Accounting Services & Financial Systems at Western Washington University

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University Business, July/August 2012
Western Washington University
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Getting the job done: Mike Ulrich (middle) and his Accounting Services team can now process journal vouchers quickly and without paper to file.

The amount of money that gets routed around a campus without cash ever exchanging hands is enormous. Recording those exchanges is vital for accounting, but often cumbersome. “Universities do a fair amount of chargebacks for their operations,” observes Rich Van Den Hul, vice president for business and financial affairs at Western Washington University. “The copy center is a good example. Facilities work. IT work. So there’s a lot of transactions.”

The processing of those journal vouchers (JVs) was steeped in paperwork, which touched a lot of hands. Someone entered the JV data into a spreadsheet, printed it out, and sent it along for approvals. The document then was sent via campus mail to accounting services, which reviewed, verified, and manually entered the information into Banner Finance. Duplicated efforts, potential for error, wasted time, and unnecessary use of paper were all concerns.

The solution was obvious. Through Banner Finance, the university has automated nearly all of the JV submission, approval, and data storage process. “The best practice has always been if you can automate it, you don’t have to route through six, seven different people,” says Wanna VanCuren, director of financial systems. “If you had multiple signatures, [a JV] would normally take five days before it went back to accounting services.”

Gone are the spreadsheets, and the delays caused by the need to obtain multiple physical signatures and by the shuttling of paperwork. JV originators enter the data directly into Banner Finance, which automatically routes the information to the appropriate parties, who approve it electronically. Any supporting documentation is scanned into the document imaging system Nolij Web, and is thus available electronically, as well. Users are notified by email if a JV needs their attention, and the system allows for easy electronic tracking of where a particular JV is in the approval process.

Five days of processing time has been reduced to a few hours. Accounting services saved half of a full-time equivalent employee’s work hours, which equates to about $25,000 of salary and benefits. Decreased paper usage fuels more savings, business processes are simplified and more transparent, and the possibility of fraud is cut.

The JV improvement is part of a larger initiative to streamline processes across multiple areas served by multiple technology systems, shares Van Den Hul. “The challenge we’ve laid out for our directors is to develop best-in-class practices that utilize current technology. We’ll be looking at each area: purchasing, contracts, accounts payable, finance and accounting, facilities, information systems.”