CAS currently uses a mix of software applications both purchased from vendors and developed in-house.CAS uses Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) software for Financial and Human Resources functions.
USL Financials provides an integrated system for processing of financial data. The software was developed for governments, not-for-profit organizations, educational and research institutions. Their customers include Penn State University; University of Winnipeg; Fox Chase Cancer Center, PA and Madison County, IL.
UltiPro by Ultimate Software is a comprehensive payroll and HR management system. It has more than 2,300 customers including Elizabeth Arden, Adobe Systems Incorporated, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
In addition to the use of COTS, CAS IT writes and maintains specialized applications to automate manual tasks and assist in the move toward a paperless environment. The applications generate data for import to USL and UltiPro via their interfaces.
All newer software is using source code management via Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) that among others provides the following benefits:
All changes are recorded with who made the change, what was changed and when it was done.
Ability to compare versions.
Ability to rollback to previous versions of code.
No code can get lost because it exists only on the developer machine.
All new software is web-based applications using a common language with above-mentioned source code management and Microsoft SQL server backend as common DBMS. The development environment is being continually upgraded to ensure current standards and the code is commented throughout.
The main development effort in the past few years has been to rewrite legacy applications as well as creating new applications needed to run the day-to-day business using a new technology and common platform with many enhancements to existing systems. The additional capabilities of new technologies provide access to web-based functions and a more integrated environment. Once on the new uniform platform, the applications can be aligned more closely to current and future businesses need through the addition of new functionality.
Development and Production environments are used. New software and software updates are first published on test site and moved to production site after test results verified. At times the developer verifies small changes and at other times the stakeholder verifies the changes. A stakeholder always verifies larger enhancements and changes. All code changes are recorded with details using the source code management tool. Any change more than a minor change requires approval by stakeholder/CAS Manager prior to implementation. Change requests are recorded and routed for approval via a Change Control Management System.
CAS IT strives to make software secure and easy to maintain. All software adheres to recommended practices to secure software access and data. The databases are secured behind the AURA firewall. Only authenticated users can access software and the role-based access control (RBAC) is based on the functions of the employee. RBAC is an approach to restricting system access to authorized users assigned a particular role. Single-Sign-On using company credentials is currently enabled for users in many organizations and all local passwords are encrypted.
In addition, the software applies a technique to prevent cross-site request forgeries (an attack where a malicious site sends a request to a vulnerable site where the user is currently logged in) and use technology to limit exposure to SQL injection (a code injection technique, used to attack data-driven applications, in which nefarious SQL statements are inserted into an entry field for execution). An outside company is utilized to test websites for security at random intervals and has reported no security issues.
The initial rewrite with enhancements of all applications is near completion. Although several tutorials and various documentation for each system already exist, once the applications needed by the CAS and the Centers to run their day-to-day business are in place, full attention will be put upon creating detailed documentation of each system.
Some of the benefits of CAS developing software specific to the needs of our organization and the automation of manual tasks are:
The software is highly customizable to accommodate the varying requirements required by the different centers.
There is a quick turn-around of enhancements and bug fixes.
As processes change, the software can quickly be adjusted.
Develop specialized software not available “off the shelf.”
Provide ad-hoc reports upon Center request.
Provide single sign-on feature for all applications.
Create a similar look and feel that makes it easier for users to navigate applications.
Provide navigation links between applications.
Increased productivity – some tasks that took multiple days and several spreadsheets to complete can now be completed in a matter of minutes.
Decreased use of paper.
Complete control over functionality and features.
Less complex training and support with internal expertise.
As a point of interest below is a short-list of other companies that have developed specialized software systems in-house (non-COTS) using their own developers.
The State of Arizona
University of Arizona
City of New York
Council on Foreign Relations
JD Mellberg Financial
South West Gas
The following is a brief description of the software application tools used by CAS:
This is the primary financial management system. The software resides on application servers located in Tucson which also provides secured access to Hawaii and Chile users. USL Financials data is stored on Microsoft SQL database servers. USL is comprised of the following application modules: Control Module (used to manage and maintain the USL Financials application), General Ledger, Accounts Payable, and Procurement. The software interfaces with other applications, such as MS Access and Excel, to facilitate data input. Data from USL is exported in custom fashion for use with other applications. USL was developed by Public Sector Solutions.
Ultipro Human Resource Information System
Ultipro is AURA’s HR and Payroll application for staff paid in US dollars. Additionally, Ultipro has the capability to record and tracks applicant information. The system has web-based capabilities for Employee Self Service functions, employee evaluations, and salary review. While all functionality has not yet been implemented, over time AURA intends to take full advantage of this software’s capabilities. Ultipro was developed by Ultimate Software and is used AURA-wide.
REQLESS Reqless is a web application for processing purchase requisitions, travel requests, and shipping memos. Upon submittal of requests, Reqless manages the approval process through the account management (signature authority) and supervisory hierarchy. Approved requests are transferred to the USL PO module. Reqless was developed in-house and is used by all AURA’s NSF funded Centers.
Travel Expense Reporting
Reqless now also supports a travel expense reporting system in which each TR is imported into an electronic Travel Expense Report (“TER”) where all travel is submitted for reimbursement. The Traveler fills in all incurred travel expenses and attaches all receipts. When the TER is complete it is routed to the authorized signer of the account being charged for approval. Once approved an email is sent to the Travel Accounting Specialist to notify them that a TER is ready for review. The Travel Accounting Specialist reviews to ensure all appropriate receipts are attached and no unallowable costs have been included. If there are any discrepancies the TER is returned to the Traveler for editing.
CASNET is an online reporting system that delivers up-to-date financial information to management. CASNET draws data directly from the USL accounting system. All types of financial and labor information are available in formatted reports, with many supporting drill-down capabilities to go from summarized data to the supporting detail. Data can also be exported into spreadsheet, database, and word processing applications. CASNET was developed in-house and is used by all AURA NSF funded Centers.
This is a web-based application that allows employees to enter their work hours and allocate such to accounts, projects, and/or purchase orders. Upon supervisory approval, this information is imported into Ultipro for payroll calculations as well as employee time and leave tracking for legal compliance. Web Timesheets is an interface to payroll software and was developed in-house by CAS. Web Timesheets is used by all NSF funded Centers.
Carina is a web application that tracks and links basic information, key documents, and user notes for all agreements (cooperative agreements, CSAs, grants, contracts, and sub-awards) managed by CAS. Carina allows users to quickly look up and share information regarding agreements. Carina also has a module that automates the process of obtaining and documenting the required approvals for invoices submitted to AURA under contracts and sub-awards.
Webud is a high-level budgeting application that allows management to input their annual forecast of workforce and spending by account and cost center (work breakdown). The final budget becomes the basis for the Annual Program Plan submitted to NSF. Webud was developed in-house by CAS for NOAO and is also used by NSO.
Budget Ledger is a web-based application that allows managers to view budget transactions by account and to request changes. The program allows users to upload budgets from Excel spreadsheets or to directly enter transfer requests using an online form. All transfer requests are reviewed by CAS prior to posting. Budget Ledger was developed by CAS IT and is available to all Centers.
CreditCard is a web-based application that is used to reconcile credit card charges. The monthly credit card statement from the bank is uploaded in batch to the application and credit card holders with current charges are electronically notified to reconcile their charges. Once reconciled by cardholder and receipts electronically attached, the charges are routed for approval to persons with signature authority for respective accounts. Upon final review by Accounting, the reconciled charges are exported to USL. There is no longer a need to submit receipts and paperwork as was done in the past.
In accordance with the Cooperative Agreements between AURA and NSF, a record of all Capital Property (assets over $5000) must be maintained. All assets procured over the $5000 threshold must be recorded, tracked, inventoried and disposed of to satisfy this requirement. PIMA is the web-based application that AURA utilizes to accomplish this requirement.
The application allows a property manager to create an asset record by automatically retrieving some key data from USL PO information for newly acquired property and provides links to Reqless and CASNET where related information can be reviewed. Using PIMA, the purchasing documentation for any asset, including purchase requisition, purchase order, packing slips, invoices, purchasing and financial history can be accessed.
PIMA also provides online physical inventory capabilities using a tablet and the barcode scanner, allowing for real-time physical inventory as well as off-line physical inventory in the event of poor or no WIFI.
FATIMA (Facilities Tracking and Information Management)
FATIMA is a web-based application used to process and generate reports on utility, meals, lodging and transportation cost in Chile. It automates and replaces several manual systems consisting of multiple spreadsheets and miscellaneous formulas to calculate costs.
Utility meter readings for electricity, gas, and water are entered on a monthly basis and costs calculated based on an occupants usage are invoiced and exported to USL.
The Meals module allows employees and visitors to use a tablet to register for meals in the cafeterias on the mountain. The charges are calculated, invoiced and exported to USL.
Using the Lodging module, a reservation agent reserves rooms in the many motel facilities for visiting employees and others. Upon check-out charges are generated and invoiced. Monthly charges are exported to USL.
The Transport module is used to reserve space in the twice-daily CarryAll transport up and down the mountain, to rent a car and to request pickup and drop-off at the airport. Charges are invoiced and exported to USL.
In addition, FATIMA provides reports for centers and occupants. Each occupant of one of the many homes owned by AURA at the La Serena campus can view and verify their monthly utility usage.
Vela is a web-based application used to manage Awards and the associated roles and responsibilities.
AURA receives most of its funding through cooperative agreements between AURA and the NSF, and some additional funding in the form of awards (grants) from other agencies or institutions. Each of these cooperative agreements contains hundreds of separate sections (which are also sometimes called terms and conditions) that require AURA to take certain actions, document certain things a certain way, or follow certain rules in operating these facilities.
Vela is an online tool that tracks information about each provision of each award and cooperative agreement, including tracking who at AURA is responsible for performing each provision. It is used to assign responsibility for cooperative agreement provisions to different people and departments in AURA, and to communicate those assignments to people. Vela also functions as an oversight and monitoring tool to allow AURA management to keep track of the compliance status of each cooperative agreement provision.