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October 23, 2008

T&B process going paperless

In August, University employees gained the option of receiving travel and business (T&B) expense reimbursements via direct deposit to their bank accounts. Now Pitt is poised to make the T&B process even more paperless with online processing of reimbursement requests.

The new system is being piloted by employees in the Office of Budget and Controller and will be phased in to other areas starting in January, said Maureen Beal, associate vice chancellor for Financial Operations.

Prior to the implementation of the system, departments will be consulted regarding whether they would prefer to have individuals enter their own expenses (which Beal said is strongly encouraged) or whether they prefer to have a designee within their area submit the forms. It could take as much as a year to expand the system University-wide, she said. Paper requests will continue to be accepted during the phase-in period.

Some 44,000 T&B reimbursement requests are processed by Pitt’s Payment Processing Department each year. Currently, employees must collect receipts then fill out a paper form by hand to be reimbursed.

When the paperless system is in place, employees will be able to request reimbursement online when they return to the office, or even while they are away— a convenience for travelers on extended business trips.

Business analyst Heather Lego of Financial Information Systems said the paperless system is simple. She believes that online training will suffice to bring new users up to speed; however, FIS is awaiting feedback from the pilot group to determine training needs.

Employees still must submit receipts via fax and the approval process remains in place, but the University concurrently plans to relax its requirements on some receipts to bring Pitt policy in line with Internal Revenue Service requirements. Receipts would no longer be required for rental car fuel, memberships/dues, parking, professional license fees, taxi/car service and tolls for expenses of less than $75.

Lego said users of the paperless system would log onto the PRISM system to find a form that looks similar to Pitt’s benefits enrollment form. Users will enter the purpose for their trip then pick the appropriate expenses from a list on the template — car, mileage, air or lodging, for instance. Any advances already issued will appear so the traveler can reconcile the figures. Users will review the summary then submit the form electronically. Receipts will be faxed using a bar-coded cover page.

FIS business solutions director Dianne L. DeNezza said the only bit of information that an individual might not have at hand would be the account number responsible for the expense, which employees might need to obtain from their departmental administrator.

Once the form is submitted the departmental designee responsible for travel approvals will receive an email stating that a T&B form is awaiting approval. Once approval is given, the request will go to Payment Processing and a reimbursement can be made. Beal said the turnaround time will be rapid.

The paperless system will help eliminate factors such as math errors or use of incorrect reimbursement rates that can delay processing of T&B reimbursement requests, Beal said. The system automatically will calculate the proper per diem or mileage reimbursement rates and tally total expenses.

In addition to convenience for the traveler, the new paperless process will offer convenience at the departmental level as well. Beal said some departments hand-deliver the reimbursement forms to Payment Processing, which moved to a building at Forbes Avenue and Atwood Street earlier this year. The electronic system will eliminate the need to have someone walk the form to the office.

Departments also will gain a clearer breakdown of spending patterns by category, individual or destination, Beal said, noting that the patterns that emerge — such as locations where Pitt employees frequently travel — also could help Supplier Management and Pitt’s travel office determine where they might negotiate discounted rates for University travelers.

Beal said the streamlined process will not cut the number of regular staff, but would reduce the need for temporary employees who currently are hired during peak submission times.

In addition to the launch of the paperless T&B reimbursement system, the University plans to phase in the use of procurement cards (P cards) to purchase airfare either online or via Pitt’s travel agencies. Although airfare will be the only permissible type of prepaid charge payable with the P card, the University is evaluating the possibility of expanding P card use for other prepaid charges, Beal said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 5

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