Friday, March 26, 2010

Organization Budget and Finance

It was about a year ago when I started working on my Student Council Attendance tool for Speed School Student Council. This tool was designed to solve the problem of accurately tracking member attendance and make my job as DoA easier. After successfully putting this tool into use, I was ready for my next challenge. The next item on my list was creating a way to transparently track our council's budget including how we spend our money. I ended up spending the majority of my spring break this year working on my newest open source PHP tool, Organization Budget and Finance.

This is my first web based application that I designed in such a way that it could very easily be used by other groups or individuals. The design takes into account no special considerations from SSSC and simply attempts to fill a very specific need. This application is not designed to be a complete financial tool or even be used to balance a budget or an account. I am hopeful that someone will come across this tool and find a use for it.

This tool is used for allocating funds and tracking receipts for specific line items. I have implemented almost all of the major features and hope to have our new DoF put this tool into use very soon. The tool is based around the concept of a line item. This is a budgetary item that can have any number of sub line items. This can go as many levels deep as desired or necessary. This essentially creates a tree structure which represents the budget itself. The top level is designed to be used for each years budget. The next level will be used for all of the major events or funded items. The successive levels provide additional details to how funds are allocated. Multiple funding sources can be allocated to each line item. Any number of receipts can also associated with line items and represent money spent. There is not direct connection between the funds and the receipts meaning the allocated funds are treated as essentially one pile of money that receipts deduct from.

The design approach for this tool was to keep it as simple as possible, specifically with respect to the database. However, some interesting features have been built on top of this core set of information. Receipts, sources, and line item's can be made private. The reason for this is that not all information should be made publicly available, at least initially. The obvious use of this feature would be hiding items that are not yet finalized, such as next year's budget, or hiding receipts that have not cleared the account yet or the amount has not been confirmed.

Other features include the ability search the database for specific receipts or line items. This will especially be useful when trying to find out how much was spent on something from a previous year. The budget pages use custom CSS formating which allows for easy printing and avoids all of the fancy styling that is part of the web site. Lastly, the entire database can be easily downloaded in a single click as an XML file for easy backup and data portability.

Why put in all of this work for this tool? In the end it boils down to transparency. I strongly believe that SSSC will benefit from more transparency. It starts with having this tool being open source and ends with our budget being available for anyone to look at. In the end, not many people will care how much we spent on pizza at Fall Festival or how much the E-Expo name tags cost for all of the council members. However, certain council members will care about this information and having an accurate record is priceless.

Our historical records with respect to finances have mostly been lost to time. The real judge of my success will be time. What will the state of these records be 10 years from now? Hopefully I remember to look back and see if I was successful.

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