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The engaging future of travel and expense management software

Kara Walsh Profile picture for user Kara Walsh February 14, 2016
New, self-driving software will streamline travel and expense management, reducing this time-consuming task and its onerous impact on employee engagement, writes Unit4's Kara Walsh

Man in love with credit card © Jr Casas -
We’d like to announce an engagement – but we can’t be sure. Your company’s employees may not be as engaged as you think. You may be surprised to learn that Travel and Expense Management (TEM) is a significant contributor to employee disengagement.

The statistics are eye-opening and vary from country to country. Let’s look at the U.S. as an example. Forty-two percent of professionals think their expense claims system takes advantage of them. How’s that for trust issues?  According to research by Ruigrok | NetPanel, the estimated cost of unclaimed expenses every year by US employees could be as much as $9.7 billion. Workers are failing to claim money they are owed. You may think bosses are benefiting from this omission – but it’s a source of resentment that can undermine a relationship.

Besides raising the obvious morality questions, there’s a tangible cost in employee turnover. Workplace engagement expert Karlyn Borysenko states the average cost of replacing a high-level or highly specialized employee is a whopping 400 percent of their annual salary. Let’s agree that breaking up is a lot more expensive than that diamond ring you never bought.

The TEM burden

The time-honored way your company tracks and controls travel expenses is a tremendous burden. Most professionals resent the elaborate process of claiming expenses. It is time-consuming, exhausting and frustrating to record payments on the run, find missing receipts, tally columns of numbers, create spreadsheets, fill out endless forms, and then wait for management to approve and send the payments. This burdensome process results in employees’ expenses not getting reimbursed.

The bottom line? We’d love to announce an engagement between your company and its employees, but your TEM solution may be a wedge that is undermining your relationship.

We recommend some “relationship therapy” in the form of a new approach to travel and expense management. Advances in digital systems that combine mobile tech, user interface, e-communications, social media, pattern recognition, machine learning, and the Internet of Things can transform the entire process. Add intelligent software to the mix and this onerous, time-consuming, necessary task gets done not just better, but almost by itself. Self-driving software automatically collects the data and provides the report. Problems are solved without extended, torturous interactions. It’s a formula guaranteed to improve any relationship, boost employee engagement, and save time, effort and money.

Let’s examine it closer.

Automated decisions

We are entering the Age of Big Data. Yesterday, terabytes of information were scattered throughout your company’s computers and devices. Much of it went unused. Today, enormous amounts of seemingly unrelated bits of information can be aggregated. A person could never retain, understand or make inferences from such vast and varied quantities of data, but the new breed of analytical software tools can. They can unearth patterns, equations and solutions that are beyond human comprehension.

Intelligent travel and expense software will pull data from all over your company. It uses advanced technologies such as pattern recognition, machine learning and computer-aided decision support systems. Then it makes automated decisions on behalf of the user, or it provides guidance that allows users to make intelligent decisions based on computer-generated smart patterns.

Here are typical scenarios. You get on the Internet and book a flight to Amsterdam. Your expense report is automatically issued. How? Self-driving software analyzed previous expense reports, calendar appointments, your current GPS location, travel patterns, emails, and social media. You did nothing but order the flight.

On the trip you have a lavish dinner with your client. Take a picture of the bill with your smartphone, and the expense request is automatically generated. How? Intelligent software analyzed the photo and all the data from your trip. It determined everything necessary to complete the reimbursement form: time, place, amount, client, expense codes, everything. You did nothing, but take a picture.

Expenses on autopilot

The best user interface is no user interface. Predictive algorithms can prompt for user input when necessary, but the more the system learns, the fewer the prompts required. Eventually, the onerous, time-consuming, dis-engaging labor of submitting travel expense reports is done automatically.

What’s that you say? Trust the reimbursement of valuable cash to the invisible hand of an automated system? Let’s point out that the flight being reimbursed had an autopilot do 90% of the flying.

Just like your pilot and his computerized co-pilot, employees will build trust over time and experience. They’ll monitor the system’s judgments as much or as little as they feel necessary. As computer intelligence moves closer and closer to a fully automated decision, human intelligence will always be there to monitor, adjust and oversee the work and to make situational adjustments.

The future of self-driving software has arrived. It can virtually eliminate a task so difficult that employees frequently don’t collect money they are honestly due. That’s a black eye on any relationship. And we all know that breaking up is both hard to do – and expensive.

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