DFAS accounting goes online

Before long, desks at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service no longer will have
stacks of greenbar “six-footer” reports indexed by yellow sticky notes.


Paperless host printing is about to clean off the desktops at DFAS and, if all goes as
expected, save the large accounting organization millions of dollars in printing and
distribution costs.


David Banton, a computer specialist who heads the online report-viewing project, said
DFAS has set up online viewing agencywide by purchasing 23 site licenses for Report.Web
Enterprise Server from Network Software Associates Inc. of Arlington, Va.


Some 22,000 DFAS employees can or soon will be able to view specific accounting reports
online from an intranet Web page, Banton said. One DFAS center has already saved $40,000 a
month in local printing costs, he said.


Adminstrators have received training to support the intranet application installed on
23 servers running Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 throughout DFAS, which has five centers and 18
operating locations.


“We gave them a crash course in taking care of the NT server and report-viewing
software,” Banton said. “Then they packed up the servers they’d been
working on all week and mailed them home to themselves.”


The baseline servers, Compaq ProLiant 5000s with 200-MHz Pentium processors, 384M of
RAM and eight 4.3G hard drives each, had been preconfigured with the necessary application
software: Report.Web Enterprise Server, Netscape Web Server and Oracle7 database manager.


Print-formatted reports generated by the agency’s IBM Corp. 3090 and Unisys Corp.
1100 series mainframes will still move across the country as before, over T1 or fractional
T1 lines. The only difference now is that they go to a Report.Web server instead of a
high-speed mainframe printer at each center and operating location.


The Report.Web servers are Fiber Distributed Data Interface-attached NT application
servers on the agencywide Novell NetWare 4.11 network. Procuring failover servers for each
of the NT application servers will be the next phase, Banton said.


A modeler that comes with Report.Web Enterprise Server helps the central and local
systems staff define the reports that users will view online.


Once a disbursement or reconciliation report gets pushed or pulled over the T1 network
to one of the Report.Web servers, it is indexed automatically and published according to
the model for that particular report, Banton said.


DFAS accountants use a Web browser plug-in to analyze reports and balance sheets from
the intranet Web home page set up for online viewing.


DFAS maintains access control through a combination of user authentication, IP
screening, Secure Sockets Layer protocol, uniform resource locator encoding and Report.Web
password encryption.


The application’s Web Reporting Format permits tree-view indexing, printing on
demand, keyword searches, greenbar and extra-wide reports, and full-screen or split-screen
viewing.


Most DFAS reports take up 10M or less, though an occasional report is as large as 500M
uncompressed, Banton said.


Report.Web converts ASCII-formatted files into its proprietary Portable Report Format
and compresses it by a factor of 15-to-1, he said.


Users can extract data from the online reports and import it into Microsoft Excel
spreadsheets, Inprise Corp. dBase databases or comma-delimited files, without having to
rekey as they did in the past.


Most DFAS finance technicians work at 486 PCs with 16M of RAM and 500M hard drives,
which are adequate for the online report-viewing application, Banton said.


Eventually DFAS will distribute greenbar financial reports to its Navy, Army, Air Force
and Marine Corps customers via Report.Web rather than by truck or mail as it does now.

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