Travel made easier with online tool

University officials are finalizing agreements with service providers for a seamless online tool to manage travel bookings and expense claims, a replacement for the current process that the campus community rated through SPEP as having a “very high pain point.” 

By Colleen MacPherson

Laura Kennedy, associate vice-president of financial services, said the pain results from the mountain of paperwork and manual handling required, across the university, to create and track authority to travel and claims documents. In addition, processes are not as efficient as they could be because of the number of vendors and payment methods.

For example, staff can book travel on a university credit card through any one of 13 university-recognized agents but can also book travel on their own credit card through a variety of other agents. As a result, it is difficult for the university to collect detailed information from across the institution on what exactly is being spent on airfare, hotel accommodation and other travel expenses with particular vendors.

"For the university, the value of having that detail is being able to leverage our total spending and improve our negotiating power with suppliers," she said. "We will certainly get more favourable pricing and better discounts by consolidating our buying power, and we will also be able to take advantage of rebates from airlines."

In 2011-12, travel expenses for university employees totalled $16.3 million.

The need for improving the travel and expense system was identified early on in the Service and Process Enhancement Project (SPEP). That analysis led to the recommendation of a single online tool integrated with the institution's financial system to create cost efficiencies and administrative improvements.

Last March, a request for proposal was issued. Subsequent evaluation of various tools and consultation with the university community resulted in the selection of two vendors – Concur Technologies Inc. for online booking and expense management tools and Uniglobe Beacon Travel Ltd. (Calgary) in partnership with Uniglobe Carefree Travel Group (Saskatoon) for travel management services, said Kennedy.

Once the system is in place, travellers will be able to manage their full travel itinerary, including air travel, ground transportation and lodging, and use the fully automated expense reporting system and pre- and post-trip authorization. "Everything will be captured in one place," said Kennedy, "to enable most travel information to flow automatically into the financial system."

Initial implementation of the system is expected to cost $450,000, with $200,000 of that funded from the operating budget. There is an estimated incremental annual operating cost of $100,000, said Kennedy, but savings through improved rates on airfare, hotels and booking fee charges are expected to be $700,000 per year. Those savings, Kennedy added, "will be returned automatically to whichever department or unit booked the travel."

It will take time to build a system tailored to university processes, and time to familiarize travellers with its use. Implementation of the system will start with a pilot group of frequent travellers who will be early users of the new system, and a full administrative unit and a college will be added to the pilot group before the system is rolled out to the rest of the campus community, likely by April 2014. Training will be provided along the way and employee feedback will be reviewed with an eye to continuous improvement, she said.