Wow! The team at Monterey County Office of Education continues to amaze me with their enthusiasm and hard work! It is nearing the end of January, and we have just finished the budget training. Our team is busy verifying the payroll grosses and contributions, so that they will be able to build their 2013 budgets with Escape position control. This means that in less than 2 months, we have gotten Positions, Assignments, Addons, Benefits, Pay Cycles, Retirement and Tax records created. Go Team!
Over the month of January, I have been talking quite a bit about the nitty-gritty of budgeting: rolling accounts forward, entering information, and whatnot. Now I would like to talk about verifying all of that hard work.
Everyone knows that the greatest percentage of school budgets is employee costs. Getting this information right — current employees and vacancies that may or may not be filled — is crucial. Escape Online has two reports that can breakdown this information into easily digestible chunks that can help you verify your figures.
The Budget05 and Budget06 reports look at the same information (employee salaries and vacancies) but from two different perspectives:
- Budget05 – Budget Salary Projections by Account
- Budget06 – Budget Salary Projections by Employee
Let’s look at each one and see how they can be used to compare and contrast the information and figures.
Salary Projections by Account
The Budget05 looks at salaries and benefits for employees and vacancies from the account perspective, differentiating between adjustments (manually modified amounts) and vacancies (automatically generated amounts based on “unused” FTE).
See how the account is at the top of the page. With this report we can see all of the employees (and potential employees) that are associated with this account and how much each bucket (earnings versus benefits) has in the budget.
This is really handy for double-checking each budget line item, looking for under or over appropriated funds.
Salary Projections by Employee
The Budget06 is another way to look at the same information. But instead of looking at everything from an account perspective, we look at it at the employee level. Now you can see how many accounts and how much funding is allocated to each employee.
Now we are looking at the budget, employee by employee. We can see vacancies (at the top of this sample) and which accounts they affect. We can also see employees (at the bottom of the report) and which positions they hold and if they have extra earnings (like addons).
This is really handy for double-checking each employee and vacancy, facilitating communication between HR staff and budgeting staff.
Stay tuned for more budget features in the next few weeks!
Part of my yearly planning includes the software release schedule for each calendar year. As you can imagine, it’s not an exact science but more of an art, incorporating all the different factors when trying to schedule software releases for the full year. Considerations include regulatory changes and the dates they are needed, top requests from our existing customers and when they are needed, changes for implementations and when they are going live, state and federal holidays, vacation schedules, and the list goes on!
For 2012, we actually took it one step further by sending the tentative release schedule to some of our key customers and letting them provide feedback before we finalized the schedule. Below is the release schedule for 2012, including the release number and when it will be available to customers.
3.12.01 – Early March
3.12.02 – Mid May
3.12.03 – Late September
3.12.04 – Early December
We are also trying something new with 12.01 by doing a pre-release of the reports. The report patch will be available about a month prior to the 12.01 release date. Typically reports are a little more isolated and easier to install outside of a release, so we thought we’d give it a try and see how customers like it. If it goes well we can evaluate if we want to continue this practice. Although we have a great process, we are always looking for ways to improve it. If you have other suggestions please don’t hesitate to email me.
In previous releases if you needed to get more detail for an object, or troubleshoot a transaction, it was necessary to run and save multiple reports, this can be time-consuming. Escapes’ answer is to link specific reports together. The first linked reports are in version 12.01: Fiscal 01, Fiscal 02, Fiscal 03, Ledger 99 and ReqPay 01, with more to follow. These linked reports represent a view of the data from the high - level object summary all the way to details for an individual journal entry, making them perfect candidates for linking.
For example, run Fiscal 01 for a specific period, and then click on the link - the blue underline – for an object. Then Fiscal 02 runs showing all of the accounts used for the selected object.
Click on an account and Fiscal 03 runs showing all of the transactions for the account. You can then click on a transaction to run Ledger 99 for the journals.
Coupled with the new report viewer, linked reports allow more than 1 report to be open at the same time. In the example above, there will be 4 open reports. You may go back to any of them and select a different object, account or transaction link to open another report for comparison or research.
Fiscal 03 also has a report link to ReqPay 01 – Vendor Detail, in addition to Quick Links that will open the Vendor activity. Quick Links are identified by the letter Q surrounded by a red box.
All of this linking happens much more quickly than manually determining the correct parameters, then running and saving the individual reports for comparison.
For the past year, we here at Escape Technology have been working hard on making the Escape Online 5 upgrade process much easier. With the help of Installshield, we have been able to cut the upgrade process time in half (or less) with a couple setup.exe files which do most of the work for you. You simply need to know the location of your Escape Online 5 application software and your Documents folder (Centralized Storage) and you’re good to go.
I have been using the upgrade installers for the past 5 versions, making changes and modifications to help provide a great product. Several Counties have been using them as well, and the feedback we have received so far has been very positive. We now feel comfortable distributing the installers to the rest of you that have been requesting an easier method of upgrading your Escape Online 5 systems.
Ask no more my friends. Starting with the v3.12.01 software release in March ’12, you too can take ownership of your Escape Online 5 system as we will be providing the Upgrade Installers via a secure login on the Escape Technology website. No longer must you coordinate and schedule with us as to when you can have your system upgraded.
As we get closer to the v3.12.01 release date, we will provide the details and location of the installers.
Like there’s not enough going on with PERS changes, now changes are coming from STRS too! Beginning in July 2012, STRS will be introducing new regulations on assessing penalties and interest for late reporting. Based on a request from Anne Castleberg at the Ventura County Office of Education, Escape held a conference call yesterday for all of our customers to discuss how they will be handling these new requirements. I was amazed at the turnout; we had a combination of county office and district staff attend: Ventura, Sonoma, Shasta, Tehama, Alameda and San Joaquin County Offices and Fairfield and Sacramento City Unified districts.
During the call we addressed some specific questions from Ventura and also discussed if any changes would need to be made to Escape Online 5. The software changes discussed would make our STRS reporting more dynamic which would in turn allow districts more time to submit preliminary files and correct errors more quickly, thereby reducing any penalties they may be charged. Escape will be discussing the suggestions internally in order to come up with a final solution. Stay tuned for more on that!
During the call there definitely seemed to be many different interpretations about the regulations so we all found the attached FAQ from STRS to be helpful, and both Fairfield and Tehama County indicated that STRS will be doing onsite training for them. You can contact STRS directly if you’d like to schedule something similar for your office.
Keeping everyone on the same page about upcoming changes is a great way to start the year. Thanks for the suggestion Anne!
As State and Federal budgets change, funding at the line item level can become a matter of adding and removing line items. Of course, Escape Online creates history records, but there is another, easier, way of tracking the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t funding.
The Reverse task in budget line items is a great trick to get this done quick and easy.
For example, let’s say that you have no funding for teacher support, and then you do, and then you don’t again. (You know what I am talking about!) You could create different models, but if this is your only challenge then you can handle it all at the line item level, like the example shown below!
Now, the budgeter extraordinaire could have entered all line items manually, but the last one was really a no-brainer. She just wanted to reverse it, not delete it. She wanted to show the detail to keep an immediate and visual record of her due diligence.
So, after the funding appeared and disappeared, she used the Reverse task as highlighted above. Not only does this task copy the line item and reverse the amounts, including benefits, it also writes a history record.
But that trick is just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned as we spend the next few weeks talking about budgets!
Whether it comes to traffic on the freeway while commuting to work or network traffic on your LAN we are always telling ourselves the same thing, “We need more lanes to move on.” Escape has addressed this problem within the Escape Online 5 software with the use of multiple server connection points.
What does this do? Well, firstly, let’s take a look at the current setup. All communication between clients and servers occur over a single TCP port on the LAN (the default is 7886). Escape realized that there was a potential to bottleneck connections at this single point so a solution was developed. What if we could add client communication ports to help balance the client\server communications? That is exactly what we did.
It is now a configurable option to open as many communication ports as you like on an Escape Online 5 application server to service client requests. Also, the server can dynamically modify the client configuration files for these server connections to eliminate the need to visit client workstations. Escape is currently working an improving this solution to work with load balancers and DNS Round-Robin setups. And who knows, it might even be possible in the near future to eliminate those pieces of setup and allow the application to load balance itself.
I will keep you up to date on any changes and feel free to contact Escape for further details on setup.
In Escape Online, this is a one-click proposition. Literally. There is a task in the Fiscal Year Status activity that is called Roll Forward Accounts. Click it, and your accounts roll forward to the new year.
But, we don’t just “copy and paste” all of those accounts to the new year. Oh no, in the ever-so-popular Escape manner, we use some fancy logic to link accounts to previous years, skip accounts that have been expired for over three years, and create new accounts if a component (like object) has changed.
That’s a lot of chic logic!
And, if you have used Escape Online for any amount of time, you are very familiar with all of this, but what may be new to you is now (as of 11.03) we are writing history records that document all of these circumstances.
Check it out!
Now that’s fancy indeed!
January is the time for making new starts and the staff at Marysville JUSD can’t wait to dig in and learn more about Escape Online 5.
Core training begins next week with the HR/Payroll staff. Elen Meltonyan will be the trainer for this 2-day, in-depth, hands-on training. The first day will be devoted to HR, the second to Payroll.
The Finance Core training will be the following week and we’ll be covering all finance functionality from requisition processing to budget development. This will also be a 2-day, hands-on training.
Needless to say that with only 2 days for each module, we’ll be busy, busy, busy.
In the meantime, Tom Henzie is continuing to convert the Escape Classic data so users always have up-to-date records to work with. It makes a huge difference to end users when they can see current data while testing.
So, here’s to you Marysville for starting the year off right!