Page 20 - THE Journal, October 2017
P. 20

Control the Budget Beast:
Get on Top of Employee Spending
Outdated, manual processes are hurting schools. Here’s how and why it’s time to modernize employee-initiated spending.
LAST YEAR, the Denver Public School system conducted a review of more than 900 district-issued credit cards used in $92 million worth of Visa transactions over a two-and-a-half-year timeframe. During that period, $2 million worth of purchases “appeared to contradict school policy, but were approved by the finance department anyway,” as reported in the media.
A 2016 Salt Lake City audit uncovered
a pattern of school officials using district credit cards for family members’ travel to accompany those officials to conferences, expenses that were often later reimbursed. Earlier this year in Mountain View, Idaho, auditors uncovered nearly $2,000 in dubious charges made on a district-supplied credit card by a high school principal.
In these situations, once the details were scrutinized, the conclusions were often the same. These weren’t instances of malfeasance so much as lack of appropriate documentation, inadequate oversight, and simple confusion about is and is not allowed.
Even as the barriers to technology usage come down throughout school districts of all sizes, one process seems immune to joining the 21st century: expense and travel approval and tracking. This is otherwise known as “employee initiated spending.”
Lack of Automation Equates
to Lack of Control
“In terms of school district financials, employee-initiated spending is often the second most controllable line item in the budget, second only to payroll”, says Matt Gibbons, senior director of public sector sales at Concur. Concur is an SAP company specializing in helping business
and government agencies of all sizes go beyond just automation to a complete spend management solution.
“That can be anything from office supplies to airline tickets to mileage to rental cars to meals,” says Gibbons. In today’s environ- ment, individual district staff members not only research what they need to buy, but also write out their requests, get approval for the acquisition or travel, make the purchase, and then supply documentation for reconciliation and reimbursement. More often than not this is a manual, slow, and cumbersome process that is prone to human error.
In addition to being a cumbersome process, it can also open districts to financial risk if the proper tools aren’t in place to ensure that purchases fall within acceptable compliance guidelines. In an unautomated process, it is incumbent
on administrators and staff to ensure
that forms are filled out properly, that the receipts match the expenses, and the accounting codes are accurate. When the information doesn’t mesh with policies and procedures, the paperwork gets kicked back and forth and approval is delayed.
In a recent national survey of state and local government organizations, nearly seven out of 10 respondents (66 percent) stated they use either a manual process involving pencil and paper or a Microsoft application such as Excel to submit expenses.
Clear Oversight and
Transparent Processes
Schools and school districts need a new approach to achieve the level of clear oversight they want while also providing
a transparent process for their employee- initiated spending. Leading school systems
are finding success shifting their spending management from manual or home-grown systems to a cloud based Software-as-a- Service (SaaS) solution which is secure, affordable, and quick to deploy. There are significant benefits organizations achieve when embracing SaaS solutions for employee-initiated expense management:
Automate complex processes:
Selecting the right solution from the right vendor will provide organizations with an easy to use and compliant system. The approval workflow process for a purchase
is handled online with automated stages. If
a proposed transaction falls outside of the boundaries of the district usage policies, the user will be notified prior to the purchase taking place. For example, if a staff member selects a hotel or car rental reservation that is outside school spending rules, the user will be notified allowing them to change the request prior to submission. As spending occurs, the user can take a picture of the receipt with his or her smart phone and upload the expense automatically to their expense report categorized with the date, purpose, and nature of the expense. The business office will know the compliance controls are working. The result is a reduc- tion in thoughtless or intentional fraud, waste, and abuse. Financial managers also get a complete spending picture they can manage in near real-time. “An organization that may have overspent in the first part of the year will have the insight required and the tools nec- essary to adjust the organization’s expenses in the back half of the year” says Gibbons.
Mobility: Smart phones have become the go-to computing device for working

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