Although the classic image of the frequent business traveler is the high-profile sales executive, the reality is often far from this. In reality, one of the largest groups of “business travelers” is truck drivers. This industry employs more than 3.5 million people in the U.S. alone, of which 1.6 million are heavy-duty drivers. In fact it’s the most common occupation in 29 states. Many truckers – especially those who work in the long-haul transportation industry – spend much of their lives on the road, and those who work for trucking companies accumulate considerable expenses each month. Food, lodging and other incidentals all require prompt expense reimbursement from their employer.
Being almost continually on the road, collecting receipts and mailing them in with a spreadsheet every couple of weeks simply isn’t feasible, as drivers often don’t have access to a printer. In addition, such a system is slow, error-prone, and can often lead to unacceptable delays in driver reimbursement. In fact, the only expense solution that really makes sense for the trucking industry is one that’s both highly mobile and highly automated. This allows the truckers to easily submit their expenses on a regular basis, and enables administrative and financial teams to speed up the process for approvals and depositing reimbursements directly back into the drivers’ accounts.
For drivers, the key factor for easing the process is streamlining the receipt capture process. While most expense automation solutions allow images of receipts to be captured on phones and uploaded into the system, the real time-saving benefit is when this is combined with a powerful optical character recognition (OCR) solution, which can not only extract merchant, date/time and amount, but can also create an expense type based on the transaction data. For example, a 7 a.m. Starbucks receipt will not only be classified as a meal, but based on the time will be shown as breakfast. These receipt images, combined with the transaction data, simply need to be dragged into an expense report window, and then submitted, in order for the approval and reimbursement process to begin. Of course, not all purchases on the road will produce a physical receipt (such as hotel bills, which are typically delivered by email), so the ability to easily forward plain text/HTML emails into the expense system will also be important.
Another consideration that companies also need to make regarding expense software is how it will work on different devices. While all truckers will have a mobile phone and many will have a tablet, the size, age and operating system of these can differ dramatically, particularly for organizations with fleets that spread over multiple countries, such as Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, which employs drivers over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. As a result, an expense solution which requires a native Android or iPhone app to access it on a mobile device could risk providing vastly different experience for many users, making training and support burdensome for both drivers and administrators. To overcome this, look for an expense solution that uses a web app, delivered through a mobile browser window. This means that every user will get the same experience regardless of the device that they use, and whenever new functionality is released, it’s immediately available to every user – everywhere.
On top of device capabilities, fleets that cover large geographic areas should also consider how their drivers can connect to a wireless network in order to submit their expenses. While drivers may have access to plentiful free Wi-Fi and high-speed 4G networks in major metro areas, those who are traveling the sparsely populated areas will often have to deal with patchy, low-speed wireless networks.
With this in mind, trucking companies’ IT teams should look to see what kind of data transmission requirements are required by the expense solution. What are the true offline expense management capabilities? On top of this, if a driver is outside any wireless network, how easy is it for them to send expense receipt images to the system, so they can be submitted as soon as they are back within range? With an iPhone/Android app-based expense system, this could mean having to manually enter all of the receipt data (as the OCR processing isn’t done on the phone itself), which can be a cumbersome task on a phone screen. The ability to email receipts into the system eliminates this: as soon as the driver’s phone can connect to a network, the images are automatically sent to the expense system, where the line items can be automatically created, ready to submit.
While the long hours that truck drivers work, and the time that they need to spend away from their friends and family are here to stay, the burden of tiresome expense submission and reimbursement shouldn’t add to them.
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