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Making the most of travel and expense management systems

Help for companies still travelling the rocky road littered with receipt-stuffed envelopes, illegible notations and eternal waits for reimbursement

By John Schofield

Expense management software promises to ease the pain of paper. Several products combine both travel and expense management. And the technology can save money, too. According to a 2012 survey by Runzheimer International, a Wisconsin-based, global consulting firm that specializes in workforce mobility programs, total travel spending for companies using travel and expense management software was almost 41 per cent less per traveller than it was for companies using paper-based reporting. “T&E (travel and expense) software is about driving efficiencies into a business,” says Tristan Lockie, the managing director of Toronto-based MeritBiz, the business travel division of Merit Travel Group. “The payoff is great when it’s done properly.”

The benefits
T&E software makes employee expenditures more visible and transparent. Employees can manually enter receipt information through an easy-to-use Web-based interface or, with some systems, they can simply photograph the receipt with a smartphone and the software automatically creates, itemizes and categorizes the expense entry. Most systems can be easily linked with corporate credit cards and can calculate various exchange rates.

Spending policies can be built in to enhance compliance and control. And executives, accountants and CTMs can access a host of analytical tools to examine how money is being spent and to capture data for report or taxation purposes. They can also track how much they’re spending with specific suppliers, says Louis Berard, a senior research analyst with Aberdeen Group Inc., a Boston-based business consulting firm. “That’s where companies often find their biggest savings, especially with hotels and car rentals,” says Berard. “There is a great opportunity to leverage that supplier and get a better rate.”

To handle travel booking and expenses, T&E software can be combined with a travel management company or with online travel services like Egencia. Some systems can be programmed to give priority to policy rules, preferred suppliers, personal preferences, low-cost alternatives, and even the most environmentally friendly travel options.

Despite all the benefits of T&E products, there is one caveat: Successful implementation requires a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished, buy-in from senior executives and effectively communicating the benefits to employees.

The Right Fit
A number of T&E software products are available on a monthly subscription basis and can be integrated into back-end accounting systems like QuickBooks. In tune with the times, most offer services on mobile devices for employee convenience. Berard says there is also a trend toward cloud-based systems that don’t require companies to have large computing power on-site.

Some of the most popular options include Concur, PeopleSoft Travel and Expense Man­agement (by Oracle), Ariba Travel and Expense (by SAP), Infor Expense Manage­ment, KDS Neo, Certify, Expensify, and Insperity ExpensAble. Subscription-based services start at $8 per user per month for Concur or $10 per month for five users for Certify.

Some providers offer turn-key products with add-ons for greater functionality. When shopping around, experts say, look at the quality of technical support, how well travel and expense management are integrated (including the use of corporate credit cards), how well compliance issues are red-flagged, and mobile features, including smartphone scanning or photographing of receipts.

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