Library Management Systems and Interoperability with other University Systems – Financial

Recent literature from the Information Management world demonstrates the increasing desire and need for the integration of Library Management Systems with other systems within a Higher Education Institution. Not only would such integration bring greater efficiency to workflows but it would also provide a better user experience for the student. For example, currently after paying a large fine, which has prohibited a student from borrowing resources their borrowing rights are not immediately nor automatically restored, instead the restoration of rights is reliant on an email between the Finance department and the library, a process which is open to error and delay. Despite this obvious and essential requirement for a next generation library and web-scale management system very little literature has focused on such integration and the benefits it would bring. The work that has appeared tends to focus on the elements of integration that provide an improved front end customer experience. For example, an article in the Spring 2010 issue of Panlibus looked at how the University of Plymouth has implemented ePayments in order to provide a better service to users. Rather than being restricted to payment at the Library counter during staffed hours, users can now view their accounts and pay any outstanding debts at any time and from anywhere.[1] For a similar reason the University of Wolverhampton also implemented ePayments.[2] While the need for integration between the two systems with the aim of efficiency and accuracy during the procurement process of resources has been recognised, very little research has been done. In 2009 Leeds Library and Information Service sought to link the electronic invoices in the library system to the financial system and Steve Kettle, Modernising Services Manager at Leicestershire Libraries, has outlined the inefficiencies with their payment process.[3]

Problems of existing systems and lack of integration

The main criticism of the lack of integration between the two systems is the necessity to manually key-in the data and receive items on both systems to ensure that both have a record of the lifecycle of the resource. Not only does this take time but it also increases the risk of error. Another concern about the absence of interoperability is that it results in the inability to report on spend and plan budgets accurately. Although the same data is input into both systems, mistakes whilst inputting the data could potentially mean the figures in the two systems do not match. If this was the case, which figure is the correct one? If there is a risk of inaccuracies and a doubling of the workload why do we use the two systems to account the same information? Why do we not focus on inputting the details into the one system?

Agresso is the financial system used at the University of Huddersfield, and by 135 other Higher Education Institutions, and is used by the financial department to oversee all transactions, save all relevant paperwork and prepare for any audits. With such a centralised system it would be impossible for us to move all our financial information for resources to the Library Management System. Horizon is also unable to support the recording of financial transactions to the level of detail that is required by the University auditors. Furthermore, Agresso is able to offer additional features, such as the ability to report on purchases broken down by supplier and period and the ability to split payments between nominal and cost centre, which are useful for financial analysis. However, despite the features offered by Agresso we still need to retain the financial information in Horizon because it offers the ability to be able to split the book budget to a more detailed level, such as subject fund codes, than is currently offered by Agresso. The resources are also ordered on Horizon through integration with the book suppliers database therefore if we were to move all the transactions to Agresso we would not have records of the complete lifecycle of the resource nor any information to use for any enquiries that may arise later.

Another issue that would need to be considered is the method of payment. At Huddersfield we currently pay for all our books by credit card and all the big electronic resource by BAC’s, therefore when looking at interoperability between the two systems it is important that they account and carry out an automated process for both payment methods.

Why such interoperability is needed?

Interoperability between the two systems, the LMS and HE financial system, is desirable as it would save duplication of effort, and it would provide more accurate figures for reporting, managing budget spend and planning budgets. The funding cuts in the UK HE have had a huge impact on staffing and resource budgets ensuring that staff time is at a premium and the usage of resources are closely monitored. Therefore the interoperability which would reduce the amount of staff time inputting data and would allow the resource budgets to be closely and accurately observed would be desirable.

What is currently available?

It appears as though the only product that is currently available that will facilitate the integration of an LMS with other systems is Capita Libraries Keystone. This software allows the sharing of data from the LMS with other systems within the University. For example, it can pass the invoice details from the LMS to the financial system or it could embed library account information in to VLE’s or portals. While Capita is definitely a step in the right direction there are still issues with the interoperability that it allows between the two systems. The movement of data between the two systems occurs overnight as a script is run to update the systems, this results in a delay between the receiving of an item and the actioning of the payment of the invoice.  Ideally we would like this to be near instantaneous so that our budgets are accurate and up to date. Additionally the integration between the LMS and financial system only works for book invoices as it is based on EDI invoices, so the integration is not possible for Journals or Standing Order invoices without introducing EDI invoicing which is not currently possible.

Therefore we are a long way from achieving complete interoperability between the two systems. We would ideally like to see Intota achieve this interoperability which would allow financial information to be passed between the two systems, for the updates to be done in real time and for overviews of the budgets to be available in Intota from the financial system for Librarians to be able to budget and plan accordingly.

With thanks to colleagues at University of Central Lancashire for their help with this post!

[1] Electonic payments Panlibus Spring 2010, p.20.

[2] Integration made easy Panlibus Spring 2009, p. 22.

[3] Integration made easy Panlibus Spring 2009, p. 22.