SOFO committee will build a digital voucher approval process


Yunkyo Kim, Reporter

The committee to digitalize the Student Organization Finance Office announced they received university approval to build a program that streamlines the reimbursement of club expenditures.

The voucher approval process will establish an online form where club representatives can submit receipts and send automatic confirmation emails to club officials, and then the documentation will transfer to SOFO for processing.

This model will cut through the back-and-forth sign off process and return reimbursements faster, said Izzy Dobbel, the president of the Associated Student Government and a member of the committee.

“Students can expect their money faster and that is the best part,” the SESP senior said. “It minimizes barriers for low-income students to be in leadership positions.”

Northwestern organizations utilize SOFO to deposit and withdraw funds, but its users have complained about its paper-based approval system. Currently, students sometimes have to wait for weeks or even months at a time to receive reimbursements for club spending.

Students also brought up that this financial burden particularly impacts low-income students who may be discouraged from seeking club leadership.

The SOFO Digital Workflow Committee was formed in February as a response to such student feedback under Norris Executive Director Jeremy Schenk.

Since its formation, the committee has brought together 20 representatives from ASG, the Chicago Organizations Finance Office, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern IT and other NU departments to determine the best method to improve the paper-based system.

“Oftentimes the most difficult part for our student organizations is getting all the required signatures on the voucher form,” Schenk said. “I think (the new system’s) gonna make that experience a lot better for our students who are incredibly busy on campus.”

After the committee develops the approval process, it will launch a pilot program in the winter quarter for a few accounts at the Evanston and Chicago campuses.

During the quarter, the committee will collect feedback from users in the pilot program, Schenk said. The committee will then try to implement new process campus-wide for Spring Quarter 2020.

“Our hope is by creating this potential workflow solution we can at least start to introduce more electronic workflow into the SOFO accounting system, which I think is going to move us a step forward into better serving our students,” Schenk said.

Maanas Bhatt, a Weinberg junior and vice president of student activities finances at ASG, worked with the committee on gathering student feedback and identifying how SOFO could be improved.

Bhatt said they emphasized improving the slow reimbursement process. He added he was excited for the digitization effort to move forward.

“We’re just looking to make the voucher process digitized so that students don’t have to track down the various constituents of their leadership to get signatures and it can happen from behind the laptop,” Bhatt said.

The development of the approval process was a long-awaited result of cross-departmental collaboration, Dobbel said. Her previous position as ASG vice president of A-status finances focused largely on digitalizing the SOFO system, she said, and she ran on a platform of improving the reimbursement process.

Dobbel also said she was satisfied with the administrative involvement in the committee and proud of the progress they made

“They understand what it feels like to front money for their departments,” Dobbel said, “It went from a seed to a full plan — it was beautiful.”

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