In-Depth

Best practices rule at Weston

ADT's 2003 Innovator Awards

Application Engineering Finalist

In an effort to streamline its expense reporting process, reduce turnaround times and save money, Weston Solutions Inc., an environment and redevelopment firm in West Chester, Pa., embarked on its first Web-based, enterprise-wide transactional application rollout. ExpenseTrack processes expense reports into the corporate ERP system, processes reimbursements for employees, and provides management reports and analysis.

The new system features Web-based entry of expense reports, online validation of project and accounting data, an online approver process facilitated by e-mail workflow notifications, replication for similar reports, online reporting, uploading ability of scanned receipts, automatic e-mail notification of approved or rejected reports, and browser-based administration functions.

Weston encountered numerous challenges along the way. The most significant proved to be keeping the user design 'Grandma simple' and decentralizing a predominantly centralized process. The company met these challenges by implementing a training approach and simplifying the process and on-screen validation.

The organization was surprised by how big the project became. As the first Web-based transactional application Weston rolled out to virtually every person in the company, ExpenseTrack had to be viewed from a number of different perspectives.

''Besides the Internet and e-mail, this is probably the most- used application in the company,'' noted Bob Hackett, applications director.

Despite the project's complexity, the company was able to roll out ExpenseTrack enterprise-wide over a six-month period after nine months of development, and has realized numerous best practices as a result. Some of those include reuse of the company's various components of code and the effective use of its life-cycle approach.

''We came up with much richer testing standards that we're reusing for our new applications,' Hackett commented. The project itself helped the organization to create an infrastructure that Weston is reusing for its other applications, so it 'kind of helped us perform best practices,'' Hackett added.

If it had the project to do over again, Weston would analyze the PC requirements better to ensure that the development team was building the application for the most common PC (RAM, processor speed). Some PCs were slower than others, and the team may have changed the design slightly to fix this problem. However, they were able to compensate mainly through programming. Hackett advises other development managers to make sure that business sponsors and end-user folks are involved.

''Actively engage end users in the requirements definition,'' he encouraged. Strong project management and a good development team are also critical to the success of a project, he added.

ExpenseTrack has been successful in helping the company to simplify the entry process, realize faster reimbursement, reconcile credit card statements and provide project managers with information in a more timely manner.

Application profile

Project: ExpenseTrack -- Web-based expense reporting system

Purpose: To lower the processing cost per expense report and to simplify the expense reporting process.

Benefits: Immediate acceptance from end-user community, elimination of two positions in corporate accounting and the employees transferred to more value-added positions, elimination of double-keying expense reports, faster and more accurate invoicing and improved cash flow.

Platform: Windows 2000 Advance Server

Tools: Microsoft Office, Visual Interdev, VBScript, Visual Basic, SQL Server 2000, MTS, IIS, Active Directory, Applications Center, Microsoft SharePoint Web Parts

Development team: Bob Hackett, project manager/trainer; Clay Bowen, technical manager; Steve Zelonis, senior programmer; Bob Mayo, junior programmer; Patty McGinn, quality assurance; Rabi Hawa, business sponsor/trainer, Beth McWilliams, trainer


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Click here to read about the winner in this category, "Configure at will! Allstate improves agent access", or click here to go to the Innovator Awards home page.

About the Author

Lana Gates is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at freelancewriter@gates-works.com.

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