An easy-to-use interface and a broad range of traveler-friendly features are critical elements for expense management software. So is the ability for administrators to configure the solution so that it fits perfectly with an organisation’s existing policies and approval workflows.
As essential as these factors are in the selection of an expense management solution, any front-end benefits are meaningless if the solution doesn’t easily integrate into your tech stack, introduces security vulnerabilities for your network and your users’ data, or simply isn’t available when you need it to be.
Here are five key issues that CIOs should be aware of when reviewing expense management solutions:
1. How easily does it integrate into existing applications?
Expense management is just one part of a significantly larger technology ecosystem for most organisations, and in order to achieve a seamless process for purchasing, general ledger allocation and reimbursement/billing, it needs to integrate effectively into these solutions.
On the travel side, corporate travel management companies and online booking tools provide daily feeds of booking data which need to be integrated into the travellers’ expenses. In addition to the TMC data feed, many companies have corporate card providers, whose transactions need to be imported into the expense solution, and then matched up with receipt data submitted by the end-users.
An expense solution should be easy to integrate into whichever travel booking solution the organisation deploys, either with direct feeds, or through third-party connectors. There should also be no walled-garden restrictions about requiring travel booking and expense solutions from the same vendor to be deployed, allowing CIOs and line-of-business heads to choose whichever best-of-breed solutions fit their specific requirements.
For credit cards integrations, organisations should look for solutions that can provide real-time spend notifications that can be matched with purchase receipt images in near-real-time, so users don’t need to worry about reconciling receipts with transaction data at a later date. In addition, solutions that can directly integrate card providers’ statements can significantly speed up the reconciliation and payment process for corporate cards.
On the finance side, the expense solution must also integrate effectively and seamlessly into whichever ERP, billing and HR solution(s) that the organisation uses, in order to effectively transmit data to the GL for accounting reconciliation, client billing, and finally reimbursement.
Although many larger ERP vendors offer their own pared down expense solutions and would of course prefer organisations to adopt their whole suite of products, they operate an open ecosystem. This means that – despite what the ERP vendor’s expense sales team may claim – best-of-breed solutions can integrate either directly via APIs, or via the ERP’s or a third-party connector.
2. How easy is it to implement and support?
Internal IT departments continue to become leaner, and focus on more higher-level, strategic projects. They have neither the time nor the resources to undertake long and complex software implementation processes, and expect that products should be intuitive for end-users, with support provided either by internal super-users or the vendor’s own teams.
As a result, CIOs should confirm that any proposed solutions – even those hosted in the cloud – require minimal IT support to both implement and support. Vendors that can offer best-practice implementations (based on “templates” of commonly-used configurations), can significantly streamline the deployment process compared to those who need to start each implementation from scratch. The amount of the internal IT team’s time required for an implementation obviously depends on the company’s own internal processes and geographic scope. However, for many enterprise-wide expense management implementations, expectations in the region of 50 man-hours of IT team should not be unrealistic.
Product support queries from end-users can be minimized by ensuring that the expense solution is intuitive to use (especially for infrequent travelers, who may only submit expenses once or two per year), available in all users’ languages, and offers a common interface regardless of the platform or device upon which they are accessing the solution. This should minimise the volume of queries that the internal administrators receive, particularly those that are based upon users’ unfamiliarity with a complex solution.
For questions that need to get escalated beyond the internal administrators, the expense software provider’s support teams should also be available around the clock to help with any issues. It should also be easy to contact them – not just a faceless support email address. A great support team will provide proactive, personal contact, provide fast turnaround times, and keep customers apprised of the support ticket’s progress.
3. Is it secure?
Expense management solutions contain large amounts of personal employee information, as well as corporate financial data, and they also integrate with other critical and sensitive solutions such as HR and ERP systems. As a result, security is a paramount consideration, both at the application level and the data level.
On the end-user application level, increasing security can include deploying single sign-on and implementing multi-factor authentication, as well as eliminating the need for vulnerable apps on users’ phones (by implementing a solution that uses a web app instead if a native iOS or Android app). Accessing the application via a browser over an app ensures that no sensitive data is ever stored on a mobile device, eliminating the potential of it falling into the wrong hands if a phone is lost or stolen.
For data security within the solution, CIOs should also ensure that their prospective partners adhere to employ industry standard security processes, such as state-of-the-art encryption in transit and at rest, multi-factor authentication, and IP restrictions to ensure that your organisation’s sensitive data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. As a result, you should ensure that your vendor holds SOC2 Type 2, ISO 27001 and PCI-DSS compliance.
For organisations based outside the U.S., a further consideration is where their data is physically stored in the data center, due to the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. While for private businesses across Canada, Europe and elsewhere, hosting data outside the U.S. may be more an issue of offering reassurance, public bodies in several countries forbid data from being hosted in the U.S. As a result, you should check that your provider has the capabilities to host your data elsewhere.
4. How often is it updated?
One of the biggest benefits of adopting cloud-based solutions is new features and functionality can be easily rolled out to all users at the same time, and there is no requirement for costly and time-consuming upgrades to benefit from the latest version of the software. Of course, this benefit is really only of use if new features and functionality are made available to users on a regular basis.
Some software vendors work on a waterfall development process, where major product releases are issued on a quarterly (or sometimes even biannual or annual) basis. This can lead to a major lag in the availability of new functionality, which can me a considerable frustration for customers waiting for them to become available for users. For the true benefit of SaaS-based cloud solutions to be realised, vendors should adopt an agile development process, where new features and functions are constantly in development and are deployed as soon as they are completed and tested. This allows new releases to made every month or, in the case of best-practice agile development, every two weeks. Leveraging web apps also enables new functionality to be available as soon as it’s ready to launch, unlike native apps, which require a two-week code review process in the app stores.
5. Is it reliable?
Last, but certainly critical, is a solution’s reliability. While many enterprise solutions are only used within office hours, expenses need to be accessible 24/7. An employee taking the Sunday night red-eye to be on the East Coast for Monday morning will want to enter their taxi receipt for their airport ride straight away, instead of keeping it in their wallet until they are in the office. Therefore, companies should look for vendors who can offer the best uptime – 99.9 percent should be a reasonable expectation for any organisation that has international users or those who travel overseas.
The CIO can bring many concerns to the table when evaluating expense report software – they want a future-proof solution that’s architected to grow alongside them. When the due diligence is complete, they’ll see there’s only one expense solution that’s built to last.
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