Technology

Forhealth Technologies Inc. understands efficiency. The medical device maker's new $600,000 hospital robot, the PARxD IV, accurately fills 300 syringes per hour -- a feat unmatched by man or machine. Too bad the Daytona Beach, Fla., company didn't have a similarly clever robot for its accounts payable department.

Instead, the 23-person company had relied on a single human being to process manually some 60 expense reports a month. First, she'd print out Excel spreadsheets that had been e-mailed to her from the company's traveling personnel. Then, she'd rekey each entry into the company's computer system, kicking back any reports that lacked the necessary managerial approval. Sometimes managers responded quickly. Sometimes they didn't, and what should have been an hours-long process became a days-long ordeal.

But late last year, ForHealth got the shot in the arm it needed -- a new Web-based expense-reporting system, OneMindConnect's ExpensAble. Now, not only do ForHealth's 15 business travelers get reimbursed more quickly -- in fewer than five days instead of more than a week -- but the firm's sole accountant has time for other, more important tasks. The entire system cost $3,500 to install and $500 in monthly service charges and has already paid for itself. Without it, says Spence Lloyd, chief financial officer, "we would have had to hire another person."

Keeping track of travel and entertainment expenses has long been one of the more onerous of executive chores. After all, who wants to sift through stacks of tiny, crumpled receipts, trying to remember what you had for breakfast in Omaha that morning three weeks ago? It's no wonder that many traveling executives regularly fall behind, creating untold headaches for accounting departments.

A growing number of Web-based expense-reporting systems -- including those created by Concur Technologies, Gelco Information Network, Extensity, and more than a half-dozen others -- promise to change all that. Such services allow business travelers to log on to their company's intranet from the road and record expenses as they go. Some systems go even further, automatically filling out expense reports each time a corporate credit card is swiped in a restaurant or hotel. Sure, it's convenient. But such systems can also boost the bottom line. With Web-based services, execs can file a report in just 18 minutes, compared with about 35 minutes manually, and the time and labor costs per report drop from $48 to $18, according to Aberdeen Group.


Who wants to sift through stacks of receipts, trying to recall what you had for breakfast in Omaha?