A totally new TRAC Solution
The University of Sussex is a top-20 £300M university with a significant focus on Research. It implemented a totally new ‘Out-of-the-box’ TRAC (Transparent Approach to Costing) Solution from leading HEI budgeting & planning specialists Account-Ability in only 8 days in December 2017.
The staff that had knowledge of TRAC had left the University. The new TRAC accountant was starting in November and had to produce a return by the end of January. The existing TRAC model was in Excel and reported at school level. It was made up of multiple linked Excel workbooks and was ‘difficult to understand and to validate’. Operating it was resource intensive and quality of reporting low. An Excel consultant had previously tried to make it more robust but numerous errors, warnings and circular references remained. The University was concerned about the accuracy of the figures being reported but the model did not enable the figures to be traced back nor the underlying reasons for any inaccuracy to be determined.
“At Sussex, possibly like at many universities, TRAC had become increasingly a ‘specialist task’ performed in acomplex, time-consuming series of spreadsheets. These failed to give us confidence in the figures. We needed the process to be transparent and better quality assured. We also wanted to understand and use the information internally. Account-Ability has provided the solution for this, quickly and expertly. I would recommend their ‘out-of-the-box’ solution to any university.” (Allan Spencer, Director of Finance University of Sussex)
We first met Account-Ability at the Autumn TRAC conference. We discussed the new ‘out-of-the-box’ Corporate Planner TRAC solution that could be implemented in only 8 days. Having implemented over 40 bespoke TRAC models Account-Ability had now designed a standard ‘out-of-the-box’ approach which would fit any institution, irrespective of size and the relative share of Teaching, Research and Enterprise. The Corporate Planner standard TRAC solution developed by Account-Ability allows institutions to load their own academic structure. To this all of the allocation rules defined in the TRAC Guidance are in-built and automatically applied. The solution delivers a far more comprehensive solution than the minimum TRAC requirements. In addition to TRAC it provides a host of valuable information and in-built reports for internal management purposes. This includes UG, PGT splits, highly detailed pay and non-pay allocations, multi-driver weightings, campus and off campus locations etc. There is a complete set of in-built standard reports that include: (i) the TRAC return; (ii) highly detailed I&E contribution and fully absorbed costs by activity; (iii) cost rate analysis; (iv) driver analysis; and (v) inter-departmental analysis reports. All of these reports, including the TRAC Return, are automatically produced for every School, College/Faculty, as well as the University.
Like all Corporate Planner solutions, it holds multiple years’ and multiple ‘scenarios’ of data. This enables time series data to be analysed, compared and reported and TRAC to be run showing the effects of changes in TAS, costs, space, and driver weightings. The result is a full sensitivity analysis to changes in data and assumptions.
The solution comes complete with: (i) ‘easy data import sheets’; and (ii) comprehensive ‘checksums’ that confirm ‘full allocation’ to the Financial Statement. All allocations are totally transparent and fully traceable back to input data and the Financial Statement.
“We can easily run the model that Account-Ability has set up for us. We can run multiple scenarios and be confident in the allocation of costs. Year-on-year variances are easily identifiable and understandable. There are detailed departmental contribution reports by activity that can be used by the University not only for TRAC but also course costing and management information. We now have a new TRAC accountant who can use and interrogate the model. We are hugely satisfied with the output, which feels much more representative of the University’s performance.” (Simon Upstone, Senior Corporate Accountant University of Sussex)
Account-Ability’s starting point of the implementation was to unpick the old Excel model and identify how costs were driven. Where allocation or driver issues were identified these were documented so that any abnormalities could be reported to the Steering Group. Account-Ability always performs this task as many Excel models are old and may not conform to latest allocation guidance or recommended practices.
Account-Ability did not assume that supplied data was correct. Every driver was re-analysed, when relevant advice was given to improve collection and validity of the data. With experienceof over 40 TRAC models, Account-Ability could spot rapidly any abnormalities in the data. These abnormalities, when they arose, were clearly visible on the Corporate Planner outputs.
There are further action points that Account-Ability has raisedto help improve the accuracy of the allocations and results. These will be implemented over the next 12 months. With this we aim to have TRAC numbers that we can publish internally with confidence.
Sussex University now has a robust TRAC model which reports at Department level. It was implemented, data uploaded and balanced, documentation and training completed in 8 days. The Account-Ability solution is rapid to implement and easyto change when the university structure changes. It is fully compliant to the latest TRAC Guidance.
Account-Ability Ltd was formed in 1998 with the sole mission to sell, implement and support CP Corporate Planning software in the UK. Later they have expanded to sell into Ireland and most recently the Middle East. Over the last 20 years Account-Ability has implemented ~ 200 CP Suite projects across all sectors and covering Operational and Financial Controlling and Consolidation. The clients range in size from £15M turnover to over £3Billion. The projects have ranged from ‘simple P&L and reporting pack’ on a standalone PC all the way through to ‘complete integrated operational, financial controlling and consolidation in large multi-company, multi-currency groups.
Learn more about Account-Ability Ltd.