Amexs IBM Tool to Cut Cost of Expense Reports

IBM Global Services' data centers will host customized reporting and reconciliation software.

IBM and American Express Co. will begin delivering on the agreement they struck last year to take IBMs Web-based expense reporting and reconciliation tool, customized by Amex, and make it available to Amexs Corporate Card customers.

Amex this week will begin marketing the tool, which will be hosted by IBM Global Services at its data centers, after having customized it in multiple pilot programs last year.

The software, marketed by Amex as the American Express @ Work Expense Reporting and Purchase Reconciliation tool, is based largely on one of the online programs IBM created to transform itself into an e-business, officials said. IBM in its Dynamic Workplaces initiative has directed some 4,000 employees and 300 researchers to market a variety of the home-grown intranet technologies it uses internally.

The American Express @ Work Expense Reporting and Purchase Reconciliation tool promises to save Amex corporate customers time and money in travel and entertainment expense reporting and reconciliation, according to John Li, vice president of product development for expense reporting and purchase reconciliation at American Express Global Corporate Services, a unit of Amex, in Los Angeles. "One large global company [that signed on early to use it] told us they are seeing a fairly large process savings in journal entry and accounting. They achieved a savings of 50 to 70 percent," Li said.

Automating the expense reporting process can lower the average cost of processing a single report from $45 to $5, according to a study done last year by Aberdeen Group Inc., a Boston market research company.

"If you have a corporate credit card, it self-populates the report. Before you do anything, you have the data on how much you spent and where, for the days you traveled," said Ralph Senst, vice president of Dynamic Workplaces services at IGS, in Chicago. "Its more accurate, and you only have to be concerned with the cash transactions. You get your money faster, and you dont need the same audit controls over every line item because it is based on this auto-feed process."

Owens Corning signed on early to the service—hosted by IGS—as a way to leverage e-business to reduce its cost of doing business, according to Sharon Means, purchasing card program administrator at the company, in Charleston, S.C. The program solved the problem of not being able to allocate purchases to the correct cost centers, Means said.

The self-service Web application lets Corporate Card users avoid having to manually get signature approvals and review corporate policies, and accounts payable personnel no longer have to verify and assign accounting codes to thousands of travel and purchasing expenses.

The services cost varies according to the number of users accessing it.