There were any number of reasons why The George Washington University needed to automate the way it paid stipends to the thousands of students who work there as tutors, teachers, researchers, or facilitators.
The payment process - all manual and entirely paper-based - involved numerous confirmations from various offices, forcing students to wait weeks from the time they submitted their request to the time they received their funds. Printing and distributing checks was a security risk and clogged offices and hallways as students lined up to receive their payments. Staffers could err in transcribing student ID numbers; they could request money from the wrong budget line. All told, the process lacked adequate customer service, and GW was spending more on getting stipends paid than it ought to.
In order to treat its employees and its bottom line better, the university created a web-based Stipend Management Application that fully automated the stipend process. Built using Oracle Fusion Middleware and implemented last year, the new system smoothes out what had been a painfully wrinkled process. Once a student fills out and hands in her stipend request, the system takes over.
“Departments can get online, bring student information up on the web, make sure they are registered students, and make sure the funding is available,” says Asif Hafiz, director of enterprise applications development and operations. “They fill out the form, and it goes through the approval process online - it goes to department heads for their approval and the finance manager for their approval and ultimately into the e-business suite, and payment is made to students.”
What formerly took two to three weeks now happens in just one to two business days. Data inconsistencies and errors have been greatly reduced, and student participation in direct deposit has zoomed from 5 percent to 80 percent, saving GW money and freeing up staff to work on less menial work than manually processing payroll entries.
For example, Hafiz says, under the old manual system, when payment for a stipend was entered in the school’s e-business suite, recurring invoices were created in an attempt to save time later. Yet if there were any changes during the course of the year - to the student’s stipend, say, or to his or her eligibility - all of the unpaid invoices stretching over the remainder of the year had to be manually changed to reflect the changes.
“That was a lot of work,” Hafiz says. “Plus, invoices would not roll over from one fiscal year to the next fiscal year; we would have to, again, manually create them.”
Automation has produced additional benefits, as more timely payment enables academic departments, accounts payable, and the comptroller’s office to assess budgets and fiscal status in real time. Such control helps the university maintain budgetary and tax liability control.
While the interface, Hafiz says, is “pretty intuitive,” the university offered training sessions for faculty members and staff to get them used to the new system, and a video tutorial is available online.
The efficiencies gained in better processing of stipend payments are good news for GW; they’re great news for students depending on those payments for rent while they study.