Expense-Reporting Program Nets Big Savings

By Douglas Shuit

Sep. 3, 2004

Like other companies that had gone global through acquisitions and internal growth, the Walt Disney Co. found itself facing the new millennium trying to tie together widely different business groups. The problem of linking its movie division, television networks, theme parks and resorts was particularly acute in managing a workforce spread out over 42 countries, using 10 languages. At one point, 15 major human resources systems were being used by various parts of the company, generating 400,000 expense reports annually, according to company data.

    So when Disney corporate decided to pull together all of its legacy systems and organize under a project called Operation Tomorrowland, human resources, along with finance, got top priority. Since its launch in 2001, the 31-month project, built by software giant SAP, has generated savings for Disney of $100 million and counting.

    One of the ripest areas for savings proved to be expense reporting, which involved roughly 50,000 of the company’s 112,000-member workforce. The company found itself with 23 different travel policies tailored to individual companies and operating units. Under the new system, everything is consolidated and put online. So far, the company has cut expense-reporting costs by $16 million a year. The new setup allows everyone at Disney to use the same credit-card system. By paying for hotels, car rentals, meals and other expenses–about $290 million a year–through one credit-card company, the entertainment giant can hold up payment until just before the due date, thus creating huge cash-flow benefits.

   The new system is Web-based. Travel authorization is done online, and there is a 24-hour turnaround time so that airline tickets can be purchased immediately upon authorization to take advantage of the best possible fares. If the traveler submits an expense for something that isn’t authorized, such as use of a telephone during a flight, the offender gets a message.

    “We have tolerances built into the system,” Keith Brisack, Disney’s worldwide manager for travel management, told a SAP convention audience of software vendors and clients. “If they go over that tolerance, the employee does get a message saying: ‘You have exceeded a reasonable amount for this expense item.’ “

    Some paper receipts, such as hotel bills, are still required. But they go through an imaging system and are bar-coded, with the bar coding attached to the digitized expense report. The paper is then thrown away, saving storage space. “As an employee submitting an expense report, there are all these receipts I don’t have to submit–it’s a dream,” Brisack told the group of about 75 technology wonks.

Workforce Management, September 2004, p. 38Subscribe Now!

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