Automated travel reimbursement form. (CPA in Industry )by Gillespie, Barry H.
The program, called Fast Cash, is enabled by a new, easy-to-use automated travel reimbursement form developed in only one month with a powerful and flexible forms automation solution from JetForm Corp. of Waltham, Mass. In some ways the new form, created using JetForm-Design and Jetform for E-mail, resembles the hard copy expense forms previously used by employees to submit data relating to transportation, lodging, meals, and other expenses. But the software-based form offers much more. For instance, it automatically validates data using built-in logic and calculates total down and across to eliminate errors. It also enables employees, with a push of a button, to route expense-related data via Lotus cc:mail across the local area network (LAN) to the accounting department. In addition, it can run in either DOS or Windows.
Executives and employees at EEI, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association serving investor-owned electric utility companies nationwide, are so pleased with the new form and the FastCash program, they've honored the teams with a service excellence award.
Improving Customer Service
Plans to implement the new FastCash program began last summer, fueled by the need to find a faster way to reimburse travel costs to the 150 EEI employees who travel each month. At the time, the accounting department was reimbursing employees three to six days after receiving travel reimbursement forms. But these forms sometimes took a couple of weeks to get to accounting because of the approval process that proceeded their submission. EEI wanted to get the reimbursement in the hands of its employees as soon as possible to ease the burden of extensive travel.
EEI also sought a way to limit the mistakes in the hard-copy reimbursement forms when they arrived in accounting.
After brainstorming, a project team involved with EEI's travel policy decided to make two major changes. One was to issue credit cards to employees. The other was to automate the travel reimbursement form. The latter would accelerate the process of reimbursing travel costs by taking advantage of EEI'S 300-node token ring network running on a LAN with Advanced NetWare 3.11 and Lotus cc:Mail for electronic mail messaging.
Finding the Right Forms
When Internal Accounting (IA) approached Information Services (IS) about the project in mid-summer with an October 1st deadline for implementing FastCash. This meant IS had a month to find the right solution for forms creations, and another to build and debug the form. The pressure was on.
Before starting a software search, IS established key requirements. Software was wanted that integrated tightly with cc:Mail, had a networkbased architecture, could calculate down and across, and worked with DOS as well as Windows. That's because most of EE's computers are IBM PS/2 Model 50s with 80286 processors that lack the power to support Windows applications. IS also sought software already designed to handle forms automation. A package built specifically for forms automation would provide the forms engine on which future forms could be built.
A literature search was conducted, including a review of the specifications of several products, visits to demonstrations at trade shows, and recommendations of people already using forms automation packages, JetForm software was chosen to do the job. One deciding factor was JetForm for E-Mail/C's integration with cc:Mail The software employs cc.Mail as a messaging engine and allows people to send forms and data as messages using an interface to cc.Mail. its architecture is modular and lends itself to the design of a network.
JetForm for E-Mail/C's calculation capabilities and its data validation rules, including range and numeric checks, table look-ups and mandatory fields. The Microsoft Window's interface in JetForm-Design was important, as was the form design package's complete set of graphics and text handling tools to facilitate forms design.
Finally, the fact that JetfForm-Design enables the building of either DOS or Windows applications was also believed to be important. It would allow a migration to a Windows environment when more powerful PCs were acquired.
Throughout September, IS programmer analyst who become part of the FastCash team helped the group develop an automated travel reimbursement form that would mimic the paper process as closely as possible. When the form was completed, it was embraced immediately by employees.
With the new form in place, employees still have to make a hard copy of their expense reports, which they submit along with receipts to their managers for approval. However, for immediate reimbursement, they simply E-mail an electronic expense form to accounting and get a check back the next day.
Since the travel reimbursement form was automated, many employees throughout EEI have come to IS to see if the group could automate forms for their departments. The JetForm software is being used to create an employee performance appraisal form for the human resources department.
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