Friday, 9 May 2014

Improving the Staff Expenses Process

We’ve just run a five day process improvement event working with a team looking at the staff expenses process. At the university we’ve had the ability to process staff expenses online since 2007 however, due to other commitments and priorities this facility has been restricted to a small pilot group. As other departments grow, the percentage of online claims has decreased from 22% in 2010 to 18% in 2013. The purpose of the project was to review the current paper and online processes and get 80% of staff expenses claims online.

The project team was made up of staff from Finance Department, Human Resources, Corporate Information and Computing Services, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Chemistry Department. The team were incredibly focused on making things better for the university as a whole, and demonstrated the ability to think about opportunities beyond their own area of interest.

We mapped the current paper and online processes. The main problems identified with the paper process were: information on the form not matching the receipts provided; figures not adding up; many forms associated with the paper process (mileage, hospitality etc); problems calculating overseas currency exchange rates, and reading handwritten forms can be difficult. The online process also had problems, firstly that it was not entirely paperless: part of the process required a print out and it still needs the paper receipts to be passed along the process. Also, there were some user issues: a "dummy code" set against the claim which was often not being updated; claimants were required to work out whether their claim was taxable and often made errors; the workflow was set up, but not all claimants/approvers and checkers were set up correctly, so claims were not passed on appropriately; and also some of the fields and screens were not very user friendly.

We calculated that the paper process was £17 more expensive than the online process (per expense claim), and that its only benefit over the online system was that it allowed for some non-standardisation of the process. However, during the event we spent a lot of time looking at the system (and found some unused functionality to forward claims), making system changes (mainly visual), identified further opportunities and prioritised them (making it clear that claim should not be submitted with the dummy code, and ensuring that when checkers amend the VAT status this does not need to be returned to the claimant, were the top two).

The team agreed the next set of departments to pilot the new process, set up a task force to support rollout and training, and created a detailed set of actions to assist implementation. Over the next month or so, further system developments will be investigated and the training material will be created. The team worked incredibly hard, and there is still work to do, but the fruits of their labour will be implementing a more efficient, user friendly process to staff which should ensure that there are fewer errors which require correction and rework, speeding up staff claims, particularly around the monthly expenses deadline. The team will also work with departments which have nonstandard processes to understand how they work and how the online system can best support their requirements.

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