Behind the scenes – expense@work at IPSA

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I’ve just returned to Prague from London, where I and my colleagues played a very minor role on the fringes of the UK’s General Election, helping to prepare expense@work, our expense management software, for the new intake of MPs and for the management of Winding Up expenses for those who were defeated or are standing down.

parliament

This was a good test of the design we implemented five years ago for the then new statutory body, IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority), which was set up to prevent any repetition of the scandalous abuse of the House of Commons’ former expenses regime. We had to come up with a design capable of expansion, extension and modification of the rules.

We originally implemented expense@work in just six weeks, following publication of the new MPs’ Expenses Scheme. It was the most intense and exciting system implementation project I have ever worked on. and we went live just in time for the new Parliament in May 2010.

expense@work has worked well over the last five years, tracking MPs’ expenses against budgets for staffing, office costs, accommodation and travel expenses, capturing and storing images of invoices and receipts.

The rules are complex, taking account of each MP’s family circumstances, the location of their constituency and their choice of main residence (London or constituency). And expense@work must work with payment cards, stationery retailers, travel websites (such as Trainline) and enable automatic validation against the rules at every point of entry. Workflow must ensure multi-level authorisation procedures where appropriate, and must enable export to IPSA’s public website:

IPSA’s Publication Website

Every year the rules change a little, so the last few days have been about simplification as well as managing the election process. We closed down the system on Wednesday at lunchtime and were ready for the MPs on Friday morning, however bleary-eyed they might have been after a long night of victory or defeat.

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