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Fly Me to the Web

The latest T&E software runs on internet-based networks--and the host can be a third party.

If you have any doubt whether travel and entertainment (T&E) expense management software can save companies a lot of money, talk to Mark McAndrews. “We needed something to automate our system,” recalls McAndrews, chief operating officer at Merrill Lynch & Co., in New York.

The 1,000 or so employees in Merrill’s investment banking department were flying frequently in the service of deals, racking up hotel and meal bills in a hurry. In the process, they were generating lots of paper–paper that had to be collected, shuffled, and approved. “Secretaries were spending a high percentage of their time doing nothing but filling out T&E reports,” says McAndrews.

Merrill Lynch also needed software to ensure that employees were adhering to the company’s travel policy, while reducing the human element in the auditing process and allowing managers to maintain flexible control over that policy. “Every time the policy changed we didn’t want to be writing all sorts of new [software] code,” remarks Dan Hall, vice president for investment banking technology. And Merrill wanted to get a handle on the information flow stemming from its T&E activity. “We had no idea who we were spending our money with, and we needed that information for our vendor negotiations,” says McAndrews.

McAndrews and Hall looked at about 20 software vendors before choosing Captura’s Captura Expense. Since the system went live, the time it takes to process a report and reimburse an employee has been slashed from four to six weeks, to an average of four days. The average cost of processing a report–estimated at $25 to $30 per report–has been reduced to a few dollars. “It was a monstrous reduction,” comments Hall.

What’s more, the improved processing times also have contributed to the firm’s balance sheet. “We bill back a lot of our expenses in an underwriting or M&A deal, so getting expenses in quickly has helped us collect more from clients,” McAndrews observes.

This year, Merrill Lynch will upgrade its Captura system to an intranet-ready version. When the company first began studying T&E systems, the Web wasn’t an important consideration. “We didn’t know of any installations three years ago that were Web based,” McAndrews says. “Even a system that just used E- mail was considered state of the art then.” Today, all the major vendors, and a host of minor ones, are moving their wares to the Web.

Intranet Economies

When a T&E expense application is hosted on an intranet, employees need only a browser-equipped computer and network connection to use it. Unlike the client/server computing model, the Web model doesn’t require a piece of the software to be loaded on each traveler’s PC or laptop. And it doesn’t matter what kind of PC or laptop a traveler uses, as long as it can run the desired browser.

The savings from simple technology deployment and central maintenance can be added, of course, to the kind of benefits T&E applications were cooked up to create. Such benefits include:

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