In this game, your employees’ expenses are it.
By Brent Skinner
The process around employee expenses can be the squishy middle of human capital management. Loose receipts, confusion, even slush funds and fibbing—the unavoidable and undesirable practices are many that organizations employ and put up with to track, reimburse, and report employee expenses. For HR practitioners tasked with sorting through an employee’s expenses, reimbursing him appropriately, updating travel and expense systems properly, and keeping from running afoul of the IRS, the unknowns are unnerving.
Much of the process is paper-based, but fortunately the technological landscape is catching up to do something about it. Organizations overwhelmed by nebulous employee expenses can now latch onto online technology, mobile devices, and the cloud to secure a verifiable electronic trail of employees’ expenses at the point of sale. Take, for example, ExpenseCloud. TriNet, an HR partner to small businesses and entrepreneurs, acquired ExpenseCloud in May of 2012 and has incorporated ExpenseCloud’s offering into its client service platform. ExpenseCloud’s technology helps organizations manage the entire expense reporting process online or from a mobile device. The cloud-based solution, gives users the ability to create, submit, and approve expense reports online and, then, either reimburse employees or invoice clients via integration with SaaS accounting software.
Mobile expense reporting enables itemized tagging of purchases that employees make on the company’s dime. “We are an online and mobile expense management solution,” says Eric Sikola, co-founder and CEO of ExpenseCloud. “We typically work with small to mid-size companies. We have sole proprietors who work with us; we have companies with up to a 1,000 employees, if not more, that use us also. We’ve taken the pain out of mundane task that no one likes to do, which is expense reports.”
A sizable majority of organizations—70 percent—see travel and entertainment (T&E) as “a strategic internal function that is capable of driving corporate value,” according to T&E Expense Management, a research study by Aberdeen Group. Organizations’ inability to capitalize on T&E’s strategic promise, however, persists: Compared to 2008 research from Aberdeen, in 2012 lack of compliance in T&E policies rose by 55 percent as a perceived pressure, and, also as a perceived pressure, lack of visibility into T&E processes and spending rose by 30 percent.
Against the backdrop of these realities, in end-to-end technology and the T&E Lifecycle, a follow-up analysis, Aberdeen went on to find that end-to-end technology for T&E management better positions organizations to handle key elements of T&E management. Organizations employing end-to-end technology for T&E are 57 percent more likely than organizations without end-to-end solutions to have processes that comply with corporate travel policies and guidelines. Furthermore, the amount organizations spend on processing a single expense report is less than half ($9.50 vs. $21.10), and those with end-to-end solutions exercise greater control over, and enjoy greater visibility into, online booking tools and employees’ self-booking tools.
ExpenseCloud’s technology can capture receipts directly from iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry devices. “We give all users the ability to do a lot different things with their mobile devices,” says Sikola, “from tracking mileage all the way to using a Google or Apple map to do the mileage calculation automatically for them, to downloading their credit card automatically. That’s powerful, that they don’t have to manually enter any of the information. And there’s compliance around that, too. It’s less error-prone, and you’ve also got the exact transaction details that the organization is tracking. So, if an employee goes in and changes an amount, we can still tell the customer organization what the actual amount was.”
Mobile expense tracker Expensify’s app allows users to take images of their receipts and upload them into their accounts. The PDFs can then be attached to reports as a reference.
Driving T&E as a strategic corporate function is analytics around mobile expense tracking.
Cloud-based solution Concur allows organizations visibility into spend management with its analytics around cash expenses, corporate card charges, and invoices. The solution offers more than 170 standard reports and dashboard metrics for executives to see where money is being spent—and why. Expensify’s analytics breaks down spending by employee or expense type and translates information into easy-to-use graphs and charts.
Inherent to end-to-end technology are two ends. One is the back end, and the other is the front end.
“We bring automation and make expense reporting and processing a little bit simpler,” says Sikola. “And we help with all that compliance that companies need, on the back end, to put data into an accounting solution, and to pay employees back, to properly reconcile corporate cards, and to make sure that expense reports are adhering to corporate policy. And we focus on the front end, in making it really simple and straightforward for an employee to file an expense report.”
But here’s an idea seldom pondered: Those ends are expanding farther apart, and that’s OK—even a good thing. The back end is where the HR practitioner swims, yes, and technology is closing the gap between where they are and where the interface begins.
Online and mobile technologies have played key roles. They facilitate an HR practitioner’s ability to see the landscape organization-wide, which is further proportionate to the front-end information at their disposal. And, so, inherent to talk of end-to-end solutions for T&E are online and mobile technologies, as well as the cloud, because only they reach the very edge of the end of the front end, too—where the employee swims.