Now that there is an app for nearly every conceivable function, companies have realized that their second largest expense, travel, can be fully automated – bringing a new level of insight, analysis and negotiation to the ubiquitous expense report. Gone are the days of paper, calculators and spreadsheets for the tedious yet mandatory task of reimbursement. In their place are flashy smartphone apps that track the traveler’s location and purchases and create expense transactions automatically. These mobile solutions are linked to cloud-based expense management systems that provide immediate feedback to the employee when policies have been breached. They also provide high-visibility notification for approvers when compliance conditions are not met, allowing firms to exert greater control over their operating expenses to adhere to client requirements and firm policies. Requiring employees to manually complete expense reports, which not only wastes time but also drives up costs through lost productivity and increased staffing, is no longer a viable option. In today’s economy, it’s either increase productivity or suffer reduced profitability.

Get a Life

The well documented trend of high-tech companies catering to the needs of employees extends to the service industry, where employee appreciation and retention is gold. Automated expense systems free the employee from tedious after-hours tasks while providing the company with complete tracking, compliance-monitoring and control of expenses from the booking process through reimbursement. Employees are empowered via automated data feeds of credit card, airline, car and hotel charges, as well as automatic receipt creation from downloads and/or photos of receipts. With apps, most expense entries simply don’t need to be entered by hand anymore.

Focus on the Problem

Automated expense management systems subject expenses to rules tests to determine whether they’re in compliance with firm policy. Individual items can be flagged for special review, routing and approval. By focusing only on noncompliant conditions and letting the system perform audits, approvers are able to give attention to items that actually require their involvement rather than wasting management time on non-essentials. A side benefit of the increased productivity is the improvement in risk management, with automated auditing rules enforcing proper firm oversight – even for senior management. Of course, this can all be performed on mobile devices using email or apps, further empowering another group of employees: management.

Big Data Isn’t Just for Google

Along with ease of use comes the standard technology benefit of data capture and reporting. Automated transactions capture a plethora of data that allows the company to perform analytic data mining as never before. This assists with everything from employee compliance and vendor negotiation to strategic outsourcing decisions. Integrated high-end business intelligence solutions with spend-analysis dashboards and drill-down reporting provide management with real-time data that aids in cost control. Standard reports and dashboards analyze workflow to smooth workload and improve the productivity of Accounts Payable departments. With all this reporting exposure available to firms that automate, those without automation who rely on piles of paper are flying blind.

Mobile and Automated Expenses Are Here to Stay

If you’re still entering expenses the old-fashioned way by completing an expense report on paper or in a spreadsheet, you probably won’t be doing it for long. Recent studies have concluded that paper expense reports may cost over 75% more than automated ones. Any process with that ratio that can’t easily be outsourced to China will likely be automated eventually.

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