The paperwork and delays that employee expenses generate can strain any business’s operations.
The time and effort lost manually filling in information, sorting through receipts and documents to track down missing details and ensuring each claimed item falls within companies’ standards stresses workers as well as the expense managers who must check each field.
Such hazards may be especially consequential for companies that consumers rely on during and after crises. Paul Davis specializes in cleaning up and repairing homes after disasters — natural and otherwise — to get individuals and families back in their homes as quickly as possible.
Barry Floyd, the firm’s chief financial officer, told PYMNTS in a recent interview that the company was particularly busy during 2016 and 2017, when Hurricanes Matthew and Irma hit the company’s home state of Florida.
“We’d get large claims where trees fell through people’s living rooms, and they were sitting there with water raining on their heads and their houses in disarray,” Floyd said.
Repairing water damage is one of Paul Davis’s core specialties, which made the company a natural fit when helping clean up Hurricane Irma’s massive flooding. The disaster “created insatiable demand,” according to Floyd.
Such large-scale issues require quickly mobilizing resources to address customers’ needs and using the right in-house systems to monitor which employees are responding, track project and travel costs and simplify expense reporting as much as possible. This is why Paul Davis is turning to new technology, Floyd said.
Bringing Innovation to a Traditional Industry
Paul Davis was founded in 1966 and has become one of the largest post-disaster building restoration companies in North America. The company recently implemented a cloud-based expense reporting system at the corporate level, allowing employees to file reports via specialized apps. The firm is also deploying data analytics as well as fuel cards to improve its fleet management efforts.
Aging homes and more frequent extreme weather events fuel the growing building restoration industry. The need to quickly mobilize resources and get boots on the ground after a disaster strikes has helped company decision-makers adopt the right technologies to improve efficiency and agility in back-office and field operations.
“I have [our company’s] app on my phone,” Jeff Harper, the firm’s senior director of shared services, noted in the same PYMNTS interview. “I can take pictures of receipts, and I can send in my expense report before I even get home, and generally ... have my money within 48 hours because it is direct-deposited into my account. ... It saves a lot of time, it’s a lot more efficient, and I get my money faster.”
This represents a vast improvement over the processes that existed when Harper joined the company just three years ago. The company’s legacy travel-expensing practices were mired in frictions.
“When I traveled and needed to submit an expense report, it was basically a paper form that I had to fill out and then a physical check was issued to me,” he recalled.
Floyd has been with Paul Davis for 20 years and remembers using an Excel template to report expenses before the company migrated to cloud-based and digital platforms.
“As you can imagine, it created a lot of nightmares, where an employee would forward the template to the manager and he’d be traveling, and [that particular expense bill] wouldn’t get paid,” he said. “There wasn’t good accountability.”
These issues plague companies that lack innovative expense management tracking systems, and such firms must then allocate resources to manual review, which can result in worse problems than accountability mishaps — including incorrect amounts paid or checks written to the wrong employees or vendors. The high cost of these errors make the switch to automated systems worthwhile.
Getting a Handle on Fuel and Vehicle Costs
Paul Davis has also acted to better manage the fuel expense processes for its 200-plus-vehicle-strong fleet, working with a third-party fleet services provider to make data analytics-driven decisions about how long to keep its vehicles in service. The data enables Paul Davis to make informed decisions on whether to maintain or trade in certain vehicles.
“They’re going to help us monitor when is the right time to sell [the vehicles] and when it is right to keep [them],” Harper explained.
Paul Davis is also preparing to issue fuel cards to its employees, granting the company stronger control and additional data concerning employee gasoline usage. The firm’s geographic range spans North America, meaning workers’ travel and project needs can easily transform into major expenses.
“We have people that are burning up the road every week,” Harper said. Fuel cards “are going to allow us at the corporate level to see how employees are spending money and how frequently they’re fueling up. [The technology] allows us to set up an authorization profile. For example, we can say these cards can only be used Monday through Friday. ... It gives us a lot more control.”
All these innovations help the company avoid tedious paperwork and allow it to better focus on its core mission — making people’s homes livable again. Paul Davis’ experience can help other firms garner similar results, as limiting the time and manual effort involved in expense reporting critically eases both companies’ and employees’ operations.