PULLMAN, Wash. – Businesses have talked about going paperless since the early years of the computer. Business Week magazine, in its June 30, 1975, issue, foretold of “The Office of the Future” and how “by 1990 most record-handling will be electronic.” Suffice it to say, it’s easier said than done.

Determined to become more environmentally friendly, Washington State University on Jan. 14, 2009, established a policy that all internal communications would begin moving away from print and toward electronic communication. While not there quite yet, the university is steadily pursuing the goal.

In August, WSU moved one step closer with the launch of an electronic travel voucher form intended to improve efficiency, speed the reimbursement process and decrease paper use.

Series of forms on tap
Click to enlarge WSU electronic travel voucher form

This form marks the first in an upcoming series of electronic forms, said Ralph Jenks, director of the Office of Procedures, Records and Forms. “WSU has about 150 different administrative forms, currently in PDF or FileMaker Pro format,” said Jenks. “Technically, any of them could be candidates for transferring to the new electronic format, but practically speaking, some are better candidates than others.”

How many forms are transferred over and how quickly that transition occurs will depend upon the response and support of the university community, Jenks said. The next most likely candidates to follow in this pattern are the travel authorization form, followed by other financial and purchasing related forms.

Built-in rates, automatic calculations
Collins

“In all aspects of education, we’re trying to conserve on what we’re doing and eliminate waste, and the electronic travel voucher form will help facilitate that,” said Patricia Collins, WSU Travel Services.

“The electronic travel voucher form is easier to prepare because of many of the calculations and rates are built into them,” she said.

For example, domestic and foreign per diem and mileage rates are built into the form, which eliminates having to look them up. And those rates are updated once a month.

The form also has built-in calculators to instantly perform most math calculations, keep running totals and eliminate potential errors.

Because it is electronic, form notifications can be transmitted via e-mail and delivered to computers or mobile devices. In short, it eliminates having to mail or manually deliver documents for multiple signatures. And it helps reduce the chance of a form being lost in a pile of other paperwork.

“On hard copy forms, we see a lot of errors,” said Collins, both incorrect rates and calculations.

Just the beginning

“This is just the beginning. We want to continue to be on the edge of trying new things that work. And, as more people use it, we want to hear feedback, so we can improve the form. Some employees and departments have different travel patterns and needs, so we want to adapt the form to fit those needs.

Using of the form requires a minimal amount of new training. So far, more than 200 employees have taken the training provided by the Office of Procedures, Records and Forms.

Patterson

“Many of the trained employees have enthusiastically embraced the new electronic form. For some, change can be challenging — as by nature some of us just don’t like change,” said Roger Patterson, vice president of WSU Business and Finance. “But, it’s really pretty easy once you’ve used it a couple times.

“Before, the form needed to be filled out, then routed to various people for

signatures, then reviewed and processed by the travel office before reimbursement could be issued. The electronic travel voucher notifications can be routed electronically to multiple people, and if someone is out of the office, they can approve it via a mobile device, Patterson said. “I know for me, it is particularly convenient. In addition, because all the rates and calculations are done automatically, it reduces Travel Services’ processing time, so reimbursement can occur faster — typically by several days. ”

Positive feedback

“The majority of people I have heard back from have given very positive feedback,” said Collins, “so we’re hopeful that more departments will begin using it.”

For more information about the electronic travel form contact Murray at victoria.murray@wsu.edu or 509-335-7507.