At long last, one of your projects for the New Year is to finally upgrade your organization’s expense management process.

Maybe AP has realized that the dollar amount you spend on the tape your team uses to attach receipts has become an accounting line item on its own. Maybe your users are finally at the end of their tether with a complex, unintuitive solution which doesn’t really do what it claims to do.

You’ve had demos of a few solutions, looked through the analyst reports to see what the experts say, and have done your due diligence on the pros and cons of each vendor. Now is when things get serious. Time to issue the RFP. The question is though – what types of questions do you ask? While different organizations obviously have different criteria for what they need in an expense automation solution, here are five key questions that you should think about when creating an RFP (and why they matter).

1. How can expense items be submitted into your system?

Why is this important? Getting receipts uploaded into the system is the core of every expense solution. You need to ensure that your expense solution works effectively with every method that your team uses, be it a direct integration with Uber or Lyft, a data feed from your travel company, or even the good old email (be it a forwarded receipt from an online purchase, or a scanned image). Therefore, make sure that your solution can work with your existing travel solutions and business processes.

Learn More: 7 Steps to Expense Submission Nirvana

A growing number of transactions are uploaded into the system via a phone’s camera, so you need to ensure that it’s quick and easy for users to easily snap and upload a receipt image, and create expense line items without requiring additional effort.

Optical character recognition – OCR – is a critical component of this, as it reads and extracts transaction data from the receipt image and maps it into fields within an expense line item. The best solutions can even assign an expense type to a transaction, based on the data on the receipt. For example, a muffin bought at 7 a.m. at Starbucks would be categorized not only as a meal, but as breakfast. You should also see what languages the OCR solution works in, and if it has capabilities such as being able to identify logos on receipts, where the merchant name may not be written elsewhere. These may seem like little details, but if they can save your team from having to manually enter transaction information, they can cut down on admin for your team members.

Learn More: Putting Expense Solutions OCR Capabilities under the Microscope

It’s also worth checking how long it typically takes for a receipt image to become an expense item that you can submit for reimbursement. Best-in-class systems can often do this in a little more than a minute with extremely high accuracy (above 95%), whereas low performers can be significantly slower.   

2. What is your pricing model and what extra fees we can expect on top of the core pricing?

Why is this important? Pricing for enterprise software solutions such as expense management goes far beyond the simple cost of processing each expense report. From the initial implementation and ongoing support, to providing core system functionality for end-users and the finance team, the total cost of ownership of an expense management solution can provide a number of unwelcome surprises.

It’s therefore essential that you learn the true cost of implementing and maintaining your expense solution, starting from the day implementation begins. While some vendors offer a fixed-price implementation, others add fees on top of this for any additional requirement or policy changes, and this can soon add up significantly.

In addition to the implementation cost, additional services within the day-to-day operation of the expense solution can also incur costly extra fees. Take, for example, receipt image retention. Tax authorities can require receipts to be retained for 7-10 years, which for a large organization could easily be millions of receipts and many terabytes of data. If you need to pay for all of these historical receipt images to be stored, it can soon become a significant expense.  

Learn More: Getting Your End Users in Peak Form with Chrome River Training Camp

Other core elements of the solution can also often be outside of the base fee, so you should ensure that these are clearly listed out. This even goes down to elements such as OCR data extraction from receipts: is that included in the standard transaction fee, or is it an additional cost?

3. What are the constraints for configuring the solution based on our specific requirements?

Why is this important? Every organization has its own travel and expense policies, approval routing requirements, and interpretation of taxation and other regulatory regulations. Because of this, nobody wants to have to adapt their business processes to fit in with the constraints of an inflexible software solution. 

The challenge here is that many expense systems were designed with inflexible architecture, and as a result, instead of working around your company’s policy and rules, your company’s policy and rules needs to work around the technology. This means that you could end up having to scrap certain areas of your policies and processes in order to comply with your system’s inflexibility.

To ensure that your organization isn’t hamstrung by this, you need to ensure that the way the solution is architected allows unlimited configurability, whether for individual users’ views of the solution, travel and expense policy, or routing approvals.

Learn More: Playing by the Rules: Why Configuration Is Key

You should also see if your administrators will be able to make changes to the configuration themselves, without needing to submit a ticket for each request. This can help save both time and expense for straightforward changes.

4. What are your system’s mobile capabilities, and how do they differ by device?

Why is this important? Mobility has become an integral part of every expense management solution, and the ability to capture expenses and submit expense reports from a mobile device has moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have. But that doesn’t mean that all expense systems’ mobile capabilities will work for your organization’s specific requirements. In particular, if you have a large, global workforce, or if your company has a BYOD mobile policy, it’s likely that you will have a broad range of devices being used to access the expense software.

Learn More: Mobility Essentials for Expense Management

The challenge that this could present is a widely differing experience for users of different devices. If the provider uses a native app approach (i.e. a stripped-down app built specifically for an iPhone or Android phone), it’s likely that the look and feel could be significantly different on varying devices, making it tricky to support. In addition, native apps have a “default” set-up for everyone who downloads them, regardless of the organization they work for, and similarly only contain a core subset of functionality. Therefore, if an organization has a specific configuration for their expense interface, this won’t be reflected in the mobile interface.

Learn More: Why Native Apps Don’t Work for Expense Management

The alternative approach to this is a web app, whereby the software can detect what device and screen-size the users is accessing it from, and can automatically optimize the way that the UI is displayed. The user can still access the solution by downloading a hybrid app for access either via SSO or biometrics from the device, but they will get the same look and functionality as they do on a laptop. This can be helpful in that it makes training and support easier, and users don’t need to re-learn the software for different device versions, or have to log on to their laptop in order to access functionality that isn’t available on the mobile app.

5. How does your solution work internationally?

Why is this important? Just like mobility, international capabilities are an integral part of every expense management solution. But the ability to enter expenses in every currency from the afghani to the złoty is only part of the equation. Both from the end-user perspective and the business management perspective, expense automation tools need to be able to support your organization wherever you have employees.

Language accessibility is a key consideration: is the end-user interface available in every language that your team uses, not only on the full desktop version, but also for mobile users? Given that lots of expenses are incurred and submitted on the road, it’s critical that mobile users can access the solution seamlessly.

Learn More: 31 Flavors? Chrome River Has 31 Languages!

On the back end, the ability to comply with local regulations for expense reimbursement and VAT handling are also essential, so any solution must be able to support these requirements in each market where you have a presence. Not only this, but given the countless number of regulations and reimbursement rates that change around the world each year, how can your solution provider ensure that it keeps compliant as they change?

If you and your team are assembling an RFP to better evaluate expense management solutions, be sure to download this RFP Template to help structure your requirements. The template outlines 40 different questions – sure to spark more discussions and better define scope.

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Dear CFO - Chrome River has the industry's most loyal customers
Our choice of Chrome River EXPENSE was made in part due to the very user-friendly interface, easy configurability, and the clear commitment to impactful customer service – all aspects in which Chrome River was the clear winner. While Chrome River is not as large as some of the other vendors we considered, we found that to be a benefit and our due diligence showed that it could support us as well as any large players in the space, along with a personalized level of customer care. Sally Abella, Director of Corporate Travel Harman International
We are excited to be able to enforce much more stringent compliance to our expense guidelines and significantly enhance our expense reporting and analytics. By automating these processes, we will be able to free up AP time formerly spent on manual administrative tasks, and enhance the role by being much more strategic. Ben Zastrow Zelle