This article was originally published at GCN: Technology, Tools and Tactics for Public Sector IT on January 30, 2018.
Although state and local governments are beginning to move their applications to the cloud, many are forgetting to update their travel- and spend-management systems. With better spend-management solutions, agencies will have increased compliance, more information for improved decision-making and a better picture to allocate resources, making it easier for them to focus on delivering better services to citizens.
In a recent survey, only 16% of public-sector employees said they have access to cloud or web-based systems for submitting expenses. In fact, almost 40% still use pen and paper, while 27% use Microsoft Office applications, like Excel, to generate expense reports. These antiquated processes are difficult to track, prone to errors and vulnerable to waste and abuse, which is problematic considering employee-initiated expenses are the second largest controllable expenditure for most state and local organizations after payroll.
These cumbersome spend management processes also mean slow reimbursement times that can keep agencies from focusing on their mission. More than 80% of public-sector respondents said it takes two weeks or more for expenses to be approved. Even more alarming, almost half of respondents do not benefit from simple features such as direct deposit, automated expense reporting, integrated travel booking or mobile receipt creation and approval -- all of which were top priorities when respondents ranked the most desired features.
Automating internal processes and turning to cloud-based systems is an easy and effective way to improve transparency and redirect efforts to citizen-facing programs, which is critical for state and local governments that face tighter budgets. With enhanced expense tracking, agencies can better control costs and reduce spending by adopting software-as-a-service solutions that require less IT involvement than legacy systems or developing an in-house solution.
Despite the clear benefits of adopting new spend management solutions, 80% of respondents said their agency was not open to a cloud-based solution, attributing the resistance to a lack of budget (26%) or lack of prioritization by leadership (47%). While adopting cloud initiatives in state and local governments has been somewhat slow, real-world examples are beginning to show that the cloud's cost savings, scalability and improved security can help agencies focus on strategic initiatives rather than approving expenses. As for cost concerns, automating spend-management systems can cost a fraction of maintaining legacy systems and provide immediate returns on agency investments.
The benefits of improved spend-management solutions extend beyond financials. When asked what characteristic they would most like to change in their existing system, respondents described a wide gamut of problems, including mobility. Mobile features such as receipt capture, report creation and approval are critical as workforces become more mobile, yet only eight percent currently use these features. The thousands of agency employees who are regularly on the road should be able to book and change travel plans, submit invoices or approve requests from their mobile device just as easily as making a purchase on their Amazon app.
A better, more modern spend-management system in state and local government is ultimately not just about travel, expense reports or invoices. It’s about a connected, open ecosystem that allows agencies to gain a more complete picture of spending, enrich employee experiences, improve decision-making with new insights, increase compliance and refocus resources on an agency’s mission.