These tips may sound rudimentary in terms of organizational problem solving techniques, but they bear repeating amid the pandemic and digitalization.

Ask any employees what finance and admin issues they face every day and the list usually includes having to double-enter data; having to print and fill out forms; and being unable to access important information while on the road.

These hindrances can be especially frustrating when employees are pulled away from impactful or urgent work. Within the finance team, manual and disjointed processes bog down Accounts Payable employees by forcing them to pull the data they need from multiple systems, and in some cases manually enter and reconcile invoices. This slows down processing and also exposes organizations to the risks of human error and fraud.

Global research on the workplace has shown that organizations with predominantly positive employee experiences enjoy higher productivity, reduce turnover and are more profitable. In fact, employee experience matters―both to general staff and finance employees, would you agree?

So, how can finance leaders streamline cumbersome processes and improve employee experience? How can an organization reimagine its processes and workflows to be intelligent, automated and simplified so that the finance team can get faster and more accurate data?

Here are six steps to better manage travel, expense and invoice processes to deliver an improved employee experience:

  1. Discover the unmet needs
    • First, work out all current pain points and understand the requirements to eliminate them.
    Assemble a task force of stakeholders and neutral parties to map out the processes in use.
    • From here, note down tasks that require truly redundant manual work, or those that are unnecessarily paper-based, like the all-too-common expense report with receipts stapled onto spreadsheets.
    • Work out which departments are affected, and ask what an ideal solution would look like
  2. Define success
    Define success in clearly measurable terms. For the finance team, metrics could be in the form of more-up-to-date data that enables the department to automate key reports, track costs and cash flow. As part of an overall improvement in employee experience, errors should be reduced as well.

    For the wider organization, employee satisfaction could be measured by indicators such as less time spent booking travels/submitting expense claims/getting reimbursed. Non-compliant spending should be reduced as well.
  3. Map out requirements
    A cross-functional team that cuts across various departments will be more successful in developing a list of needs and wants. Some of these can include automating data capture for travel, expense and vendor invoices and streamlining the approval process.

    At a time when many employees are working remotely, easy-to-use mobile technology could enable processes to be managed on the move.

    Just as important are data security requirements and the ability to audit for compliance.

    Similarly, the ability to seamlessly share data with existing financial, accounting and enterprise resource planning systems would also reduce transition woes.
  4. Choose the right technology partners
    The right partner should work closely with your organization to create a mobile-friendly and an easy user experience that is consistent with what employees encounter on their everyday consumer services.

    When selecting a technology partner, ask the following:
    • whether data can flow across various systems and be refreshed regularly for live reporting
    • does the solution have cybersecurity baked in from the start and not one that is bolted on as an afterthought?
    • does the solution supports AI and ML to offer continual room for improvement and adaptation
    • can the solution scale with organizational needs and changes? Ask how hidden/additional fees would be calculated in future for such scalability/flexibility

    Finally, think about the support after the solution is deployed: how can users get desk support, for example, if they run into a problem?
  5. Deploy the solution
    Understandably, some employees may be less receptive to new ways of doing things, despite being stuck with less inefficient but familiar methods over time.

    So, once the technology solutions are defined with a deserving technology partner, the task force needs to come up with an implementation game plan that involves not just the finance team but employees and stakeholders from other departments.

    Transitioning is important to gain adoption, so it is critical that the technology partner explains the benefits of automation and streamlined processes.

    Make sure that training and onboarding are as closely supported as needed.
  6. Measure and refine
    Digital transformation is a continuous journey and does not end with the deployment of a solution. Continuous feedback from the task force, which will take in suggestions from employees from their own departments, will enable an organization to optimize, measure and refine the solution over time.

    Key questions here include:
    • Whether the solution has reduced the frustration and manual workload for employees, giving time back to them to engage in more meaningful and challenging tasks
    • Are the Accounts Payable and finance teams able to measure how often they have made payments on time, compared with past achievements?
    • Whether the teams can measure the costs saved with new streamlined processes to manage invoices, for example

    The original task force that began the journey should see the project through its first iteration, and keep useful notes for teams that may take over the task of managing this digital journey in future.

    Constant refinement means that the abovementioned processes will keep improving as new challenges and disruptions emerge over time.