Financial Operations workshop features innovation
By Ed Shannon , Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public Affairs
/ Published February 20, 2019
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) -- Tech. Sgt. Samuel Spaethe used to spend hours upon hours completing work as a financial services technician, often working weeknights until 7 p.m. and then on Saturdays just to get the job done.
But he knew that effort was not sustainable. So he did something innovative about it.
Spaethe developed an Excel macro tool that pulls four reports and two rosters from the Defense Travel System, compares the information, and determines what needs to be done on a member’s pay record. The macro saves technicians hours in research time.
“I have a passion for the tool, and my end goal is for everybody to go home on time,” he said, “Hopefully, this tool will motivate Airmen.”
Now the quality assurance manager at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Spaethe shared the macro along with tips for success with nearly 300 Air Force financial service technicians and operators during a workshop in San Antonio, Feb. 11-15.
“The workshop represented a very grass-roots level effort to share best practices and produce more experts as technicians who literally serve as the ‘face to the base’,” said Monica Anders, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center resources director.
AFIMSC’s Financial Operations Division focused the event specifically on training to assist installation financial customer service professionals with nailing down processes right the first time “so our technicians and customers do not suffer through hours of rework,” said Linda Alcala, AFIMSC Financial Operations chief. The workshop included training in 17 finance customer service topics from military pay to civilian pay and PCS travel to evacuation vouchers.
Senior Airman Lucas Karnes, financial services manager at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, was impressed with the workshop and Spaethe’s presentation.
“The automation tool was amazing, and I am excited to take it back to my base and use it,” he said.
Spaethe helped load the macro on many attendees’ laptops and provided information for how to set it up once they returned to their installation.
Senior Airman Parveen Khan, Financial Operations technician at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, shared Karnes’ praise for the macro and was particularly thankful for the networking opportunities provided at the workshop.
“This workshop revealed how some things can be made easier – reducing work time from hours to minutes,” Khan said. “I loved how we could network with other finance Airmen and learn about processes and best practices we can implement across the board.”
While providing training for Lead Defense Travel administrators, Staff Sgt. Shyanne Perry, also inspired attendees to be strong leaders sharing her seven years of experience in the finance career field.
“My training encouraged leaders to hold the people under them accountable,” said Perry, the NCOIC of Travel Pay at Travis Air Force Base, California.
Finance customer service leaders step in and provide the customer service instead of training technicians on the process, she said. What ends up happening is the technicians don’t learn and the leaders delay accomplishing work they need to complete.
“As leaders, we have a responsibility to hold our technicians to a high standard and tell them how they can learn and grow within the job and career field,” she said.
In addition to training, attendees received a sneak peek at two innovative tools that are expected to be released later this year.
Air Force officials presented a demonstration on a new Comptroller Service portal undergoing testing in March at Joint Base San Antonio and Maxwell AFB, Alabama. The portal offers a transparent one-stop shop for customers to receive online the financial services assistance they typically receive in person at the installation. Through the portal, installation comptrollers will have important visibility to organize and manage workload.
“We tested this approach at Edwards (AFB, California),” said Lt. Col. Mike McPherson, Director of Quality Assurance for Air Force Financial Operations. “After we launched it, there were zero lost documents, and the portal made a huge impact on visibility to the customer and to the comptroller squadrons themselves.”
Chief Master Sgt. Nyle Smith served as the Air Force champion to improve services to finance customers, and he toured installations across the Air Force to see what was being done.
“We put a team together and looked at objectives to improve services to our customers,” said Smith, who retired from active duty in 2018 and is the program manager for Idea Entity, the company that developed the portal. “A modern customer service tool focused on standardization and transparency is one of our six objectives.”
With tremendous support from Air Force financial management leadership, the portal will initially exist through Air Force network and SharePoint platforms, McPherson said. The eventual goal is to present the portal through a cloud environment so that customers can access from anywhere and on mobile devices.
Meanwhile, AFIMSC officials unveiled a new SharePoint tool to help AFIMSC resource management officials track requests and responses from AFIMSC to installations and major commands.
“IT solutions have been on our mind for a long time,” Alcala said. “We received funding to create a tool to make our lives much easier when it comes to the finance-related taskers we send from AFIMSC to installations and MAJCOMs.”
The tool automates taskers – called ‘due-outs’ - and eliminates tracking personal and organizational box email accounts for tasker updates and responses. When AFIMSC sends a due out, officials can set up automatic reminders, eliminating man hours spend monitoring email accounts for responses.
“This will definitely be a major efficiency for (resource management) and potentially a system that can be used across the entire AFIMSC enterprise,” Alcala said.