Your road warriors are complaining about your expense system having a clunky old interface that looks more like Frogger than Facebook. Your system administrators say that the level of customer service could put Basil Fawlty to shame. Your AP team tells you that the vendor's invoices have more unexpected charges than a hospital bill. It’s time. Time to start looking for a new expense management system.
Now that you know you need something else, the next question is what should you be looking for in your next expense management system? Of course, not every organization has the same requirements, but there are some common themes that every company should consider when looking at a new solution. Here are four things to look for:
1. Ease of use
When a significant portion of your employees need to use a system (some of them very infrequently), it needs to be instinctively easy to operate and offer a good user experience. But what does this actually mean?
For a start, it should be easy to get expenses into the system. Probably the easiest way – as it doesn’t even require logging on to your expense account – is to simply take a photo of the receipt and email it directly into your system, or just forward email receipts (e.g. hotel booking confirmations). Of course, this is all well and good, but if you still have to enter all the transaction details to create an expense, it’s still cumbersome to use. Therefore, look for a solution with deep optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities, so it can “read” receipt images and pull out transaction information such as date, vendor and amount, and drop this directly into your expense report along with the image. OCR technology has improved dramatically in recent years, so you don’t need to have the photographic skills of Annie Leibovitz to capture an image that can be read by the system. The best systems are almost 100% accurate, so your expenses practically write themselves.
A straightforward, intuitive, interface is essential, so that turning expense items into an expense report shouldn’t take more than a minute. This means features such as simply dragging receipt icons onto a report, and easily grouping expenses by trips, so the same billing code doesn’t have to be entered onto each item.
Your heaviest expense users spend much of their time on the road, and are more likely to use a tablet or phone than a laptop. As a result, it’s essential that any solution you deploy should be just as easy to use and comprehensive, no matter what device it’s being accessed on. This doesn’t just mean the ease of getting receipts into the system, but also a seamless mobile experience for creating and submitting expense reports, as well as approving others’.
While a native iOS or Android app may seem like a logical option, these apps generally have a lower level of functionality than the full web version, and can often have a different user experience depending on the device type, operating system, screen size and so on, which can lead to end-user frustrating and training headaches. Instead, look for a web-app-based system, which can be accessed through any browser, and offers the same look, feel and functionality regardless of the device it’s being used on. When your users log on for the first time, they simply bookmark the page to put the icon on their mobile device. Next time they need to log on, they just click on the icon to load the Chrome River page, and they’d never know it wasn’t a native app (apart from the fact that it looks and works much better, of course).
3. Scalability and flexibility
Changing technology systems is never a straightforward task, and this is even more the case if it’s one that’s used across the organization, such as an expense management system. So, when you choose a new solution, you need to make sure that it doesn’t just fit your current needs, but has the scalability and flexibility to evolve as your company changes. Otherwise, you could end up having to rip it out again in just a couple of years.
On a business level, you need to ensure that when you move into new markets or increase your headcount, the system can cope with your requirements. This could be everything from the ability to work with all of the tax jurisdictions in the markets where you operate, to being available in the languages of your end-users (as a guide, Chrome River is available in 25 languages, representing the native tongues of 2.7 billion people and the first or second language of 4 billion people).
Of course, “evolving with you” goes beyond simple global scalability. As companies and their personnel change, their business processes and rules, such as approvals for expense routing, also often evolve. Therefore, it’s essential that an expense management system can easily be configured to adapt to these changes without any complex and time-consuming recoding, or forcing your organization to find work-arounds. What’s more, you shouldn’t expect to be hit with a “consulting fee” each time you need to make a change.
4. A partner, not just a vendor-customer relationship
Size matters when you’re looking at a technology partner. If your vendor is on the small end of the scale, it will most likely have fewer resources dedicated to product innovation, so your shiny new system may soon start to lose its luster. You may also find that when you start to conquer the world, your system is stuck on home ground, and doesn’t have the ability to work with complex multi-currency reports, or the different VAT rules in the markets where your team operates.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should opt for the biggest vendor in order to ensure the solution can scale with you. You could discover that you end up just being a line item in their accounting system, and only get any attention from them when they’re trying to upsell you, or when it’s time to renew your contract.
Instead, look for a solution that can offer capabilities that may outstrip your current requirements (so you can “grow into” them and turn them on as required), but one that gives you the level of service that you’re looking for from a true partner. A company where your point of contact proactively checks in with you to ensure you’re getting the best out of your solution. One where the support team sit in the same office as the product managers so they can easily resolve issues. One that treats you with the same level of service and respect that you have for your customers.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of requirements. Of course, there are several unique capabilities that are critical for certain industries but unnecessary for others, such as healthcare systems requiring Sunshine Act capabilities, higher education institutions needing to be able to work with encumbrances, and so on. Similarly, certain features that are essential for one organization may be completely irrelevant to others. However, whatever type of organization you work for, if you use these four basic steps as a starting point, you can refine your requirements, knowing that your core needs are satisfied.
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Wow! This Chrome River is great. Word has spread [in our firm] and people that were not invited to be in the pilot group rollout have asked to be included!