Simplifying expense submission and payout process

Standard

Several organizations have taken a re-active step to automating the process which enables employees to send expenses for reimbursement. A lot of these organizations tend to enable the ability for employees to send the expenses online through a system of some sort. Once submitted the expenses then go through a manual review, decision and approval. Once approved the funds may (or may not) be automatically deposited into the proper account.

Recently I came across an organization (a really well established cloud services organization – more on this later) which required employees (and potential employees) to send their expenses via email. That’s right, electronic mail. There is a generic email account (i.e. expense-submission@company.com) which is where all new/existing and potential employees send their expense form and receipts as a PDF. There is a size limit restrictions to make sure that the PDF’s are not too large. The established SLA to get the expenses paid out was about 4-6 weeks.

While I did not have the opportunity to dive deeper into the process at the tail end after the submission took place, I am hopeful that the 4-6 week delay is not directly related to human beings actually going through and verifying the expense form and tallying up the limits and $ values to make sure it matches.

I would be shocked to see that large organizations choose not to solve these simple processes and make them automated and digital end-to-end. Each step from the time the expense is incurred to the expense is paid out can be shortened and handled digitally. Software and technology can ease the process each step of the way. The data from the expense receipts can be extracted using optical character recognition (OCR) and decisions can be triggered based on rules to decide whether the expense is within or over the threshold. If it is over the threshold, it can be flagged for a cursory human review, which should take least amount of time.

This might seem like a complex process, from experience I can guarantee you that most expense submission and payout processes are very similar. But simply enabling the user to submit them through a “digital” or “online” fashion does not make the process simpler. I would argue that majority of the organizations time, specially if the amount of expense submissions volumes are significant, is wasted in having the back-end process be human driven, and not automated.

In summary, solving some of the simpler processes should provide a level of confidence and the necessary know-how when trying to automate and truly digitize processes which are core and supporting their operation.