Chrome River – How I did it: Speeding up expense reimbursement with automated policy compliance

Idaho State University (ISU) is a public research university in Pocatello, Idaho. Founded in 1901 as the Academy of Idaho, ISU now has 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 2,000 faculty and staff. In this guest blog post, Lisa Leyshon, assistant controller at ISU, explains how the university let business flow by automating expense policy compliance and speeding up the approval process, getting reimbursements back in travelers’ accounts much more quickly.

In a typical year, we have between 1,500 and 2,000 travelers, and we do an average of eight to nine thousand reimbursement reports for travel. We have used Chrome River since 2017 as part of the Ellucian HR and financial software suite. Before then, our expense process was entirely manual.

Two of biggest challenges we had before we automated our travel and expense system were timely approval of reports, and compliance with policies. With four campuses, and expense approvers and the finance team spread across the state, it became a significant burden for us to keep track of all of the receipts and spreadsheets, as well as maintaining control of the approval process. It was difficult to know what the status of an approval was, and as forms were often floating around our internal mail system for signatures, nobody knew where they were. This was obviously frustrating for our travelers, who were in the dark about the status of their approval. It also created a problem for the university, as it lowered the visibility we had over outstanding expenses, and made speedy reimbursement difficult.

Moving to Ellucian Travel and Expense powered by Chrome River has not only been a huge help to our traveling faculty and staff, but it has also significantly improved our ability to enforce compliance with our travel and expense policy, as well as improving and streamlining our internal processes.

For our end-users, the biggest benefit has been the ability to Snap & Send their expense receipts directly into their Chrome River expense wallet. Not only does this mean no more having to retain receipts until the end of the trip, but thanks to the optical character recognition capabilities that are included in the solution, there is no requirement to manually enter information such as the amount, date, type or merchant, as this is all automatically extracted. It’s also easy to combine these expense line items with transaction data from travel cards, so our travelers don’t need to spend time manually reconciling receipts with credit card slips.

The system can not only extract the data and populate it into expense line items, but by automatically verifying the amount and category against the university’s travel and expense policy, there is no need for users to try and remember the limits for meals or other items. Our expense policy was configured into the system when it was implemented, and will automatically flag an item to the submitter if it is non-compliant. The user can then provide an explanation before submitting, which gives the approver valuable context on whether to approve a specific item. Any queries from an approver are made within the system, and submitters are notified by email if there are any compliance questions. Now, if we need, we can approve and reimburse a whole expense report except for one item which may have outstanding questions – no more delaying the entire reimbursement for what may be a small discrepancy.

Before we automated the process, there was a lot of back-and-forth – either via phone or mail – to try and resolve any queries. This was obviously a very time-consuming process and could significantly delay the approval process, which wasn’t user-friendly and could be frustrating for the travelers.

Another major improvement, both for travelers and the finance team, is the improved visibility that we now have of expense reports which have been submitted for approval. Users can simply log on to the expense solution to see where the approval stands, so there is no need to try and track down a paper form within the university system. Approvals can easily be made via email on either a laptop or a mobile phone, so there isn’t even a need to log in to the solution in order to do so. And while approvers automatically receive an email notification when they have an expense report awaiting their sign-off, should the email be overlooked, automated reminders can be sent out, so there is no need for the submitter or the finance team to contact the approver.

We have absolutely seen a decrease in processing time. The travelers know exactly where their documents are in this system at all times, and it's made things quicker and more efficient, improving end-user satisfaction and minimizing the administrative burden for our AP team.

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