In our travel leadership blog, we talk consistently about the benefits of incorporating a managed travel program within your organization. We’ve also highlighted the added value that working with a travel management company can bring to your business – namely a 10-20% savings to your travel and expense line item. Today, we’re talking about a broader business solution that complements your overall business travel system – automating your travel and expense reporting. This is a tremendous benefit for our clients, and speaks directly to the key benefits of successful travel procurement strategies: support, savings, productivity and control. What travel and expense management tools are available, what can they do, and how will this benefit your business?
What’s in a system?
Simply stated, an automated travel and expense management system integrates your overall business software with your online booking tool, making sure that it’s easy for travelers to comply with travel policy and report expenses as needed. It eliminates the use of spreadsheets, potential inaccuracies with expense reporting, and slow reimbursements. In the Travel and Expense Management Technology Insight Report from PayStream Advisors, the 2014 survey found that “manual data entry ranks as the number one challenge that organizations face in the expense management process.” Understandably – paper receipts can be lost, corporate credit cards are not issued to every traveler, and it takes a lot of employee time to reconcile inaccuracies in expense reports. Automation can have a definite impact on travel expense management.
Companies such as Databasics, Concur and ChromeRiver offer an expense management tool to businesses. It’s important to note here that while they offer great options for expense management, they may not have the ability to fully complete a travel transaction – some of these data systems provide the reporting software, but also rely on a separate operating system and a TMC to be sure all pieces of your travel management work together. If you do decide to work with a business like Concur, be sure that specific capabilities are clearly communicated.
In addition, when speaking with one or more of these businesses or working with your TMC on travel and expense automation, be sure to ask a few critical questions:
- What’s the time savings?
- How will this support my travelers and my finance department?
- Will this save my business money?
- Can this support compliance?
The use of technology inherently brings time savings – remember having to use a paper phone book to find a phone number? Now it’s as simple as speaking into your phone. When using an automated travel and expense reporting system, data about your travelling employees is imported only once into the online booking system – this information is then captured in your automated expense processing system. Employees save time by only having to enter data once, allowing them time to do their job.
More importantly, an automated system reduces the time it takes for the finance department to reconcile travel management data and allows for expedited reporting. When travel is booked, the appropriate categories are highlighted (airfare, hotel, car, meals) and populated once your travelers enter the data. Time spent waiting for receipts to be found or processing reimbursements is virtually eliminated.
Support your travelers
When an employee travels, they should be completely focused on the job. Whether it’s securing the newest client for your company, or presenting your business’ latest tech upgrade, they need to be on point. With an automated travel and expense system, things like tracking restaurant receipts and accounting for taxi fare are as easy as the click of your phone. The ability to take a photo of receipts and submit them electronically is just one example of how this “little” task for your traveler is made simple through automation. In addition, when questions arise about what may or may not have been included on an expense report, the ability to find the information is easier with an automated expense report.
Investing in this technology will change the way your business operates, and save money for your business’ bottom line. As the second most controllable expense in your business, an automated expense reporting system saves your organization money by eliminating lost employee productivity, and gives executives a clear, concise vision of travel management expenses for budgeting purposes. In addition, report processing and the ability to communicate budget information in a timely fashion creates the opportunity for businesses to focus on increasing revenue – not questioning expenses.
Even in a well-run travel management environment, road warriors may still feel the need to operate outside of the travel policy. When your automated expense reporting system is linked directly to your online booking tool, non-compliance can be captured immediately. If additional approvals or special accommodations are needed for one of your travelers, the system can alert the appropriate parties without the need for a face-to-face interaction. This saves time for both the employee and the executive and keeps travelers within policy. Automation also accommodates all of the “minor” expenses that may come through – taxi fares, parking fees, etc. – that may not be specifically addressed in the travel policy. Data fields can be implemented to easily capture this expense information for your travelers.
Everything is moving faster in today’s business world, and having automated systems that work together is critical for success. Employing a managed travel philosophy that matches the goals of your travel management company and the automation of travel and expense reporting provides your business a much broader business solution.