Tracking expenses is definitely not a new concept. Humans have trying to track how much they spend since the Stone Age when people started trading flint as a form of payment. From the piles of flint and obsidian found hoarded in ancient dig sites to the abacus to the spreadsheet (and even to automated tech today), the expense report has evolved to simplify the complex process of keeping track of how much money we’re spending.
Given this history, we’re thinking about what else might be next for the expense report. These are our general predictions (with some specific speculations) that we feel will change the way we think about and complete our expense reports. Predicting the future is made more challenging by the fact that expense reports have changed so much so quickly given available technologies. We find ourselves asking (excitedly) what else might come next.
Image Credit: Zunum | zunum.aero
What will most affect expense reporting in the next 20 years is the way in which business travel is conducted. Recent bans of laptops on flights, for example, provide evidence of changing times for business travel. Because of this device ban, some companies might opt for doing business via video conferencing so they don’t risk damaging or losing their valuable equipment. Avoiding business travel could be the solution, but only for certain kinds of meetings, especially since it avoids the stresses of travel like going through security, dealing with threats of terrorism, and being away from family. Plus, flying today costs more for fewer comforts and increased crowding. Planes are more efficient in how seats are designed and how flights avoid those seats flying empty. That’s good for the airline, but it can be bad for the traveler who gets less space.
Other options that might change the way travel is done come in the form of hybrid-electric planes that reduce the cost and hassle of regional trips of a few hundred miles. After all, Uber and Lyft changed the way we travel by car, so we should be looking to companies like Zunum Aero. Companies like Boeing and JetBlue are already investing in Zunum Aero, which says that it will shorten door-to-door trip time and take advantage of already-exiting local airfields that generally don’t get a lot of traffic.
According to Zunum Aero, “Our stock of 13,500 airports is the largest in the world, yet just 140 of the largest hubs carry over 97% of air traffic.” Their electric planes, which the company says “requires little support other than a GPS flightpath and a quick recharge or swap facility on the tarmac,” are meant to move some of this business to those smaller airfields because of the convenience of not dealing with security. The company says that the cost is much cheaper and that they plan to extend how far a single plane can go as battery technology advances.
Image Credit: High Fidelity | highfidelity.io
However, others believe that traveling to do business in person is irreplaceable, especially in terms of trade shows or conferences where the customers are coming together into one place. Site visits are also difficult to conduct online since part of the purpose of the visit is the experience of seeing a location in real life.
That will be a challenge for virtual reality, which is still essentially in its infancy compared to the possibilities of the future. Companies like AltVR and High Fidelity, which are today creating virtual spaces for meetups, might be the ones re-creating a whole location in a digital space. Even Facebook is getting in on the VR action with Facebook Spaces, which connects users with friends in a virtual space. This technology is being tested to allow users to meet anywhere in a virtual world, simulating anything from Hawaii to Glasgow.
The present-day concerns with using virtual reality is that the technology isn’t common enough to suggest meeting up this way and the experience still feels a bit like a cartoon. While business meetings don’t have to be all somber, there is still an essential tone of seriousness that needs to be set in order for both parties to feel that they’re being taken seriously. We predict that this is a gap that will be filled by 2037 and the technology to support it will become more commonplace.
Image Credit: Voxon Photonics | voxon.co
Something similar to virtual reality in terms of meetings might be something like holograms, which we often see portrayed in movies and TV. Voxon Photonics is one company working to create 3D holograms like we see in the Star Wars series. Like virtual reality, this is an idea that still feels far away since it isn’t quite able to create real-time holograms, especially holograms that can not only scan one or two people to simulate one person being at a meeting, but that can also do the opposite by scanning a meeting to re-create it for the person being presented as a hologram. We predict that this technology will be used more commonly once it’s grown into adulthood. Of course, virtual reality will never be a complete replacement for business travel, but our predictions say that it will become more of a viable option.
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So, when and if business travel itself changes, how will that affect expense reporting? There might be fewer expense reports to process in the long run. However, those reports that do need to be filed will be processed using technologies similar to those that are available today. The future of expense reporting is really happening now, but many companies are still using paper or spreadsheets to track expenses. That’s only slightly more evolved than using an abacus. Today, expense reporting should, at the least, be available in the cloud on any mobile device. On top of that, expense reporting should be automated to take as much burden off the end user as possible using tools like OCR (optical character recognition) and geolocation to allow the system to fill in as many blanks as possible.
The biggest hurdles to overcome in making expense reporting more efficient, according to a November 2015 report from the GBTA Foundation, are missing documentation, incorrect information in the forms, and missing information on the forms, all of which accounted for 77% of what respondents said were the greatest challenges to make expense report processing more efficient. Taking pictures of receipts, letting OCR read the receipt, and then verifying that the system has read the receipt correctly would solve these problems.
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Another possibility for the future of expense reporting is in voice command. This technology is moving to the forefront today with Alexa and Google Home already responsible for managing our households by making purchases on our behalf based on a voice command. The future of expense reporting could be in submitting expenses by voice.
To prevent unauthorized
voice commands today
and in the future, try
setting up your own
unique phrase to tell the
device to start listening.
The challenge of expense reporting by voice is in maintaining security. In a major U.K. bank, it's already possible to use voice as a security device. A recent Barclay article says that the U.K.-based bank been using voice technology for client authentication since mid-2012. "During the normal conversation at the start of any call, advanced voice biometric technology, such as FreeSpeech from Nuance Communications, checks the client’s voice against their stored 'voiceprints.'" In regards to the question of security, "By its very nature, the speaker’s biometric data is unique, making the technique more secure that any password-based or 'challenge question' process."
However, voice recognition attacks are a very real risk of using voice command. According to the InfoSec Institute, "a sample of [a] user’s voice can be collected in various ways, including (1) making a spam call, (2) recording person’s voice from a physical proximity of the speaker, (3) mining for audiovisual clips online, and (4) compromising cloud servers that store audio information." Once collected, that audio can be used as a hacking device, especially since "a voice impersonation attack that takes control over one device can allow the attacker to gain unauthorized access to multiple devices."
We predict that, by 2037, voice command will be more secure, mostly because the technology will have to advance with its rapid adoption in recent years. "According to researchers, the best defense would be the creation of a voice authentication technology that would be resistant to voice imitation attacks," says the InfoSec Institute. For now, one security precaution that today's voice command users can take is customizing the word or phrase that Siri or Google uses to start working for you. For example, Siri listens for you to say "Hey Siri" and Google Home waits for you to say "OK Google." Instead, try setting up your own phrase so that the voice recognition will respond initially only to your specific key words.
Image Credit: Thinkstock.com
In the end, the real future of expense reporting will certainly be verification. We’ve written before about the importance of the human and the human ability to use critical thinking to solve problems. Our 2037 prediction involves continuing to need the human to make sure that the system has correctly filled out the expense report. Accounting cannot be ignored because mistakes can have high costs. In fact, the GBTA report found that it costs an average of $52 worldwide to correct an expense report. Letting the system do the inputs could save an employee an estimated 20 minutes of filling out an expense report for a single night’s hotel stay and it could save hundreds or thousands of dollars in corrections. Automated software that detects errors (and points to possible corrections) is the definite next step in expense reporting in the next 20 years.
It would be easy to say that simply letting the system be completely autonomous would be the future. But, we know better. Each company has their own processes that they’ve developed over time so that expense reporting and travel are done according to policies that work for them. That means that the only real one-stop solution to the headache of expense reporting is to work with an expense software provider that recognizes each company’s unique needs and tailors a solution that fits them.
Expense reporting has changed so much in just a few years that some companies are still struggling to keep up. It doesn’t have to take a major investment to make the upgrade to a present-day expense management solution that can simplify your process and save money. If you are caught up, there’s still so much to look forward to when it comes to the future of expense reporting, from virtual reality to holograms to a simple double-check-and-submit process.
DATABASICS provides cloud-based, next generation Expense Reporting, P-Card Management, Timesheet Management, Leave Management, and Invoice Processing automation. Specializing in meeting the most rigorous requirements, DATABASICS offers the highest level of service to its customers around the world.
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