The University Record, May 10, 1993

New data sets save number crunchers time and money

From interior design to space physics, U-M employees generate an enormous amount of data, either in their daily work or by being part of payroll, benefit and departmental statistics.

University employees number 37,361—more than the combined total population of Saline, Chelsea, Brighton, Manchester, Dexter, Clinton, Pinckney, Brooklyn, Whitmore Lake, Tecumseh, Stockbridge and Grass Lake. Students enrolled at the U-M in 1992–93 numbered 51,472, many actively employed at the University in part-time positions.

What if your job required you to find all the students who were also employees of the University, or to find all the sponsored research accounts in your unit and report on their end dates?

Are you one of the hundreds of U-M employees who receive financial information on paper each month and then have to re-key all of it into your own spreadsheet program?

Roadblocks like these stopped the efficient flow of information through the University until the recent release of the Data Access Project financial data tables, which makes it easy for staff members to find the numbers they need and import them into their preferred format on their own desktop machines.

Personnel and student data sets currently are being tested for incorporation in the data access environment.

Pilot users of the financial data access component have found that direct access to the data they need has saved time and made their jobs easier.

“I use it to check accounts and balances, find the beginning and end dates for grants and for recharging accounts,” says Tracy B. Willoughby. “It has made my job much easier. I used to have to go to the accounting file and look them up and then type the data in Excel [spreadsheets], but this way I just call up the numbers and project balances.” Willoughby is administrative manager at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Lori L. Walton, LS&A administrative associate, has been a pilot user for the project for a little more than a year.

“It saves time, money and effort,” she says. “Now we can spend more time analyzing the data and less time trying to figure out how to get it out of the operational system and into a computer on the desktop.” Walton uses financial data from the project’s financial data tables for the LS&A budget and last summer helped build the budget using them. She is also a pilot user of the personnel and student data sets and says that they also are working out well.

Peggy Bennett, systems project coordinator for University Information Systems, Information Technology Division, has shepherded the project since 1990. Bennett notes that while there is a cost involved in the software and service fees, the new approach offsets the cost in many cases of having data extracted and manipulated by programmers, which involve requesting the data and waiting for a paper copy or electronic file to be delivered. Data will be available in minutes instead of hours.

More information about data access will be available at two overviews of the project—1–3 p.m. May 18 and 10 a.m.–noon June 11 in Room 3001, School of Education Building. Data access will also be featured at the ITD Forum, 10 a.m.–noon June 25 in the Hussey Room, Michigan League.

While similar programs exist at other universities, Bennett says, the U-M is among the first to develop desktop data accessibility for such a large and decentralized institution. Apple Computer Inc. has filmed a demonstration of the access system for its higher education series “Imagine,” which will be broadcast by satellite to 700 universities. The program will be downlinked from satellite and shown at the U-M at noon May 20, Room G390, Dental Building. The show features interviews and demonstrations by several ITD employees, and also will be shown May 26 via cable television in the Detroit and Lansing areas. To find out whether the program will be available on your cable network, call Mind Extension University, 1-800-777-MIND.