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Reporting for Duty

Companies are starting to embrace online expense reporting.

Web-based reservations systems and E-mail flight alerts have brought business travel into the 21st century. And now slowly, but surely, companies are also starting to embrace online expense reporting.

One reason is the capabilities of products such as Concur Technologies’s Concur Expense, which is completely Web-based, so it requires little integration with a company’s existing IT infrastructure and can be accessed from just about anywhere. One of the program’s main draws is its ability to link to corporate credit-card billing, so employees don’t have to keep track of paper receipts. Instead, the expense details are downloaded automatically into the system, so reports can be submitted and processed more quickly. Since everything is automated, once reports are filed, expenditures can be sliced and diced by vendor or category so that companies know exactly where their money is going, which helps them negotiate volume discounts and other deals.

These features should prompt businesses to consider T&E software, says Tim Tow, a senior analyst with Gartner Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based research firm. “Adoption has been slow because most companies have a fairly rigorous expense-approval process to eliminate fraud,” he says, “but as employee satisfaction becomes more important and companies look for more places to trim fat, expense reporting software will become invaluable.”

Where the Savings Are

Charles Stahl took the first steps toward T&E enlightenment in the early 1990s when his company, DuPont, developed its own T&E system. Stahl, a global manager of the Wilmington, Delaware-based company’s Employee Reimbursement Department, says the system was good, but didn’t provide enough data or reporting capabilities. The company switched to Concur last year. At the time, Concur was the only player to have a Web-based product, but today smaller companies, including Captura and Extensity, and software giants, such as Oracle, PeopleSoft, and SAP, all offer Web-based T&E applications.

If DuPont’s experience is any indication, the software is a worthy investment. Since installing Concur’s product nine months ago, more than 40,000 DuPont employees have used it, saving the company more than $20 million. That’s four times the savings Stahl expected. “We’ve managed to save $1 million just in the cost of express mail and another $500,000 in the operation of archiving receipt envelopes,” he says.

He’s also been able to cut costs on a range of expenses, from cellular phone calls to parking. With aggregated data in hand, Stahl went to one airport parking facility and bargained for a contract that saves DuPont more than $500,000 each year. “It’s great being able to see exactly what you’re spending money on beyond hotel and airfare and rental cars. There’s a lot of gold out there to be mined,” he says.

Non-T&E expenses, including those for educational costs, have also been integrated into the system. Concur manages documentation requirements, so employees can submit their grades and receipts directly to accounts payable and be reimbursed through payroll.

To reap the benefits, however, companies must be willing to invest. Concur’s software, like most others’, is available either through a traditional license (about $150 per user) or in an application service provider model (roughly $5 to $10 per user per month). DuPont says that implementation and training took about eight months. Those companies moving to Web-based T&E software from traditional paper-based systems can expect an even longer learning curve, says Katherine Jones, a managing director at Boston-based Aberdeen Group. But ultimately, she says, even though “customers believe the cost of ownership is quite large, it’s not.” That’s because Web-based applications are proving relatively easy to use, and “result in much better records with sounder data.” It’s been a long flight, but T&E software may finally have arrived.

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