The University of Cologne moves to self-service at its cash office

Automated teller safes at the University's cash office


Even at a university, cash is more important than one might commonly suppose. A large number of students, for example, make their payments to the University in cash. Likewise, there are a significant amount of daily payouts. This leads to an enormous organizational and personnel workload in the cash office, in order to deal with these transactions.

Already a number of years ago, the University of Cologne decided to introduce partial automation of payment and cash transactions in their main cash office by using cash recycling systems. At that time, during the re-configuration of the main cash office, it was decided to adopt a "classic" cash-office installation. An automatic teller safe (ATS) for recycling banknotes, supplemented by a coin recycling module, handle all the cash moving through the main cash office. CETIS is used as the main application here, particularly the CETIS ATS cash module, as well as the built-in option to accept card and cheque payments.

Although it was originally procured primarily for security considerations, this solution also quickly showed its potential for improving work processes and the security of transactions, so this approach is now seen as an essential component of cash office management.

Self-service equipment is replacing /complementing the main cash office

The University will now go one step further. An analysis of the transactions actually handled by the main cash office found that there are a very high proportion of recurring routine tasks that do not actually need the help of a cash office employee:

  • Students make a payment, whose amount is known in advance. (e.g. registration fees, deposits, ...)
  • Students receive a refund based on a previously made decision (e.g. refund of a deposit)
  • Cash is paid to institutions / facilities of the University, represented by employees entitled to receive it. The same applies to external employees or service providers.
  • Cash payments take place in the form of a repayment/partial repayment of previously paid advances.

What all these cases have in common is that they are only a settlement that does not require a decision on the merits of the case by an employee of the cash office - that is a classic case where a self-service solution can optimise the situation.

The university has now decided to upgrade their cash office infrastructure in this direction. In the future, the above-mentioned transactions will not only be able to be dealt with at the main cash office, but also - and this should be the "normal case” - carried out directly on the self service machines by the people involved. The self-service cash office will thus replace/supplement the classic main cash office.

Advanced infrastructure for self service cash machines

CETIS UniTo implement this project, the following infrastructure will be established at the University:

The previous infrastructure, consisting of the equipment of the main cash office and the CETIS Application Server, is to be extended by several components:

  • Self-service devices that serve as self-service cash-machines. Two of these systems will be installed to begin with.
  • Various web-based workstations in different institutions/facilities, as well as in the central administrative departments.
  • A direct connection to the SAP system for determining open receivables as well as transmitting transaction details for payments in and out.

Novel processes for handling cash transactions

Based on this infrastructure, cash transactions can now be handled in a completely new way:

Students can conduct payment transactions directly on the self-service device, instead of having to present themselves during opening times at the main cash office, as has been the case up to now. After identifying themselves on the system by using their student number, they can select the desired function and then perform the payment via a normal self service menu system. Both cash and card payments can be made here. This form of self-initiated transaction is available for all types of payments. Also, any necessary additional data for a particular process, such as posting texts, can be recorded directly on the self service-system via a touch screen keyboard.

All payments out, as well as payments in by persons other than the students, are handled by a different method - using so-called pre-authorisations:

  1. VordispositionAn employee of an institution / facility of the University, who has the proper authority, creates a so-called pre-authorisation over the amount to be paid out, either in the  CETIS web application or by using an SAP transaction that will be in turn be transmitted to CETIS within a payment run. After this process, a payment authorisation is available in CETIS.
  2. pdfBased on this payment authorisation, a PDF document is created for the person entitled to the payment. This document can either be sent by e-mail or handed out directly in the form of a printout.
  3. OKDepending on the size of the amount to be paid out, it is necessary that someone other than the initiating person should still authorise this transaction - thus effectively clearing the payment. The CETIS web application is also used for this.
  4. SB-SystemThe PDF document contains a barcode that allows the user to receive authorisation for this transaction at the self-service device. After reading the bar code, the machine automatically recognises the transaction, and makes the corresponding pay-out.
  5. ServerAfter the successful completion of the transaction, the result is passed back in the form of a ledger entry from the CETIS system to the SAP system. This ensures that all completed payment transactions are completely retrievable in SAP.

All in all, these measures will ultimately lead to a considerable reduction in routine activities in the main cash office, in terms of cash transactions, and so will relieve the overall workload of the main cash office.

Benefits of the new infrastructure

The new infrastructure and the processes based on it have a number of advantages for the university's cash management system:

  • The availability of the cash office service is significantly increased,  especially for the students,  because the self-service equipment is available around the clock, not only at certain opening times.
  • The making of payments relieves the main cash office of a significant workload and speeds up the process. In addition, the fact that the service is independent of cash office opening times makes it much more widely available.
  • The fact that both the main cash office with their automatic teller safe equipment and the self-service systems are controlled from the same CETIS system and in particular that the further processing into the SAP system works with the same interface, allows the main cash office and the self-service units to serve as a backup to each other. All operations can be carried out equally well at both the self-service terminals and at the main cash office.
  • All transaction entries of payments in or out are made automatically into the SAP system, regardless of how they were initiated. This avoids the practice of partially automated matching and manual posting,  which has applied up to now

After an appropriate introductory period, there is even the possibility,  in the medium term, of switching from regular opening times to flexible opening times at the main cash office. Payment transactions that cannot be conducted at the automatic machines, for example the payment of very large amounts or requests for particular denominations, can then be handled individually after appropriate notice. This is a promising contribution to the search for continuous improvement in cost efficiency.

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