Tlc For T&E Headaches

New expense-report software can make a tedious task almost painless

Quick, name the most unpleasant thing you have to do on the job. If filing expense reports leaps to mind, you're in good company. In the U.S. alone, some 40 million people take business trips six times a year on average. But for most road warriors, resurrecting every darn taxi and meal receipt, -recalling cash tips, and segregating each item on a hotel bill can be a hair-tearing ordeal. And when we fail to file on time, the worst of the T&E procrastinators--alas, we know who we are--not only aggravate our bosses but often also shortchange ourselves.

Portable Software Corp. in Redmond, Wash., came to the rescue in the fall of 1994 with QuickXpense for Windows, a fine expense-account software program that helped folks automate their T&E reporting. Several months later, Intuit, maker of the popular Quicken personal-finance program, jumped in with a product called Quicken ExpensAble for Windows, aimed primarily at workers in small enterprises. Now, Portable and Intuit have unveiled new versions of their software packages.

Of course, the main idea behind the programs hasn't changed. Travelers enter various expense types into a checkbook-style ledger, and the software puts the numbers in their proper locations on an expense form. I've been using QuickXpense to file my McGraw-Hill Companies expense reports for months now and have been generally pleased with the results. But I've got a few quibbles. For one thing, I still must fill out a few items by hand after printing out an expense report. The program couldn't split up the reimbursement amount due me and the sum that needed to be paid directly to a corporate credit card, for example.

In round one, Portable Software claimed a big advantage over Intuit: Since most large companies specify the forms that their employees must use in filing an expense report, Portable created electronic replicas of many major corporate forms. (If your company didn't happen to be one of them, Portable could create a form for a one-time $99 fee.)

With release 2.0 of ExpensAble, however, Intuit's product may become more appealing to some corporate customers. That's because Intuit plans to make replica expense forms available for the 1,000 largest U.S. companies. If you work for a smaller company, Intuit will make a form for a first-time $150 fee.

The new ExpensAble is a breeze to set up. Users enter their name, company name, employee number, and other pertinent data, then create "envelopes" in which data for each trip or report is contained. As you'd expect, the program is seamlessly connected to Quicken and, for palmtop users, Pocket Quicken. (Portable says its files are also compatible with Quicken.)

ExpensAble boasts innovations such as a link to Visioneer Inc.'s PaperPort scanner, so you can easily attach scanned receipts to an expense-account file. And a "trip genie" lets you enter the date, starting city, destination, mode of transportation, and so on. If, for example, you always drive to O'Hare from downtown Chicago, the program remembers the distance upon your return. The trip genie also reminds you to enter tips for baggage handlers and asks how you got from the airport to your hotel. In a similar fashion, ExpensAble's "hotel genie" asks you to enter the room rate and taxes and fills in the numbers for each night of your stay. You're prompted to enter daily phone calls and meals, too.

MR. GLEAN. Not to be outdone, Portable Software's new version, dubbed QuickXpense Enterprise, goes well beyond helping employees prepare expense reports by providing managers with a variety of ways to process those forms. Portable's strategy is to leave the retail market to Intuit and sell customizable software directly to corporate customers at a cost of up to $200, vs. $50 for the less ambitious Intuit product. T&E managers can audit staffer reports, flag particular items, make payments, and put the data into a companywide context.

If corporate policy dictates that employees must always rent a car from Hertz Corp. or stay at Hyatt hotels, Portable can design the program so that staffers filling in the wrong choices won't be able to print out or E-mail a report. Managers can also use the program to calculate how much the company spent at a particular hotel chain or in a given city, thus perhaps using the answers to negotiate better deals the next time. And--look out--the program can identify which employees spend the most money on the road. So the next time you travel for business, perhaps you ought to think twice about taking a client out for a night on the town.

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