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What’s the future of spreadsheets for expenses reporting?

It was in 1969 that two Canadian computer programmers created LANPAR, the world’s first electronic spreadsheet. Since then, they have become a bedrock of the business world, used to manage and record every aspect of company finances.

And now, almost 50 years on, spreadsheets are still the method many companies use to keep track of their employees’ expenses. This is despite the emergence of a new generation of cloud-based management tools which automate the process, providing a faster and smarter way to work.

The fact that spreadsheets are still used is thanks to companies adopting an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. But as more organisations move to automated systems, the continued reliance on spreadsheets is becoming harder to justify.

Here’s a look at some of the main reasons why spreadsheets are starting to show their age:

Manual vs Automatic Processing

When you’re reliant on spreadsheets to handle expenses, all of the required data needs to be manually entered. The information from each expenses claim form has to be painstakingly duplicated by hand, creating a slow and error prone process.

With an automated system, each user’s account is updated as soon as they submit their claim. The data is instantly accessible by the finance team with the switch from manual to automatic typically reducing processing times by 25 percent and expenses costs by 10 percent.

Paper vs Paperless Working

One of the ways digital systems have been a game changer for expense management is their use of smartphone apps. These allow an employee to instantly convert any paper receipt they receive into a digital form, taking a snap of it with the phone camera.

By doing so, paper and the associated paperwork, is virtually eliminated from the whole process. In comparison, a spreadsheet set-up still has to process and store a monthly flood of paper receipts and forms.

Reactive vs Real-time Monitoring

It’s not just speed and efficiency that’s offered by an automated system, it unlocks a fundamentally different way of managing employee expenses. With information being updated instantly, it allows costs to be monitored and scrutinised in real-time – as and when claims are made.

A system such as webexpenses can automatically check that each claim is within company policy and doesn’t breach any pre-defined limits. When a problem is found, it can notify the employee via an on-screen message and trigger an alert for a finance team member to check it out.

Limited vs Scalable Growth

The justification for sticking with spreadsheets is strongest for the smallest of companies. For an organisation with only a handful of employees the traditional way of handling expenses can be perfectly adequate.

But cracks will begin to show as the business grows and the amount of manual processing and paperwork increases exponentially. In contrast, an automated system is completely scalable, equally capable of handling five or 5,000 employees.

Mileage Guesstimates vs Journey Tracking

The integration of a smartphone app into an automated system allows accurate tracking of business mileage. The app uses GPS technology to record the exact distance, time and route of any work related road journey.

Without this ability, a spreadsheet set-up still relies on employees providing their own estimates of distances travelled. It creates an area of expenses management that is notoriously prone to exaggerated and falsified claims.

So while many businesses continue to rely on spreadsheets to handle their expenses, they are going to find themselves increasingly at a disadvantage. It doesn’t mean an end to the trusty spreadsheet, but a different way of using them.

When combined with an automated system, all of the data gathered can be easily exported into a spreadsheet to create any kind of custom reports that are required.

Find out how webexpenses can help your organisation to take back control of employee expenses here.