New Generation of Travel & Expense at Gonzaga University

New Generation of Travel & Expense at Gonzaga University

By Linda Wilson, Director, Finance System and Services, Gonzaga University And Jennifer Frame, Travel & Expense System and Credit Card Administrator, Gonzaga University and Geneva Finley, Travel & Expense System Administrator and Travel Coordinator, Gonzaga University

Linda Wilson, Director, Finance System and Services, Gonzaga University

Gonzaga University is a small, private, Jesuit University established in 1887 in Spokane, Washington, that provides an exemplary learning community educating students for lives of leadership and service for the common good. While Gonzaga University academics seek to be the top of their respective classes, and athletics seek to be the top of their bracket, the Finance Systems and Services team seeks to provide a best in class travel, expense reporting and soon, requisition, purchase order and invoice processing experience for all faculty and staff.

"With the introduction of a one-card program, our credit card rebate is 10 times greater than it was in 2014, making a positive contribution to the University’s bottom line"

In 2012, our office began its quest to look at ways to automate the travel and expense programs. Like many institutions of higher learning, there was no formalized process to plan and book business travel. In addition, processing expense reports required moving mountains of paperwork from office to office across campus. The search was on to find a sophisticated solution to tame the “Wild West” of travel and expense. A managed travel program and electronic expense report submission process were our initial goals.

With no formal travel policy and few discounts established with travel vendors, the Wild West perfectly defined the unstructured program from where we started. The University offered a couple opportunities to book with travel agencies, but travelers were allowed, and often encouraged, to book for themselves. The control point was focused on the cost and reimbursement of travel. How to manage the cost of travel was unregulated. Multiple travel accounts defined the type of travel but did not distinctly separate travel by category to identify airfare, hotel, rental car or per diem. Because expenses were co-mingled, and travel reservations were made individually, there was no opportunity to understand the volume per travel vendor in an effort to negotiate university-wide discounts.

While travelers booked as they desired, very few utilized the University’s corporate card program. Reimbursement requests were made when the traveler chose to submit them, often after travel was completed, or even at the end of the semester or fiscal year. The life of a paper expense report was adventurous – traveling from desktop to desktop, hoping to be processed timely and losing its way by landing in the wrong file or worse, the wrong inter-office mail box. Once the expense report was on its way, you could only hope that it would land in the Accounts Payable inbox fully approved, without errors in a few weeks. Trying to track down a report that seemed to be lost was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Jennifer Frame, Travel & Expense System and Credit Card Administrator, Gonzaga University and Geneva Finley, Travel & Expense System Administrator and Travel Coordinator, Gonzaga University

In March 2013, a pilot group was introduced to a travel and expense management solution. Since then, we have further developed our Travel & Expense program and related policies. Some of the major milestones include:

• On-boarded 100% of the campus to our travel and expense management system
• Established a dedicated Travel & Expense Office to serve the Gonzaga community
• Introduced and expanded our one-card corporate card program
• Negotiated multiple discounts with travel vendors (air, hotel and rental car)
• Implemented three travel policies that mandate booking within our managed travel program

The initial goals to establish a managed travel program and move to a more efficient electronic expense process were accomplished. We found an automated solution that allowed us to integrate with our ERP system, required minimal IT support, allowed us to identify and leverage travel spend to negotiate discounts and was user-friendly. Processing time for expense reports was reduced by 50%, saving nearly $20 per report. Not only were we able save the University money with these initiatives, we quickly realized we were able to generate revenue through our corporate card program. With the introduction of a one-card program, our credit card rebate grew to 10 times greater than it was in 2014, making a positive contribution to the University’s bottom line.

As we continue to grow our Travel & Expense program at Gonzaga, we look forward to sharing our insight and experience with peers in the higher education community. It has been with the collaboration among these peers where best practices are identified and pitfalls are avoided. We look forward to further automating our purchase request, purchase order and invoice processes. The Travel & Expense Office is committed to excellence by providing outstanding customer service through dedicated teamwork. Our focus is providing travel and expense guidance and support for all University community members. This is our slice of Gonzaga University’s Mission.

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