UF researchers give thumbs-up to online accounting tool for research
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Biologists, historians, geneticists and philosophers are not accountants, and now that the University of Florida has launched a new online tool to track its nearly $700 million in annual research funding, they don’t need to be.
Stephanie Gray, who took over as director of the Division of Sponsored Research in December, said one of her top priorities was to streamline bookkeeping for researchers’ grants.
So myinvestiGator was born. In less than four weeks, 800 researchers had “liked” the online tool, and acclaim is growing as the tool enters its second phase.
“Researchers have all these pots of money, all with different rules, all with different deadlines, and they wanted a better way to keep track,” Gray said. “We asked them what they wanted, and they said they wanted online banking, but for research dollars.”
The groundwork for myinvestiGator was laid in 2010, when a campuswide task force on grants and accounting identified a need for more detailed, timely reports on contracts and grants. UF was in the midst of a major upgrade of the PeopleSoft system, delaying approval of myinvestiGator until summer 2012.
UF partnered with MindTree, one of the inaugural tenants in UF’s Innovation Square, a business incubator a few blocks from campus, to develop the research “banking” system, with input from more than 50 faculty and staff members.
The result? Rave reviews from researchers looking forward to spending more time in the lab and less time on paper work.
Rob Ferl, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, said myinvestiGator is an easy way to access account balances and check spending status. Researchers can navigate to myinvestiGator directly from a pull-down menu, and Ferl said the learning curve for the online tool is pretty shallow.
The information on research accounts is available almost in real time, Gray said.
“It tells you who was paid, details for that trip to China, how many beakers you ordered, as of last night,” Gray said.
“myinvestiGator is a huge step forward,” Ferl said. “I look forward to it getting even better.”
Mindtree was one of two vendors asked to design a test program and did the best job meeting UF’s wish list. Joelle Smith, MindTree general manager, said the project was a good example of a public-private collaboration, “especially considering that we were each trying something new – UF with a new technology partner and MindTree with a new client in a new location.”
“The relationship between the University of Florida and MindTree has far exceeded our expectations,” Smith said. “Not only was the myinvestiGator project a great way to kick off our partnership but UF was also one of our very first clients in our U.S. Delivery Center.”
The firm has agreed to continue tweaking the online tool as researchers use it and identify ways to improve it.
Brad Staats, UF’s assistant vice president of contracts and grants, said myinvestiGator standardizes procedures across campus, so that all researchers have access to the same accounting tools. Staats said some departments have staff to handle accounting, but many researchers who don’t “just hope it all works out in the end.” myinvestiGator was designed to help both.
For some researchers, the benefit will come in the form of simply being able to do more research. A close accounting of money will allow for buying more equipment and hiring more help in the lab, leading to a higher research output. The money for a new computer or microscope, once hidden in an old-school accounting system, may show up clearly on myinvestiGator.
myinvestiGator will allow researchers to make better decisions about their resources. And that makes it not just an accounting tool, Gray said, but a tool for scientific discovery, too.