Document Management Briefing: Easing the Angst of Expense Reports Management
June 20, 2011
Every tax receipt and restaurant bill is a document that must be recorded, processed and archived for posterity. So what's the best way to tackle the mountains of confetti-like paperwork that expense reports generate?
The Five Most Common Document Management Challenges
Which of these are you currently facing?
- Preserving documentation for auditing
- Managing a complex hybrid environment of paper and electronic records
- Collecting information in a systematic way from your mobile workforce
- Processing reports quickly and accurately to meet employees’ expectations
- Expediting reimbursements
The Strategy: Smooth Every Step
An expense report may seem like a trivial task—an airport breakfast here, a gas tank fill-up there. But the sum of those little bits of information is vital; not just for your firm’s bottom line but for employee morale, too. It's irksome enough for employees to have to fill out the reports and “do the math.” But when they're also compelled to wait an inordinate amount of time for their reimbursement—essentially floating their employer a no-interest loan—their likely agitation is justified.
What can be done to speed up what has traditionally been a very paper-intensive process? You need a system to help you expedite the expense-report auditing process, to corral what may be a geographically dispersed collection of expense reports and to locate and track previously filed expense reports for auditing purposes.
The first issue to confront: Paper vs. electronic filing. Many companies now maintain hybrid systems, in which a digital expense report—perhaps based on a spreadsheet template—is supported by reams of original paper receipts. What's the problem with this scheme? For starters, cost control. It's hard to process expense reports efficiently in such a mixed environment. Records managers find themselves moving back and forth between multiple systems to locate files, establish audit trails and maintain a uniform process for the retention and destruction of different kinds of documents. That said, imaging of receipts could be your first step toward a better system.
A hybrid architecture also complicates storage and archiving processes. Though you can certainly image and archive all supporting documents, ensuring fast retrieval becomes an issue. This is especially true when many people in the collection, recording and disbursement processes may need to access records at various points in the expense cycle.
Once the employee has been reimbursed, attention turns to records retention. Setting up a workable retention scheme is pivotal. Records must be kept in anticipation of possible audits. However, keeping records in perpetuity is costly, complex and usually unnecessary.
Tackling these issues may call for the help of a document management specialist—especially if you also work with an expense report software system with its own proprietary way of collecting and saving expense information. Integrating such a legacy system into a new and streamlined expense report records management system is yet one more tough challenge as you work toward the goal of making sure that all employees are reimbursed quickly and accurately.
Iron Mountain Suggests:
Five Steps to Greater Expense Report Efficiency
- 1. Adopt a hybrid records strategy. Devise a plan that selectively accommodates both paper and digitized files. Create image copies as required.
- 2. Go digital as early in the process as you can. Expense reporting still depends on paper receipts, so look for ways to digitize them as far upstream in the auditing process as possible.
- 3. Confront your expense retention schedule. Is "forever" your default retention timetable? If so, you may be wasting money. Records retention specialists are skilled at helping you determine when destroying older documents is acceptable. Seven years may be plenty, and saving them longer may in fact bump up against certain regulatory guidelines.
- 4. Conduct a pilot program. When you overhaul your expense reporting procedure you're sure to run into some kinks. A limited-run pilot program will let you test out your new strategy in a limited way before you roll out a company-wide overhaul.
- 5. Consult with experts. Creating the optimal expense report management system can be challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. Consultants can advise you on better records management and physical storage, while also implementing the kinds of digital tools that will help you streamline the expense report process, making AP's job easier and keeping employees happy at the same time.
Have more document management questions? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or Contact Iron Mountain’s consulting services team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your information management challenges.