At RiskMetrics Group, two full-time employees were spending each day processing the company’s many travel expense reports. All day, every day.

That is, until the New York-based risk management firm started using Concur Expense, a Web-based travel expense solution. Using Concur, those two RiskMetrics employees -- one in London and one in the U.S. -- spend perhaps one hour a day on expense reports, notes Michael Ciaccio, travel and expense manager for the 300-employee firm. That's important because the company is in the process of tripling in size due to acquisitions. “This has really opened up their time so they can work on other projects,” he says.

The Concur Expense product, an on-demand Web solution, can start gathering travel expense information from the moment an employee books their travel, explains Chris Juneau, vice president of product marketing for Redmond, Wash.-based firm. Concur Expense includes a travel booking tool and a direct link to the company’s corporate bank card. The more employees use their corporate card to pay for their expenses, the less they need to keep track of receipts, dates and locations later. Employees just add in their cash expenditures, and print off or email their report. “Our product eliminates receipts, eliminates keystrokes, and can eliminate paper expense reports,” Juneau says.

ROI in “soft dollars”

While the return-on-investment attributable to these solutions are in “soft dollars” -- not hard cash -- admits Tim Dougherty, sales director of Irvine, Calif-based ExpensAble, they can be significant. “You have employees doing something other than spending their Friday afternoon doing an expense report,” he notes. “And you have the accounting staff able to do something else, too.”

For small businesses especially, where many employees wear several hats, finding ways to save the time associated with developing expense reports can be a godsend. Many smaller companies suffer through the travel expense process, perhaps using Intuit’s QuickBooks or free services offered by their bank card. Often, those services don’t go far enough. Dedicated on-demand travel expense services or software can help a small company do a better job. And on-demand services can even help companies that lack an IT staff.

Products such as Concur’s Expense can run from $1,000-$5,000 in set-up fees, and from between $250/month to $5,000/month in service fees, depending on the size of the business and the number of users. ExpensAble offers several small-business options: its Enterprise on-demand product for 20 users or less for a $1,200-$3,000 one-time fee, or its Desktop software option at $700 per 10 licenses, and has off-line options as well, according to Dougherty. A third provider, CyberShift, also offers on-demand and licensed products, but does not make its pricing models public, according to spokeswoman Pamela Marshall.

The sales force may grumble, but…

For companies accustomed to having the accounting office manage their expense reports from start to finish, however, asking employees to shift over to a do-it-yourself model can be met with resistance. “At first, our sales team grumbled … they thought it would take away from time doing sales,” admits Ciaccio. “But right now, everyone’s pretty receptive,” he added, noting that RiskMetrics has put tutorial information about Concur on its website to help employees work through it more quickly.

In addition to saving RiskMetrics time, Concur also helps keep managers in the know about their departments’ travel costs. “We can provide detailed reports to the managers, so they know just what they’re spending on travel.”

Concur’s Juneau adds that many of his clients find that their employees’ travel expenses  drop significantly after the Concur system is in use. With increased use of the corporate card, it becomes harder for employees to “pad” their expenses, he notes.

In sum, dedicated travel-expense solutions could drive savings to your business in terms of time, money, and hassle.