How Better Invoice and Expense Processes Can Boost Productivity

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In state and local government, productivity equals job satisfaction. Employees are happiest when they have the tools they need to deliver services to constituents effectively and efficiently. And the opposite is true: Overly complex processes that hinder productivity are prone to leave workers frustrated and unhappy.

In a world where recruitment and retention remain highly competitive, government agencies can’t afford outdated processes. A key example — and one many public sector leaders might overlook — is the paperwork involved in invoice and expense reporting. In a recent poll by SAP Concur, 24% of those traveling for business said they would rather have a cavity filled than complete an expense report.

A modernized, digitized approach to routine activities is a key resource in the workforce management toolbox. By streamlining invoicing and expense-reporting processes, state and local governments can prove themselves technologically adept, ease employee frustrations and ultimately, support productivity gains that drive worker satisfaction.

Paper Processes

For many in state and local government agencies, expense reporting remains a paper-driven process. 

“People are still using Excel as the main system to capture expense transactions,” says Kevin Gallagher, director of solution consulting at SAP Concur.

In terms of employee management, that’s going to be off-putting to millennials and Generation X candidates, who have high expectations around digital tools in the workplace. 

“If I can go onto an app on my phone and do whatever I want to do — communicate, book travel for personal uses, do banking — that's going to be my expectation at work,” Gallagher said. 

Tedious paper-driven expense, invoicing and reporting processes are a red flag for employees accustomed to operating in a digital world. That alone makes expense reporting a workforce management issue.

Outdated invoicing systems can be dangerously inaccurate, according to a 2019 study by SAP Concur and Kelton Global. Over a quarter of financial decision-makers said they have unintentionally reported incorrect budget data at their organizations, the survey found.

Paper-based expense processes are likewise problematic. Employees wait months to get reimbursed for their per diem expenses. According to the SAP Concur report, 43% reported they forfeited expenses in 2018 either because they didn’t think the expense was worth filing or because their employer never paid them the money owed. On average, business travelers forfeit some $893 from expenses that weren’t reimbursed by their employers. It’s hardly a recipe for employee satisfaction.

“It's a time-consuming and frustrating process,” Gallagher says. “For travel and expense in particular, numerous organizations have said that employees just cringe when they have to go through that process, because it takes such a long time for the reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses.”

Worse still, that time spent submitting forms and documentation gets in the way of people doing their jobs.

“The inefficient processes and tools interfere with the teams’ ability to do the actual mission of that organization,” Gallagher said.

The COVID-19-inspired push for remote work has made a bad situation worse. For some, unwieldy processes have become unmanageable in the current environment.

“The technology is just not there to support this kind of work from home,” Gallagher says.

The difficulties around working at home compound an already challenging expense and invoice landscape. Even before the pandemic, the tedium around these tasks in state and local governments was making it hard for agencies to keep their best workers. Gallagher pointed to Gallup data showing that on average, just 29% of state and local government employees are fully engaged. That leaves 71% who are disengaged — and being at home risks worsening that situation.

Modernized technology in support of expense and invoice management can help change all that.

Streamlined Systems

SAP Concur solutions put all the information around expenses and invoicing together in one place, supported by a single streamlined system. It identifies duplicates, reduces late payments and enforces consistent policies.

That’s good from an organizational point of view: It helps with transparency and compliance, as well as reduces the overall workload. From users’ perspective, it significantly lowers their frustration.

The system captures key expense information via a mobile app, an “e-receipt,” and aggregates submissions for air, hotel, cards, meals — building a single simplified expense report.

“All that information is being pulled together, so that employees can review what they've got and then submit it without having to figure out policies and regulations based on something written in a document,” Gallagher says. “The system helps guide them through that process and pulls all that information together for them.”

The result is a smoother, faster process. In some cases, SAP Concur solutions have helped state and local government reduce time to reimbursement from 90 days to just 11 days.

From an agency’s perspective, streamlined processes support obligations around transparency and accountability. At a time when government agencies are required to account for the use of its CARES Act funding, improvements in invoicing and reimbursement processes help leaders track their spend and better account for their use of federal relief dollars.

All this, in turn, supports government agencies’ need for improved employee management.

“People tend to take these jobs because they believe in the work that they're doing,” Gallagher says. “By providing them with the ability to focus on that mission — to focus on serving the citizens and providing those needed services — government will see strong returns in both recruiting and retention. And by meeting their digital expectations, government can position itself as an employer of choice, both for present workers and potential new hires.”

This content is made possible by our sponsor SAP Concur; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Route Fifty’s editorial staff.