Cost Control: Using Automatic Accounting Features to Monitor Search Costs

Article excerpt

"What the heck is this $500 search on our online bill?!? Who are we charging for this search?!?"

Sound familiar? For libraries and information centers that charge out their online searches, either entirely or only those searches over a certain amount, keeping track of the online charges for every search is difficult and time-consuming. The old standby, keeping a log sheet by each searcher's computer, requires a tedious crosscheck with the monthly invoice. And, in the crush of short deadlines and heavy workloads, the log sheets are not always filled out.

One option for tracking search expenses is installing microcomputer search software that tracks every session on each searcher's computer. One such product is DIALOGLINK Communications Manager for DIALOG. With this solution, each terminal will have its own log and compilation, but comparison to the monthly invoice must still be done manually. In addition, there are tradeoffs in features between using system-specific accounting software and those of other communications packages such as CROSSTALK, ProComm or SMARTCOM.

ONLINE ACCOUNTING FEATURES

An alternative to using system-specific accounting software is to have the online service do the accounting work for you. Many databanks are responding to the growing trend of search expense charge-back by permitting the searcher to attach a client name to each search. The monthly invoice will include the client information that can then be used to charge the search back to the requester. Many online services even sort and subtotal the search costs by client.

However, until the revolution comes and we have a single command language, searchers must still remember which command to type to begin the accounting feature on each online service. "Let's see ... is it //logit? set subacct? project?" Fortunately, several online services allow their users to customize their profiles to automatically prompt for a client name, and more and more services are providing cost estimates when the user logs off.

HOW TO USE THE "CLIENT-TRACKING"

COMMANDS

Here are short descriptions of the procedures for automatically tracking search charges, changing client names during the search session, and displaying estimated search charges when exiting a service.

Data-Star

To begin Data-Star's accounting feature, type .. set subaccount at any search prompt. (See Figure 1 for an example of Data-Star's acknowledgment of the client name.) You can use a client name of up to eight alphanumeric characters. Using this command makes a permanent change to your account; whenever you log in after having once typed .. set subaccount you will be prompted for billing information. Data-Star also prompts for client name each time you change databases.

To change to a new client name during a search session, you must change databases, by typing .. c . To change client names while continuing in the same database, you still must use .. c to reenter the database.

Data-Star automatically displays an estimate of costs when you sign off.

DIALOG

DIALOG's command to start its accounting feature is set subacct . The client name can be up to 32 characters; you can use alphanumeric characters, blank spaces, and any punctuation except the semicolon (;) and the question mark (?).

To change to a new client name, type set subacct . To turn off the accounting feature, type set subacct without specifying a client name.

DIALOG allows users to set up a user profile to automatically execute the set subacct command. To do this, use the online editor to create a file called PROFILE and enter the command set subacct ?. This command must be the last line of the PROFILE. (Figure 2 shows the steps involved in creating and editing a PROFILE.) This PROFILE will be automatically invoked every time you logon to DIALOG, and DIALOG will automatically prompt for a client name before you can begin a search. …