Home 5 Lab Industry Report 5 How to Use Mobile Apps to Optimize T&E System Performance in Labs

How to Use Mobile Apps to Optimize T&E System Performance in Labs

by | Dec 1, 2022

Automating travel and expense significantly improves performance, but adding mobility takes such improvements to a much higher level.

Like just about all businesses, labs face the challenge of automating their accounts payable (AP) systems. What once required a massive investment in infrastructure, transforming AP into a paperless process became a solution that even smaller and medium-sized labs could afford, thanks to the evolution of PCs, electronic data interchange (EDI), and software solutions. But just as labs completed automating AP based on desktop PCs and laptops, they faced and continue to face the challenge of adapting those systems to a new generation of mobile technology. Expanded use of smartphones and other mobile computing devices has been particularly problematic for management of lab employee travel and expense (T&E).  

Automated T&E and Mobile Computing

Problem: Automated T&E systems typically rely on office computers to link invoicing/expense reporting (ER) processes to the lab’s central AP system. Those links are adequate when employees are at their desks; but can break down when they’re away. Although employees can still use laptops to access the system, mobile devices are much easier to use on the go, especially when trying to catch a plane or entertain a client.

Solution: To get the full benefit of automation, organizations must adapt their system so that employees, approving managers, and other key participants in the ER process can use it from their mobile devices. While research and experience clearly demonstrate that automating T&E processes improves performance, they also show that solutions employees can access from their mobile devices 24/7 are far more effective than solutions that are tethered to the desk.

According to one of the earliest studies from the Boston-based Aberdeen Group comparing performance of AP systems against each other, as opposed to against paper AP systems: 

Automated T&E Management Systems Performance Comparison

Performance IndicatorWith Mobile/Smartphone AccessWithout Mobile/Smartphone Access
Compliance with internal T&E policies84 percent76 percent
Time to complete single ER14.7 minutes20.6 minutes
Time for ER approval2.6 days4.9 days
Cost to process single ER$16.03$26.86
Source: Aberdeen Group. "Research Brief: T&E Expense Management in a Mobile Age." June 2010.1

Bottom Line: Automating T&E significantly improves performance, but adding mobility takes these improvements to a much higher level. Conversely, while better than using paper, automated systems that lack mobility leave significant benefits, efficiencies, and savings on the table.

Four Ways Mobility Improves T&E System Performance

Mobile T&E systems offer four significant advantages over those that can be accessed only via employees’ desktops.

1. Employees in Field Can Submit ERs in Real Time

Situation: After traveling all day for business, a lab employee finally reaches her hotel at midnight. During the day, she has paid for tolls, parking, gas, lunch, cab fare, and other expenses. She has to account for each of these outlays on the ER. What happens next may depend on whether the lab’s T&E system can be accessed via mobile devices.

With Mobility: No worries. All receipts have been processed in real time as they were accrued.  Explanation: The employee has used an app on her smartphone to photograph each receipt when she receives it. The receipt was then forwarded to an optical character recognition engine that translates the text and indexes the data so the lab’s system can process it.

Without Mobility: The lab’s system can receive scanned documents, but the hotel doesn’t have a scanning machine and the employee is too exhausted to run out to an office store to scan the receipts. As a result, she must keep all her paper receipts in a folder and submit an ER for them when she returns to the lab. But in the need to catch up, she may delay doing the T&E “paperwork” for days. There’s also a possibility that receipts may be missing or incomprehensible, leaving the employee with the unenviable choice of eating the cost or fudging the numbers.

2. Managers Can Approve ERs in the Field

Situation: An employee who traveled to Chicago the previous week gets permission to extend his current trip to St. Louis for two more days. That means he won’t be able to submit the ER for the Chicago trip when he returns to the lab, as he was planning. Instead, he’ll have to submit and get approval for Chicago while he’s in St. Louis. To make matters more complicated, his approval manager is also traveling on business this week. 

With Mobility: The employee can use the lab’s mobile invoice approval app to send the approval manager an alert on his smartphone that will surely be noticed. In addition to scanned images of the Chicago ER, the app lists an ER number, amount, vendors, and other key information, giving the manager three options:

  • Approve on the spot;
  • Reject on the spot; and
  • Defer until later.

The manager approves the ER and the lab reimburses the employee promptly. 

Without Mobility: The employee must email the ER for the Chicago trip and request for approval to the approval manager at her office address. He also emails her on her smartphone, just for good measure. But by the time the manager finally gets around to checking her office email at the very end of the day, her inbox is so loaded with messages and spam that she doesn’t notice the employee’s ER approval request. And it never occurs to her to check her personal cellphone for office email. It takes her another week to notice and approve the request. Result: The employee gets reimbursed two or three weeks after incurring the T&E expense. 

3. Employees in the Field Can Keep Expenditures Compliant

Situation: A client wants to continue the business conversation at an expensive steakhouse. The unspoken assumption is that the lab employee will pick up the tab. But it’s going to be a pricey meal and the employee isn’t even sure whether it’s an acceptable expenditure under the lab’s T&E policy.

With Mobility: The employee can use an app to download the lab’s compliance policy to determine if she’s allowed to pay for the dinner. If so, she can scan and send a photo of the check right after she pays it.

Without Mobility: Having left her laptop in the client’s office, the employee can’t access the lab’s compliance policy. So, if she pays the check, she may not get reimbursed; but if she doesn’t pay the check, she risks alienating the client she’s worked so hard to cultivate.

4. Employees Can Change Travel Plans in the Field

Situation: A big storm forces the airline to cancel the employee’s flight home. The good news is that the lab’s automated T&E system enables employees in the field to book hotels and flights; the bad news is that the employee's laptop is out of battery power and, with so many other travelers stranded in the airport, finding an AC outlet to plug into is out of the question.

With Mobility: Because the employee can use his smartphone to access the lab’s system directly, he’s able to book a hotel and flight home without violating the lab’s T&E compliance policy.

Without Mobility: Since employees can only access the lab’s booking program through their office computers, the employee feels compelled to use his corporate card to book a pricey room at a hotel that’s not one of the lab’s preferred vendors, not to mention a flight home on a non-approved airline.

Closing Thoughts

Computers changed the way labs and other businesses manage their T&E expenditures. Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile products changed the way employees who use those systems compute. However, although superior to paper-based systems, automated T&E systems may break down if they’re not configured and equipped for mobile access and use. 

References:

  1. https://www.concur.com.au/sites/default/files/au/rc-import-mobile-expense-management.pdf

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