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Smooth eTraveling ahead
Pokey travel reimbursements for campus voyagers are moving into the fast lane, thanks to the launch of a new, web-based processing system

| 20 August 2003

For most faculty and staff, going to work means traveling to the Berkeley campus. But employees often need to journey beyond our borders to take care of business: to a conference in the Midwest, a training session in L.A., or a research site in Asia.

But to take these trips, travelers must use their own money to pay for rental cars, hotel rooms, and food, then get reimbursed by the university. Waiting for that refund can take a long time — up to 30 days or more, in some instances — as requests wend their way through a labyrinth of campus offices.

All that is about to change. The recent debut of eTravel Reimbursement — a web-based system for processing travel-related reimbursements — will reduce dramatically the amount of time it takes for travelers to get their money back, say managers in the campus Travel Office in Business and Administrative Services. The online service recently completed its six-month pilot phase and is now available for general campus use.

“Under the old system, travel-expenditure information had to be entered three separate times for each reimbursement request,” explains travel-office manager Joseph Knowles. “Departments had to enter it twice: in the Berkeley Financial System (BFS), and on a travel-reimbursement form. Then we entered it one more time when it arrived at our office. This paper-based system was also prone to human error, which increased the amount of auditing that was needed. This really bogged down reimbursements.”

It also caused some on-the-road rage among campus travelers, he says. “Their credit-card statements would arrive, but it was highly unlikely that their reimbursement would have been received by the bill’s due date.” Compounding their frustration, adds nowles, was the campus’s inability to track reimbursement requests, which meant there was no way to give travelers estimates on when they might receive their money.

Show me the money!
eTravel Reimbursement makes the request process much more efficient, because the data gets entered only once. The electronic travel form has built-in controls and prompts that greatly reduce errors. For instance, if someone tries to enter more than the $50 food limit for each day, the system will reject the amount. Because the travel office receives requests that are much cleaner, it makes their audits proceed more quickly.

All of this means travelers will normally get their reimbursements within 24 hours after final approval. They can also track the progress of their reimbursement using eTravel, and will receive e-mail updates if their request hits a snag at any point during the approval process, says Knowles.

The new system (partially funded by the campus’s eBerkeley initiative) also offers some nice features for administrators who handle travel in their department. For example, the form can be completed in more than one sitting, because eTravel saves whatever information has been entered. Also, travel requests for an entire department can be sorted and viewed by their status: in process, rejected, or paid.

While the travel office is currently accepting reimbursement requests via the old paper process, this service will end Oct. 1. The travel office is conducting twice-a-week training sessions on the new system through Sept. 30. To enroll, visit the ICE website (hrweb.berkeley.edu/ice/home). Call 643-5652 or e-mail travel@uclink.berkeley.edu for more information. To access the system, users will need a CalNet ID and passphrase (calnet.berkeley.edu).

In conjunction with the launch of eTravel Reimbursment, the travel office has also redesigned its website (travel.berkeley.edu). The upgrades, says Knowles, are designed to give employees easier access to the information they need to make travel arrangements, including air travel, car rental, meals, cash advances, and more. The new reimbursement system can be accessed through this website.