Recording traveling expenses on business trips can be time consuming
Numerous devices have come onto the market in recent years that aim to simplify this process
Scanners and smartphone apps are the main products driving these developments
Editor’s Note: Business Traveller is a monthly show about making the most of doing business on the road.
Recording traveling expenses can be one the most frustrating aspects of the business traveler’s busy life on the road. Restaurant bills, train tickets, hotel receipts; they all have to be accurately accounted for.
This can be a time consuming chore, but an array of high-tech devices have hit the market with the aim of simplifying the process.
According to Duncan Bell, operations editor of tech magazine T3, receipt scanners and, to a greater extent, smartphone apps, are the main drivers of these developments.
“Technology has made quite major changes in terms of how people do their expenses – particularly in larger companies,” Bell says.
“Whereas before it was inevitably hand written, and then later typed into a spreadsheet, which involved bringing expenses into the office, now it can be done on the fly on a variety of different technologies,” he adds.
Bell took a look at some of the most prominent products that are streamlining the expenses process.
The Planon Slimscan is a pocket-sized scanner that enables users to record small receipts, business cards and all manner of other expenses-related paperwork.
It’s a device that looks “impressive” and is easy to carry around, says Bell.
Given its diminutive size, however, the Planon Slimscan is unable to scan larger items of paperwork, such as hotel or taxi receipts, he adds.
“They’re not actually physically wide enough to actually scan them (larger paperwork) in,” Bell says.
“(It’s) something that you produce with a flourish from your wallet … but is overshadowed by the usability element,” he concludes.
Epson WorkForce DS-30
A much larger device that aims to cater for receipts both large and small is the Epson WorkForce DS-30.
This portable scanner is still relatively lightweight but definitely something you would “put in your luggage rather than your wallet,” says Bell.
The extra bulk and size enables users to digitize larger pieces of paper up to A4 size. According to Bell, however, recording small receipts and most “expenses-related things” doesn’t require such high quality or precision technology.
“They are nice pieces of hardware, but maybe not the perfect solution for (recording expenses),” he says.
The NeatReceipts scanner is a slim and lightweight device that its makers say can scan receipts, business cards and documents of all sizes to produce electronic files that are stored in a “digital filing cabinet.”
Despite overcoming the difficulties posed by documents of differing dimensions, Bell says NeatReceipts isn’t as efficient as it could be.
He describes the technology as similar to the prospect of flying cars – “a nice idea but (one that) never actually quite works” – because of the scanner’s propensity to misread entries on receipts.
“You have to think of it more as a means of scanning the receipt and then you changing the various mistakes,” he adds. “If you are expecting this to do your accounts for you – well it ain’t – but it will help.”
The Concur app is one of the many smartphone software programs now on the market. Bell says apps will likely be the future of expense-recording devices.
“They basically do the same job as scanner-based solutions … and (are) capable of putting (expenses) in a format that is useable by your accounts department,” he explains.
Concur itself enables users to photograph, record and collate invoices via an easy-to-use interface. According to Bell, it doesn’t try anything too clever and provides a simple system for digitally capturing and filing data that can then be passed onto accounting departments to process.
Even if accounts don’t accept digitized images of receipts, “the scans mean you’re not struggling to remember which taxi fare cost what when you come to fill in your expenses,” he adds.
Another useful smartphone application for the tech-savvy business traveler is ExpenseMagic, says Bell.
“What ExpenseMagic does is use the hardware of your phone and an app to photograph receipts and enter various bits of information – but the main body of the work is done by an actual living person.”
“They have a team of accountants who will go though your photographed receipts and turn it into a form suitable for use by your accounts department.”
This takes away much of the stress of recording and sifting through mountains of crumpled up pieces of paper, explains Bell.
“The downside of this is obviously they are not doing this out of the good of their hearts, so there is a subscription cost that needs to be borne,” he adds.
Perhaps that’s another cost to add to your travel expenses.