Big numbers grab attention, and one of the biggest numbers a university has to deal with is the total value of its capital assets and equipment. If you doubt this statement, take a look at the Texas A & M University system: In a recent public request for proposals, the system revealed that it was carrying in its asset database over 100,000 items totaling more than $3 billion. Even for less massive institutions, the sheer number of items included in calculating this total can be enormous, and the job of tracking them as they are acquired, moved, maintained, and retired is daunting. But there are plenty of good reasons to pay attention to this task--time-consuming and tedious though it may be.
Accountability. Every institution wants to exercise good stewardship to make sure that the equipment in its care is properly accounted for. After all, no one wants to have problems verifying the fixed assets records during the financial statement audit.
Regulations. Federal and state requirements provide an added push for public institutions, which now must comply with the phasing-in of GASB 34/35: new guidelines that require capital items to be valued and depreciated in a detailed and accurate manner.
Grants. Institutions with funded research have to fulfill myriad requirements for calculating indirect costs, responding to audit requests, and returning or disposing of equipment after a grant is completed.
Cutting losses. On the positive side, lowering your Loss rate on equipment can return significant savings. Most of us don't even want to think about what happens when a periodic inventory reveals an excessive toss rate.
Keep it running. Finally, maintaining equipment and making good decisions about service contracts and purchasing sources become much easier with accurate records of purchase dates, location, and usage.
Still, doing a good job of managing capital assets and equipment inventory requires cooperation across many functions of the institution: purchasing, business office, physical plant operations, grants management, principal investigators, space planning, and others. The software you use can help this cooperation or hinder it. And if your school is Like many institutions, you may find yourself with legacy databases that grew up in different departments over time, each serving a special purpose. Now you need to pull those records together for better management.
MANAGING INVENTORY, WORK ORDERS, AND SPACE Lansing Community College (MI) wanted a system that would be Web-based, would integrate with its Oracle-based financial system, and would combine inventory, space management, and work orders in a single system.
"Now I can pull up my AutoCAD drawing of a building, Linked to an Oracle database," says Glenn Cerny, chief information officer at Lansing. "I can say, `Give me all the classrooms in this building; and it color-codes them on the drawing. I can see the inventory items in the room. T can even pull a report on any piece of data in the system." Cerny says that his system [Prism Computer's Facilities Administration and Maintenance Information System (FAMIS), www.famissoftware.com] is helping establish better institutional control over equipment. He adds, "Periodic audits can be performed by internal college staff who are not responsible for the equipment."
SCANNING MAKES IT EASIER
If your current system for tracking inventory is too reliant on hand Labor, can software help you do the job quicker and more effectively? Certainly--which is why many institutions have recently decided to take this plunge. One of the advances that has made automated inventory systems so attractive is the improvement of hand scanners. Modern barcode scanners are really full-blown computers, complete with megabytes of storage. Scanner displays now can flash information about the asset, including its manufacturer, model, serial number, description and its current location. …