Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

October 19, 2017

UW Bothell fiscal and audit services: Transforming eTravel and eReimbursement

Bothell campus

UW Bothell’s use of shared services for business practices has resulted in more efficiency, accuracy and accountability.

At UW Bothell’s Fiscal and Audit Services (FAS), an innovative model for sharing services has taken time to develop but has yielded transformative results.

The challenge: Too many “experts,” not enough expertise

Bothell’s FAS unit used to provide etravel and ereimbursement services for the entire Bothell campus: entering all documentation, and staying on top of all rules and guidelines, for all faculty, students and staff. Anyone traveling — for example, a faculty member traveling for a conference — would complete their own forms when they needed reimbursement, and then submit to FAS to process and check for compliance.

In theory, this centralized model worked efficiently — that is, if documentation arrived to FAS in perfect shape from individual travelers, every time. In reality, travelers were not necessarily familiar with all the rules and steps of the process; receipts were lost, lines on forms were overlooked, and guidelines often changed. FAS staff needed enough expertise in every unit’s distinct processes to handle all contingencies, in every case. And travelers were spending time learning and performing the processes — more often than not, they only used that knowledge once or twice per year.

The solution: Local experts to serve as point people

In 2016, when UW Bothell leadership asked FAS to launch shared services for the schools and major units, the areas of etravel and ereimbursement seemed like perfect candidates to re-structure for greater efficiency. Working with administrators at UW Bothell-IT, the School of STEM and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, they developed and launched a “point person” model.

The new model is a way to maintain the efficiency of centralized services, while making use of individual unit staff’s existing expertise. Each school and program chooses one point person in their unit — usually, a fiscal specialist or program administrator — to complete and submit all reimbursement documentation. Rather than, for example, a faculty member having to negotiate the steps of ereimbursement for travel expenses, their department’s point person fills out the forms, attaches receipts, makes sure everything is correct, and then submits completed paperwork to FAS.

Bothell campus

Discovery Hall at UW Bothell. Photo: Lara Swimmer Photography.

As a “local expert”, the point person is familiar with etravel and ereimbursement processes, including updates and changes to travel rules. They also know the customers themselves: the faculty, staff and students seeking reimbursements.

FAS reached out to others for ideas and support. The team at the Seattle campus College of Arts & Sciences Shared Services Center, which was in its early phases at the time, was an enormous help, says FAS Manager Jenny Albrecht. “They told us, ‘Hey, we’re doing this ourselves and it’s all new, so use us as a resource,’” she says. Some of the college’s experiences proved valuable for understanding how to approach the transition (for example, that they sought advice from experts in Lean methodology) and to set realistic timeline expectations.

The benefits: A relationship-driven, customer-focused model

That the point person has a relationship with the people in their unit and with FAS is “key to a positive shared service,” says FAS Director Kendra Yoshimoto. “It’s a partnership.” Each point person has a quarterly meeting with FAS partners to share updates and feedback, fostering open lines of communication and continuous improvement.

The more standardized model has meant more timely and streamlined reimbursement processing for travelers, as well as more confidence that everything will be processed correctly the first time. They can also be confident that their documentation is being managed by someone who cares: a point person they know, in their own unit. Further assurances are provided by FAS staff, who are themselves subject matter experts and provide the final compliance check.

The point people share mutual accountability with FAS staff — who also support one another. In addition, FAS has a strengthened relationship with the UW Travel Office, helping to ensure accurate and efficient processing.

Lessons learned: Communicate, and don’t rush the process

Yoshimoto stresses the importance of communication and setting clear guidelines for all partners. Strong partnership agreements with the units being served are a hallmark of shared services, she says, and should outline specific expectations for roles and responsibilities, how communication will be established, and metrics for measuring success. “It’s also about educating people that this is going to take time,“ she says. The transition to a new model is a process, involving some trial and error; but as long as partners share common goals and stay mutually supportive, the process is a rewarding one.

Next steps for FAS

In early 2017, UW Bothell leadership asked FAS to expand shared services, to further free up staff in other units to focus on their own priorities. Says Albrecht, “We’re asking, what can we do in our office that takes burden off administrators — that is transaction-based, that we can learn?” Once again, they are turning to other units and institutions — including the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Medicine’s Administrative Business Center (ABC) and University of California, Davis — for resources, best practices and advice on moving forward.

FAS also wants to inspire and support other units that are interested in shared services. In Spring 2017, they held a retreat, inviting representatives from units across the UW Bothell campus to attend presentations by Arts & Sciences’ Heidi Tilghman and UC Davis shared services expert Sarah Reid, among others. The retreat resulted in the formation of a shared services launch committee, which currently working on “durable” ways to expand shared services on the Bothell campus. As FAS shared services continue to gain momentum, the time and effort devoted to their transition — by FAS staff and those who supported them — translates into impact, experience and knowledge to be shared across all three UW campuses.

UW Bothell’s FAS developed a new, shared travel reimbursement process
reimbursement process
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