How Technology Can Empower City Managers to be More Effective When It Comes to Serving Citizens

Stuck in the world of paper receipts and excel sheets, city managers are tasked to allocate taxpayers’ dollars, grants, and other forms of funds to essentially “keep the city’s lights on.” Whether that includes planning community development and transportation, combating dramatic increases in crime, or advising public health crises, all of these are areas that fall within a city’s jurisdiction. But instead of using the proper financial data in comparison with societal trends to develop all the possible contingencies, city managers are stuck managing a different challenge – the manual spend process.

One state agency, for example, had their finance teams sift through paper-based reports, compile spreadsheets, and then calculate required totals just to obtain the necessary reporting information. Talk about wasted time. Even after all of that work, the finance teams still didn’t have enough detailed data that they needed to track spending and increase visibility.

This lack of process efficiency and visibility into spending data is forcing city managers to constantly work with outdated budgets, preventing them from being able to access to the right data and information to make informed decisions. And while manual processes or spreadsheets may seem free, they aren’t. The city has to pay their finance team in hours, inconvenience, and late payments which often adds up to costing even more than an automated spend management solution. Here are four ways automating spend management technology can help city managers better manage budgets and direct dollars efficiently to aid their cities:

 

  1. Speed up the process of submitting paper receipts and manually completing expense and invoice reports.

It takes an average of 26 minutes to manually complete just one expense report. Whether it’s sorting through a pile of paper receipts, manually entering data, or getting that stamp of approval needed to move forward – all of these are steps that tack on more time to the expense and invoice process, preventing efficiency. And when those initiatives are emergencies, that’s where the whole process can get a little stressful and sticky.

By automating the expense, travel, and invoice management process, city finance teams can increase their efficiency and re-direct the saved time to focus on more strategic initiatives. Imagine being able to compare last year’s budget to this year’s, create financial models, and make more informed, accurate decisions.

 

  1. Automatically populate, itemize, and categorize reports with spend data to keep budgets up to date.

As employee spending becomes more complex, the manual reporting process becomes even more painful. From sorting through different payment methods to piecing together spend data within disparate systems – these homegrown solutions are just another recipe for wasted hours, days, and dollars. In fact, 31 percent of managers within the public sector space even say they still lack adequate visibility into their expenses.

Automating the spend process not only saves time but helps consolidate expense, travel, and invoice data together for increased visibility and a holistic view of spending. This allows city managers the active control they need over their budgets, so they can adjust it based on the cities evolving initiatives. And while city managers can’t always predict the severity, it certainly helps to have a near real-time view into budgets and spending, so they can monitor the funds needed and re-direct spend when possible. Maybe that new construction bill or transportation service can wait after all.

 

  1. Use spend data to increase accuracy and oversight, as well as policy and regulatory compliance.

In a 2018 Kelton report, 73 percent of government financial decision-makers reported their organization struggled to remain compliant. This is most likely because, while the city manager is in charge of allocating the budget to inner-city departments, city employees are in control of how they spend it. And unless there are previous controls in place to limit spending, then employees don’t always know how, or care, to follow it. Mileage reimbursement, for instance, is one area that is high in spending when it comes to service employees. And in 2017 alone, Mile IQ reported that 34.5 percent of employees admitted to inflating their mileage for reimbursement. Of those, 76 percent said they were able to do because their organizations handled expenses manually.

Although mileage is just one area in focus, automating spend management and using a mileage tracking tool can help collect the data needed to increase accuracy and oversight, thus eliminating fraud and accidental overestimation. City managers can then utilize this data to set benchmarks and internal controls, such as spending thresholds, alerting finance teams to review when employees go over the limits. Proactively managing spend this way enables your finance team to capture spend before it goes out the door – a highly effective strategy to ensure budget efficiency and regulatory compliance.

 

  1. Prevent erroneous mistakes and detect fraud to save taxpayer dollars and grant funds.

Entering expense data by hand can be monotonous and intensive (no wonder humans make mistakes). But cities may not be aware of just how many errors the manual expense and invoice process are prone to. On average, 19 percent of expense reports and 10 percent of invoice reports have errors, both which take valuable time and interrupt productivity to fix.

Manual processes are also vulnerable to fraud. A 2018 report on occupation fraud concluded that “internal control weaknesses were responsible for nearly half of frauds” with the government sector’s median loss in cases of fraud accumulating to $125,000.

Fortunately, automation can set things right. With mobile tools, receipt capture, and optical character recognition (OCR), automated tools can help reduce errors by more than 90 percent, enabling city managers and finance teams to make less mistakes and be more productive. It’s all about creating spend transparency and automating discovery.

 

How SAP Concur can help

SAP Concur can help your finance teams automate and simplify how you track spending, so you can better spot budget shortfalls, create efficiencies, and take control of how you manage spending. Learn more about how we can help maximize your city’s budget by visiting our Government and City Leaders solutions webpage.

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