Expense Tracking via BlackBerry Devices

By  Jeff Goldman — September 03, 2010

With mobile employees counting on their BlackBerry devices to handle an increasingly broad range of functionality, using those devices for expense tracking and management just makes sense -- and the list of apps designed to do so just keeps growing, including Concur Mobile, Exgis Time and Expense, Expense Recorder Ultra, ExpenseLog Pro, Expensify, and ProOnGo Expense, among many others.

The investment management firm Strategic Investment Group uses BlackBerry devices to help its employees communicate -- and travel light. "Because of the BlackBerry, very few people seem to travel with laptops any more," says Mark Schwanberk, the firm's chief technology officer. "They get all their email, and most people, what they really used the laptop for what email and calendar. That's all there now, so why bother?"

And the company uses Exgis' expense management solution to help about 30 of those employees track their expenses while on the road. Prior to working with Exgis, Schwanbeck says, they simply used an Excel spreadsheet for expense reports -- which was such a slow process that in many cases, the reports weren't filed until months after the fact.

Schwanbeck says the firm's size made it challenging to find the right solution for expense reporting. "Most of the stuff we looked at required us to set up servers... and people would ask, for 30 people, is it really worth doing that? So the Exgis solution, which first of all outsources it to their servers, and then also has the added benefit of being able to to do it on the BlackBerry, was just the answer for our size of firm," he says.

All of the solution's functionality, Schwanbeck says, is managed through a web interface. "We have a web site where we can add users, and we also have the ability to control the expense types," he says. "And the product comes with a workflow so that when I do my expense report, I can submit it electronically to my boss and she can review it online."

The BlackBerry interface can then be adjusted so that each user sees only the expense types and clients that are appropriate to them. "You open it up on your BlackBerry and you only see your 20 expense items to choose from, and you only see the three clients that you deal with -- and maybe a 'generic' category," Schwanbeck says. "So as you're getting out of a cab, if you're diligent, in 10 seconds you can punch in the fact that I just spent $20 on cab fare in New York City to go to a Client A meeting... and it's in the system."

Schwanbeck says the result is a much lighter workload for Strategic Investments' comptroller. "She had an accounting assistant who would receive these spreadsheets and have to type every single expense into the Great Plains system -- and now she just, once a month, captures all of it and uploads it," he says.

The same is also true for much smaller firms. Allison West owns and operates Employment Practices Specialists, which offers training, investigations, and consulting on workplace issues. "I have a lot of projects that I bill by the hour... so I need a way to be able to track my hourly time, my mileage, etc.," she says. "And I always found myself just writing on scraps of paper, trying to somehow recreate what I did."

West was drawn to Exgis' solution, which she began using earlier this year, by the ability to track time, mileage, and expenses in one application. "And this allows me to break it down by client and by project, so if I'm doing two investigations for one client I can create different projects," she says. "It's just really well thought through."

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of company size, the multinational equipment manufacturing company Gardner Denver has been using Concur's expense management solution since 2006. Previously, says company director Lynne Degand, "We were processing expense report the old fashioned way -- on an Excel worksheet with the receipts stapled behind it, manually being mailed around the world for approval."

As Gardner Denver expanded rapidly over the past decade, Degand says, the company began looking for a way to standardize its expense reporting. "We needed something that was much more efficient, more automated, and that provided a lot of control," she says. "So we looked at different solutions, and chose Concur as our expense reporting tool to use worldwide."

More recently, the company also began deploying Concur Mobile on BlackBerry devices -- which allows users to photograph paper receipts with the smartphone's camera, then attach them to an expense report. "The approver can then see the receipts, they can see the expenses, they can add in comments, and they can approve or send the report back," Degand says.

And while the mobile app is useful for tracking expenses while on the move, Degand says it's proven to be particularly beneficial for employees who have to approve expenses. "We have a lot of people that travel, and they can't approve expense reports in a timely fashion if they have to wait to get back to a computer," she says. "So this allows them to, on their BlackBerry, immediately approve expense reports, wherever they are around the world."

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