Atkins, one of the world’s leading engineering and design consultancies, wanted to simplify the way it processed expense claims. The organisation implemented business process management solution PNMsoft SEQUENCE BPM Suite, powered by Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and integrated with Microsoft BizTalk Server 2006. Expense claims are now processed much faster, clients are invoiced sooner, costs have been reduced, and Atkins has lowered its carbon footprint.
Atkins is one of the world’s largest engineering and design consultancies, with more than 200 offices worldwide, around 16,000 employees, and an annual turnover of £1.5 billion (U.S.$2.3 billion).
It’s crucial that infrastructure projects are closely monitored, and Atkins employees work on-site at locations around the world. Travelling is a core part of their jobs, and travel expenses are included in clients’ service fees. It’s important that consultants track their expenses accurately and submit costs for reimbursement. But claiming expenses was a convoluted process, requiring the employee to complete an expenses spreadsheet, print it, get it signed by his or her manager, and then send it, along with receipts, to the finance department for compensation.
Mike Russell, IT Director for Atkins, says: “We charge for our time, but filling out forms could take 15 minutes.” Once forms were submitted, payroll and accounts staff had to reconcile claims receipts with the correct business accounts. “The team has to process 300 expenses a day. With so much paper to organise, it could take a long time to process a claim,” says Russell. And because the process was so time-consuming, employees used to stockpile receipts. Russell says: “People preferred to wait until the amount they were owed was worth the effort of claiming it, so the finance team usually had to process a huge number of paper expenses forms at once.”
Bottlenecks in accounts processes slowed the revenue stream. Russell says: “We often had a delay between completing a project and getting paid for it. And if a client queried an expense, we had no easy way to prove it.”
Atkins specialises in innovation and leadership, so it wanted to demonstrate more environmental responsibility. “We’re very interested in reducing our carbon contribution,” says Russell. “We were using lots of paper, but we also wanted to minimise our carbon footprint through a better expense tracking system, which would allow us to highlight the carbon consequences of travel.”
In January 2009, Atkins and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner PNMsoft implemented PNMsoft SEQUENCE, a business process management solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2005 data management software, and Microsoft BizTalk Server 2006, an integration and connectivity server solution. BizTalk Server 2006 acts as a messaging interface between SQL Server and third-party finance software. Russell says: “PNMsoft SEQUENCE, BizTalk Server 2006, SQL Server, and our finance solution work together seamlessly. Important information—such as different account codes—is taken directly from the finance application and stored in SQL Server.”
Employees now manage claims online through their personal pages on the company’s intranet. Drop-down lists provide users with information needed for accurate reimbursements. For example, users can quickly choose from a list of available account codes relevant to their client and area of expertise. Previously submitted expense claims can also be viewed through the intranet.
Managers can authorise claims through their unique intranet pages. With a few clicks of a mouse, they can see any expenses that need to be approved, and a history of those already processed. They receive e-mail notifications when an expense claim is made, so that delays in the approval process are minimised.
The solution was deployed within just a few months and went live in September 2009. Russell says: “We used SQL Server and the PNMsoft SEQUENCE rapid development toolkit to build and deploy the system within our tight deadlines.”
By managing expenses electronically, Atkins can easily reconcile claims receipts and reimbursements for employees. The reduction in paper form filling is also helping the company to reduce its carbon footprint.
Administrative costs alone are reduced by £125,000 (U.S.$197,000) a year. Employees are spending less time completing forms, giving them more time to work with clients. The automated system also makes it faster for administrative staff to reconcile claims with receipts. “The finance department is processing 10,000 fewer spreadsheets a month than before, so employees spend less time working through them. We’ve cut our expenditure on paper too,” says Russell.
Expenses are reimbursed in less than two days instead of weeks. “Completing an expense form now takes two minutes,” says Russell. “The finance team can match receipts with claims quickly too.” Most employees now claim as soon as they pay for something, instead of stockpiling receipts, which makes the administrative workload more manageable.
Cashflow is more consistent. By increasing the speed with which it can process expenses, the business can now also invoice clients faster. “We can present proof of expenses to clients, and get money from them promptly,” says Russell.
Employees are happier. Employee feedback for the system has been overwhelmingly positive. Brian T. George, Associate Director of Design for Atkins, says: “Now that expenses get approved online, employees are paid more quickly, which is the most important issue for them.”
Environmental impact is reduced. “With travel data captured directly into our database, we can now construct mileage reports that measure employees’ carbon footprint when travelling,” says Russell. “These reports take just seconds to create, and by referring to these, we can help our employees pick the greenest travel option.”