Your employees may have cell phones and laptops, but reporting travel expenses is still the bane of every road warrior’s existence. The Travel Industry Association of America expects business travel to rise sharply in the upcoming years. Luckily, several online expense reporting sites have stepped up to make the traveler’s life easier.

Steps to take before the transition

Experts recommend determining exactly what you would like an online expense report to do for the company:

  • Would you need the software to be accessible off-line?
  • What expenses would need approval and which would not?
  • Who approves what and can the considered software adjust the traffic as necessary?

“Typically, planning steps include things like understanding what policies need to be enforced through the tools,” says Matt Brown, an analyst with Forrester Research, the Cambridge, Mass. research firm. For example, expense categories/types, expense limits, and expense reporting deadlines, etc., he says.

Benefits and perils

When the infrastructure is solid and secure, there are many benefits to Web-based expense reporting:

  • Less paper use
  • Improved data quality and accuracy
  • Fewer administrative staff necessary
  • Automated adherence to standards

However, most Web-based services require an Internet connection during use, which can sometimes handicap the very people it would benefit the most: travelers.

“For highly mobile workers it becomes a little more of a challenge,” Brown says. “The fees and time spent associated with connecting to the office network from airports, hotels, client offices, etc. can be a drag on the savings companies get from offering self-service expense reporting via the Web.”

Accessing sensitive data at public wireless spots also brings up the security issue. “High-speed wireless cards that work on the cellular networks help this situation a bit, but the service plans on these tend to be expensive when you are talking about a large mobile workforce,” Brown says.

Finally, companies with Web-based expense reporting services must still monitor the system for fairness. “The percentage of expense reports that companies audit still varies greatly based on personal preference,” says Business Travel News Online, an online trade publication, in a report earlier in 2006. “Increased corporate adoption of automated systems enables companies to incorporate their own rules to flag out-of-policy expenses and to help them comply with Sarbanes-Oxley reporting requirements.”

Web-based expense management software

Gelco Expense Management

Gelco Expense Management handles the whole expense reporting process, from reporting to receipt auditing and reimbursement. Gelco Expense can transfer funds to a traveler’s financial institution within three business days and process corporate card payments directly. After travel the Gelco company can give 42 different expense reports or create a special one for your company’s needs.

ExpensAble

Expense Reporter, a Quicken-compatible program, keeps track of individual expense, time and mileage, organizes credit card data and can print regular reports. Available for PC, Pocket PC and Palm, Expense Reporter is best for individuals or very small businesses. ExpensAble Enterprise is a subscription-based service that organizes your company’s account data, expense workflow chart and reimbursement information. The service can be linked directly to corporate credit cards and faxed receipts.  

Extensity

Extensity has three separate programs, Expense Reports, Payment Reports and Travel Plans, that may be purchased or used separately and together. Notably, Travel Plans is connected to booking systems and can set up any necessary trips. It automatically updates employee travel information when trips are booked through a traditional travel agent. The software also can make car and hotel arrangements.

ExpenseVisor

Focused on small businesses, ExpenseVisor is a more straightforward Web-based expense service than most available -- no booking travel or extensive reports here. Available through any Web browser, ExpenseVisor converts currency, acknowledges vendor preferences and can print out weekly, bi-monthly, monthly or annual reports.