions in particular," Dares says. "You can set up preferences that default a lot of the information into the field."

In FRS, only the uptown campus had the ability to create online requisitions; other campuses prepared hard-copy requisitions, Baker adds. Now, the entire university creates online requisitions. Once they've made it though the initial learning curve, most users find the requisitioning process greatly improved.

"TAMS will be an evolutionary process," says Yvette Jones, senior vice president for administration and planning, and chair of the TAMS steering committee. "As we move through the next several months, this project will provide tools for all department heads to make management decisions. Once we master the initial implementation issues, we'll move quickly to provide forecasting and management reporting capabilities to all department heads."

Baker agrees that the full benefits of TAMS are just beginning to be felt. Reports on purchasing and accounts payable are currently being developed for Datastore, an online report archive, which Baker says will greatly enhance the system.

"What we've trained users in so far is basic functionality, the things we've needed to train them in to get them operational," Baker says. "What's going to come down the road is training that will show them some more powerful things they can do."

If you are among the users who havent yet mastered TAMS, take heart. According to Dares, training is scheduled to continue indefinitely, with classes offered on both the uptown and downtown campuses. The complete class schedule is available at the TAMS Web site, www.tulane.edu/~tams

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