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SPINAL Expense Code Guide for Laboratory Financial Administrators



Q. What’s SPINAL?
A. SPINAL is a single, consistent reservation system for over 100 instruments in the FAS Division of Sciences. It allows researchers to sign up for instruments, tracks expense codes, calculates billing, and generates invoices to be mailed to lab admins. Each PI’s lab is linked to one or more lab admins and, possibly, one or more portfolio managers.
Q. Who’s in charge of SPINAL? Where do I go for help?
A. SPINAL is maintained by the FAS Division of Science Informatics group.
Many of the answers in this FAQ ask you to email us at This is also the address to contact if you have any questions not answered here. This will create a help ticket and we will try to respond to your questions quickly. The more detailed your email is, the more easily we can diagnose a problem.
Q. Why am I getting requests for expense codes from my researchers?
A. SPINAL requires researchers to enter expense codes before they are allowed to reserve billed instruments. Researchers can only enter a given expense code if a lab admin has approved the researcher to use that expense code for that instrument. This ensures that researchers don’t use incorrect or expired expense codes. The aim is to reduce the number of journal corrections from incorrect billing.

Roles: Who’s Who?

Q. What are the different roles of SPINAL users?
Researcher: Reserves instruments
Lab Admin: Assigns expense codes to researchers, views financial report, gets invoice for their lab’s expense code root
Portfolio Manager: Often in charge of multiple roots. Receives an email when codes are assigned, views financial reports, gets invoice for expense code roots that they manage
Instrument Admin: Runs the instrument, gives users access to sign up for specific instruments in SPINAL
Facility Financial Admin: generates invoices to send to lab admins

Q. How can I add, change, or remove lab admins or portfolio managers?
Generally, one person in each department’s financial office has the ability to edit who the lab admins and portfolio managers are for each group. You can contact this person directly if the lab admin changes, rather than contacting Research Computing.

Logging in

Q. Where is SPINAL?
A. Here is the SPINAL home page:
Q. I can’t log in! Which account do I use?
Use your Research Computing (RC) account to log in (if you do not have one, visit to sign up). Please note, your RC account is not tied to any other accounts (FAS, HUIT) and is not controlled or modified by Harvard Key.
If you have an RC account and logging is in not working, go to and try to log in with domain RC, and your RC username and password. If that doesn’t work, you need a password reset which you can do here using your email address: RC account Password Reset. If you still have issues logging in, email and explain the problem and the error message you got.

Expense Codes

Researchers request expense codes.
Q. How does a researcher request an expense code?
A. When a research first goes into SPINAL to reserve an instrument that requires payment, they will see a link near that instrument saying, “NOTE: Expense code needed”. Clicking on this link will lead them to an expense code request page. There is a dropdown list with one or more admins for each PI’s lab. The researcher will choose one of their lab admins from this list, and submit a request.
The lab admin will then get an email with a link to approve a code in SPINAL. Alternatively, if the lab admin goes to the SPINAL home page:, they will see any pending requests for expense codes near the top of the page. (There is currently no mechanism to add expense codes before receiving a request.)
Q. My name doesn’t appear on the list of lab admins
A. See the question on changing lab admins or portfolio managers in the “Roles” section. In the meantime, the researcher can click on the “Help! My lab admin isn’t on the list” button and enter your email.
Q. How does a researcher request a second code for the same instrument?
A. If the original code expired, the researcher will see the “NOTE: Expense code needed” link to make a new request. If the original code has not expired yet in SPINAL, the researcher can go to the calendar for the instrument. Near the top of the page, there is a link to request an additional expense code.

Adding Codes

Q. How do I add a code?
A. The expense code approval screen has several tabs, which allow you to:

  • Assign a code that you entered previously
  • Enter a new code with all 33 digits at once
  • Enter a new code in separate fields (tub, root, org, etc.)
  • Reject a request, and fill in a reason, which will be sent back to the researcher.

For more information, click the “help” link at the top right of any SPINAL web page. The lab admin help document describes (with pictures) the process of entering new expense code assignments.
Q. Do I need to enter an expense code more than once?
A. No. Once you (or another lab admin for your root) have entered an expense code for one researcher/instrument, that code will be available in a list, under the “(a) Choose an existing expense code” tab, for you to assign for other researchers or instruments.
Once you have assigned an expense code to a researcher for an instrument, they can use that code for that instrument until the code expires. You do __not__ need to approve an expense code each time the researcher wants to use an instrument.
Q. Why do I need to enter an assignment for each instrument and researcher?
A. In the past, some researchers have used codes for the wrong purpose, or used one grant’s code for an inappropriate instrument. In SPINAL, when a researcher goes to reserve a given instrument, they will see a list of only the codes they have been assigned for that instrument.
Q. Who gets notified when I approve an expense code?
A. You, the researcher, the portfolio manager (if any), and the facility financial manager for the instrument.
Q. SPINAL says the code I’m adding already exists!
A. You (or another lab admin for your lab) probably entered the code already. Go to the “Choose an existing expense code” tab and look for it in the dropdown list. If it’s not there, email
Q. SPINAL says the code I’m adding already exists but is expired!
A. See the question on unexpiring codes below.
Q. SPINAL says the nickname for the code I’m adding already already exists!
A. SPINAL only allows a given nickname to be used once. So if another researcher has chosen “NIH” as a code nickname, you can’t use it. Usually adding the PI name, or maybe a year, will make the nickname unique. (We hope to fix this in the future.)
Q. How can I change the numbers in an expense code?
If you made a typo when entering a code, email as soon as possible to change the code. If a code is changing (e. g., some grant codes change each year), it is better to treat that as a new code. Have the researchers request new code assignments, and then email if necessary to expire the old one.

Expiration Dates

Q. What does the SPINAL expiration date mean?
A. When you enter a new expense code into SPINAL, you are required to put in an expiration date. Every night, SPINAL checks to see whether that date has passed. In addition, SPINAL checks Harvard’s expense code validator to see whether Harvard thinks the code is valid. If either of those things happens, SPINAL will remove all assignments for that code.
Q. Can I change the code expiration date?
Yes. If you realize a grant will last another year using the same code, or if a grant runs out of funds, you may want to change the expiration date. Email with the code and the new expiration date. If a code runs out of funds, we can expire the code today. Note: This will not change any reservations that have already been made, for use in the past or future. (You can see this information on the “View Expense Codes” page. ) If a grant has truly run out of funds, let us know that we need to change existing reservations to use a different code.
Q. Oh no! My code expired, but it’s still valid!
A. Email with the code and the new expiration date. We will unexpire the code, as well as any assignments with that code which were valid on the expiration date. (If you told us to expire some assignments with that code because a student left, those assignments will stay expired.)


Q. Why is SPINAL asking for a nickname for the expense code?
A. The first time you enter an expense code, SPINAL asks for a name/nickname for the code. This name will show up in the list of available expense codes when a researcher goes to use an instrument.
Q. Can I change a nickname?
A. Yes. Email with the code and the new nickname.

Reports: Getting information on expense codes, assignments, and billing

Q. How can I see which expense codes I’ve added?
A. The SPINAL home page will show a link to “View Expense Codes” for each lab (or expense code 5-digit root) that you maintain expense codes for. It shows the active and expired expense codes, expiration dates, and the number of assignment for each code. It also shows the number of reservations that used this code in the past but haven’t yet been billed (i.e., past reservations in the current month) as well as reservations in the future that use this code. We encourage you to bookmark this page, and check it from time to time.
Q. How can I see which expense code assignments I’ve added?
A. The SPINAL home page will show a link to “View Expense Code Assignments” for each lab (or expense code 5-digit root) that you maintain expense codes for. It shows the researcher name, instrument, and expiration date (which is simply the expense code’s expiration date) for each assignment. We encourage you to bookmark this page, and check it from time to time.
Q. How can I get more information on who used which instruments, and how much it cost?
The SPINAL home page will show a link to a “financial report” for each facility (e.g., the Bauer Core, or the CBS MRI) for each lab (or expense code 5-digit root) that you maintain expense codes for. By default, it opens up to the For a given month, the financial report shows summary information by user, expense code, and instrument. It then shows the amount of time (or number of samples), charge per unit, and final charge for each reservation.
If you find a problem with this page before the end of the month (e.g., the wrong code was used, or an expense code ran out of funds), we can usually fix it. Once invoices have been generated a few days after the end of the month, you will need to do a journal entry to change these amounts. Therefore, we encourage you to check, in the first couple days of each month, the bill for the previous month. (Remember to follow the link for the previous month!)


Q. How do invoices work?
A. The financial administrator for each facility will generate invoices a few days after the end of the month. The invoices will be PDF files that summarize the financial report for each root. The invoices will be mailed to the lab admins and portfolio managers for each root. If you want more information, log in to SPINAL and click on the financial report link for your root(s).

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