Software corrals cowboy spending

Expenses, whether for travelling, accommodation or entertainment make for a monthly nightmare both for staff and for the accounts department. And it's not only a bad dream, it's a messy and expensive one.

While staff spend hours delving deep in their memories for details to complete forms, find receipts, diary notes and myriad details, accounts then spends many hours deciphering the statements and checking expenditure policies to monitor who is spending, how much, where and on what the money is being spent.

Working out whether the $100 some road warriors spend on bottles of wine line up with company policies can turn many an accounts office bean counter into rejection mode.

The paper trail is immense and getting useful business intelligence from such raw data takes time beyond measure, as does auditing for compliance concerns.

To get to grips with what is said to be the second-highest area of spending that companies encounter, CSC, which provides IT services to many of the largest companies across the globe, started six years ago to automate expense management; at the time its Asian, European and US hubs operated independently.

But a decision to standardize the system saw an Internet-based expense management system deployed to its 3500 staff - with 1600 issued credit cards - in Australia's mainland capital and regional offices; it was also taken up by the international offices.

Scott Beverley, account delivery manager at CSC in Australia, said: "The greatest efficiencies are made when the whole organization is using standard and consistent applications." Concur Technologies' Internet-based Concur Expense, early versions of which had been in use in CSC's overseas offices, was rolled out to the Australian company in 2004. From integration, configuration and user training, the project took 20 weeks.

Barry Padgett, Concur's director, Asia Pacific, said the solution lets users log on over the Internet through their normal Web browser from anywhere in the world to view their corporate card transactions, which are automatically pre-populated into the system. Out-of-pocket expenses can also be added as they occur and the system can be configured to match expense management policies for credit card holders.

As well as the time saved collating expense reports, the solution provides extensive analysis of what is spent and where, or to which clients expenses need to be billed. Because of the detail on usage of airlines, rental cars, hotel rates and the like, the analysis delivers information which companies can use to negotiate better rates with travel providers, Padgett said.

He said automating expense management can dramatically slash the cost of generating an expense report from $48, which Aberdeen Group says it costs, to $18.

CSC's Beverley said automating this area of business ramped up operating efficiencies. "We provided ourselves with the knowledge to make better use of our expense budget, which in turn gives us the peace of mind of knowing that our expense account dollars are being well spent for the good of the business."

"On the other hand we also felt it was important to be able to apply individual rules and policies to each country or business unit, which our system has the flexibility to do. Even so, we are now able to process data from all of those regions in a single instance, globally."

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