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UW Finance Transformation

Grants process changes: An insider's insight

November 16, 2022

UW Finance Transformation’s (UWFT) Research Administration Pillar (UWFT-RA) is responsible for the transformation and remediation of research administration processes and systems to uphold the research mission at the UW. The pillar comprises the Office of Research Information Services (ORIS), the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) and Grant and Contract Accounting (GCA), and works closely with other partners and stakeholders such as the Office of Research Central (ORC) and the Finance Readiness Program (FRP).

Kathryn Hovick (KH) is a Senior Grants & Contracts Manager in the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at the University of Washington. She’s also a member of UWFT’s process transformation team (PTT) in the Grant Award to Close (GA2C) end-to-end business process area. In her 14 years at the UW, she’s seen quite a bit of change, which has helped prepare her for the ongoing improvements being made to research administration at the UW, which will culminate in the Workday Finance launch in July 2023. One such change is that most campus units will be required to use System to Administer Grants Electronically (SAGE) Budget for award setup to streamline the award process. SAGE Budget data and details will integrate with  Workday for the post-award set-up process.

In the following Q&A session, Kathryn gives an account of the big changes coming, what she has done to prepare herself and her colleagues, and shares her enthusiasm about the SAGE Budget redesign that took place in June of 2020.

UWFT-RA: Let’s start off with some questions that are a little bit more about the GA2C process and UWFT as a whole, and then move on to the SAGE-focused questions after that. What new features that are coming with UWFT are you most excited about?

Kathryn Hovick (KH): There are two things that I'm excited about, and one is not necessarily a feature, but it's cutting down on the number of systems that we use to conduct our work. Many more of our activities will now be able to be performed in one system and so that will make us more efficient, right? You have less systems you have to log into. It's just a good thing. 

The feature that I'm most excited about is the award task feature, which is used for reporting purposes. Closeout reports, things that need to be done, completed, submitted to a sponsor…because you can document them in one place, you can assign those tasks, you could put down due dates, you can mark them completed, you can upload attachments. I think that will help everyone stay organized. And again, it's great to have that information in one system.

UWFT-RA: Do you anticipate any challenges, and are you doing anything to prepare for the big launch of Workday?

KH: There are a lot of challenges. There are many different facets of UWFT, not just Grant Award to Close. There's procurement, there's equipment inventory. There are many different things that will have to be transacted within Workday. It takes a lot of people coming to the table and a lot of time participating in meetings. There's a lot of information to digest and make sure that things aren't falling through the cracks – just the sheer magnitude of the project is a challenge. The multifaceted nature of the project is a tremendous challenge. 

The challenge that we're working on right now in trying to overcome, to the best of our ability, is working on the security roles as well as hierarchies that need to be set up so that things get tracked and allocated correctly and people have access to do what they need to do. It's a big, giant question mark that we're having to address.

UWFT-RA: It is a very challenging, very large project. What advice do you have for other research administrators who are getting ready for the Workday Finance launch?

KH: What we've been doing at APL – and I don't know how effective this is yet – is that we are always trying to keep UWFT and the transition to Workday at the forefront of people's minds. We are sharing out information as we receive it, not necessarily sharing everything that we know because things may change – but we're trying to be transparent and share what we have so that people know that we're communicating with them. They can start adjusting to the way things will be in the future a little bit at a time instead of waiting till the last minute. 

I think my advice would be not to wait till the last minute to start familiarizing yourself with what Workday is, what will be done in Workday, and what the impacts on you will be. Because there's so much information, it will be very difficult to catch up.

UWFT-RA: It sounds like incremental adjustments have really helped you. Where have you been getting your information that you've been passing along to your department? Has that been primarily from the UWFT program itself, or do you have any other avenues from which you're hearing new things?

KH: We have a lot of representation of APL staff and process areas on different PTTs and in a number of different UWFT-related meetings. Most of the information that we get is a direct result of those meetings or groups that we participate in. Of course, there's also the Research Community Guide to UWFT website where information is posted, and so we do sometimes refer people to go to that website, but most often we're able to get it directly from the horse's mouth.

UWFT-RA: Can you tell me a little bit about your unit, Applied Physics Lab, primarily focused on what your journey has been like adapting and incorporating new technologies like SAGE Budget into your workflow?

KH: APL didn’t really begin using SAGE Budget until the past few years, and it’s still up to the grant manager to decide whether or not they wish to use it. Past APL leadership was comfortable doing things the way that they had always been done, but current APL leadership encourages modernization, doing things efficiently, and using the resources that are available to us.

ORIS has been great at working with us to make sure that SAGE Budget is a tool that works for us because we do have unique rates, we do have unique circumstances, and we also do a lot of very complex contracts as well. Working very closely with ORIS has brought us to a point where SAGE Budget works very well for APL, and leadership has also really been encouraging use of SAGE Budget to its staff.

We have had members of ORIS join us for training sessions and tutorials. We've collected a lot of questions that we've sent to ORIS that they've answered for us, and that has definitely helped increase user acceptance of the system. So, I am seeing people use it more frequently than they had in the past. We still don't have 100% of people on board, though they are aware that in future state, when Workday goes live, they will have to use it. But we're getting there. We're on track.

UWFT-RA: What advice would you give to your colleagues in other units who may be uncertain about using SAGE Budget or other new programs that are coming with Workday?

KH: Personally, I love SAGE Budget. I think it's fantastic, and I don't know why anyone would not use it. To me, it's so easy to go in and populate your line items throughout your budget, and to pull in salaries and rate information. I think the best highlights about SAGE Budget from a budget preparer’s perspective is that the calculations are pre-coded, and so that eliminates the room for error if you get a formula wrong in a cell, or if you accidentally delete something out, or hard-code in a value. It's much more efficient, much more accurate. It's also really easy to share those budgets amongst other people: they can go in, they can make changes and updates, and the most recent version is always online instead of having to email Excel spreadsheets back and forth. So, just take the deep dive into using it because it really is much simpler and much quicker to use. 

UWFT-RA: Were there any particular resources that you personally found helpful when you were learning SAGE Budget?

KH: I've known about SAGE Budget for a long time because I've been at the University for a long time. I was fully literate in the old SAGE Budget. This is another thing I would add to the previous question is that the new SAGE Budget is not the old SAGE Budget. This one is a really great, modern tool. It's not what SAGE Budget used to be. So, for those who have been at the University for a really long time, don't resist using it just because you remember what it used to be. 

In terms of things that are helpful for getting to know how to use it, obviously, take a class. But it's so user friendly. It's so intuitive that I really think that anybody could use it just by logging in. It's pretty self-explanatory. There are good help tools available online; ORIS is always very good about answering questions that are sent in as well, but it's a little hard for me to give any other advice just because I've been around so long and so immersed in the process. I approached it a different way that most people won't be able to approach it from.

UWFT-RA: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the changes coming to SAGE and Workday that you think research administrators should know?

KH: Yes! The award intake process that is upcoming. [Researcher administrators should know about] the new award intake form and using SAGE Budget as part of the award intake form. [Having] them being linked together and then routing electronically through the system to OSP and GCA and then integrating into Workday – I'm very excited about that process because, again, it won't be happening in an email inbox. All the information is there: it can be assigned, it can be sent back and forth. 

Above and beyond that award intake form, ORIS has been developing the new task list for the research administrators. It's just a much more powerful tool than any of the research administrators have seen before. It's gonna blow their minds.


You can learn more about what’s coming with Workday Finance and how you can get involved in the following ways:

Editor’s Note: For any questions about the UWFT program, reach out to your unit’s change manager or send an email to UWFTask@uw.edu.

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