The Final Frontier: SmartPay 1

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» Posted by on Nov 21, 2014 in Payment Methods | 0 comments

Established in 1998, the GSA SmartPay program provides government agencies with commercial charge card procurement and payment solutions through “Master Contracts”.  The SmartPay 1 program expired on November 29, 2008.  The new program, SmartPay 2 (SP 2), will expire on November 29, 2018.

During the transition, GSA was very visible.  The Office of Charge Card Management provided support to Agency/Organization Program Coordinators (AOPC).  They provided a copy of the new Master Contract timely enough to allow AOPCs to review the information.  They also provided tools to help with agencies’ selection process and transition.  A timeline detailed recommended activities to ensure agency transitions were completed.  Conference calls were routine as agencies discussed their progress (or lack thereof) and shared their experiences and resolutions.

Treasury established a team of individuals from the various bureaus to:  determine task order requirements; do the bank evaluations and vendor selection; and develop a transition approach.  Citibank was selected as the vendor for the new contract period.  Bureaus had to consider the impact of the transition on the electronic travel system and the accounting systems.

The Bureau of the Public Debt’s (BPD) Administrative Resource Center (ARC) utilized its Program Management Office to establish a team to ensure a seamless transition for ARC and its customers.  A project manager was absolutely necessary to plan, coordinate, effect,  and document a project of this size.  The project team (core team) consisted of subject matter experts from Procurement, Accounting Services, Business Technology, and Travel.   Also partnering with us were project teams from Citibank, Northrop Grumman (the GovTrip e-Travel system provider), and our Travel Management Centers (TMC).

Throughout the life cycle of a project, there are lessons learned and opportunities for improvement are discovered.  It is in ARC’s best interest that these be documented for future projects.

KEY WINS:

Communication:  This came in the form of status reports to team members and customer contacts, weekly meetings with the core team and internal teams, timely email communications to cardholders and non-cardholders, and conference calls with specific teams or individuals.  Impromptu meetings were held when needed.

Pilot:   One of our customers agreed to transition in July 2008.  Having the opportunity to run through a simulated transition was helpful in determining key areas that needed additional attention.  It helped all the ARC internal teams, Citibank, Northrop Grumman, and the TMCs to identify the project activities and the processes that would be necessary for the final transition in November 2008 for all of the remaining customers.

ARC’s Internal Teams:  The collaboration between the different areas was outstanding.  All areas were accounted for when decisions were made.  Team members remained positive even during times of stress.  One team member decided to have her baby in September, just prior to the final stages of the transition!

Travel’s Internal Team:  The support from the Travel staff during this holiday week was great.   Guidance was developed to help staff with their group’s area of responsibility.  Customer Service took care of the TMC issues.  SAS took care of the split payment issues.  Both groups updated GovTrip documents.

GovTrip:  Taking the system offline during the transition allowed for a much faster and seamless travel transition.  Thanksgiving weekend proved to be a bonus for the transition as well.  The travel team was able to work on Wednesday before the holiday and Friday after the holiday and did not have to work the weekend.  Travel staff was able to update 1400+ travel documents with new card numbers in a timely fashion.

Single Sign-on:  This concept to CitiDirect was a true benefit coming from multiple login ids and passwords from  SP 1.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT:

Development of Project Schedule:  The bank played a very large role in the transition.  Getting the bank’s involvement and buy-in of tasks and deliverables earlier in the development of the schedule for ARC would be ideal.  The nature of our business required a very detailed plan.

Continuing Transactions:  As it turned out, we stayed with the incumbent bank.  The SP 2 contract stated that there was to be a complete break from SP 1.  All new cards had to be issued and they were active on November 29, 2008.  Some cardholders were able to use their SP 1 cards after the cutover.  The bank dropped the travel corporate account number down to $1.00 to stop this type of activity.

Electronic Access to Bank’s Systems:  Access for program managers prior to go-live would allow for a review of the data.  Accounting String Codes (ASCs), program entitlements, and profiles could be verified.

Helpdesks:  It is vital that all helpdesks, whether internal or external, are provided with the appropriate guidance to help program managers and cardholders post-transition.

Communication to the Cardholder community:  Regardless of the amount of information sharing that goes into a project, some people don’t get the message.  Our helpdesks had calls two weeks prior to the transition with people stating they had no idea what SP 2 was.  They didn’t understand why they received new cards.  Be very specific with key contacts that they must share information globally within their organizations.  Ask the bank to put a message on paper statements for the last three cycle periods prior to transition or on the electronic message boards.  We had an SP 2 alert posted to the GovTrip message board, on our voice message for the travel helpdesk phone line, and on all correspondence going out of the Travel email box.

Automatic Payments from Personal Accounts:  Individual cardholders who have their personal banks make payments to the charge card vendor for any remaining balance after split disbursement will need to notify their bank of the new charge card number or payments will go to the old account.  This will need to be included in the cardholder guidance for the next transition.

Our SmartPay 2 Project Team officially dissolved on March 13, 2009.  The transition from start to finish took over a year.  It was quite a challenge and an opportunity for personal growth.  It made team members see the big picture and how much of an impact each area has on another.   It is now business as usual and SmartPay 3 is a few years away!

By Pam Enlow

“The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Bureau of the Public Debt, or the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”

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