ExpenseMatters.com Interview Series by Cary Strange: Interview #9 – InterplX
Next up in our interview series is InterplX Expense Management. Bob Rayca, Vice President, has joined ExpenseMatters to discuss some of the most common industry questions. To get started, could you provide some basic information about your company?
INTERPLX Expense Management was founded in 1994 to provide organizations with complete outsourcing of employee expense management services utilizing “best practice” solutions. The company was co-founded by two former Gelco Expense Management employees. InterplX’s senior management team is lead by Chuck Buckner, and is now comprised of six former Gelco employees with over 120 years combined in the T&E automation space.
INTERPLX is a Business Process Outsourcer (BPO) focused on employee expense management. We market ExpenseNet on-demand, web based software for employee expense reporting, employee and corporate charge card payment processing, online receipt imaging and compliance auditing with problem resolution. Our applications are used for processing T&E, Purchasing Card, and Tuition expense claims.
Headquartered in Shakopee, MN, INTERPLX now manages expense and procurement card transactions for many blue chip North American corporations, representing more than $1 billion in spend. Clients such as Medco Health, Follett, Inc., Mannington Mills, SKF USA, M. K. Morse, AstraZeneca and, Charming Shoppes have strengthened controls, slashed costs, heightened employee satisfaction and reduced the burden on internal technology resources by outsourcing these non-core functions to INTERPLX.
In October 2008, for the fifth year in a row INTERPLX received an Unqualified Opinion after completing a SAS70 TYPE II audit of our systems and procedures
In October 2007 INTERPLX received notice from the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council that we are compliant with their rigorous Data Security Standards (DSS). Further, since then we have passed each quarterly PCI security audit assuring our clients and their Users that their personal information is safe.
What do you recognize as your primary and secondary target markets, and why?
Our long term focus is on corporations seeking to automate and to outsource their employee expense reporting and transaction processing. Our application and services package are very effective at reducing costs and improving control for companies processing as few as 100 expense reports per month nevertheless, our largest clients process >10,000 expense reports per month, which translates into InterplX’s broad appeal to small, mid-sized and large organizations.
In recent months, however, we have focused our efforts on companies using the former Gelco product, ExpenseLink. And we are enjoying a great deal of success converting ExpenseLink customers to ExpenseNet. These companies are faced with no choice but to convert to a new system, so now they looking for software and services comparable to what they’ve been using. What they are finding is that the number of companies offering end-to-end software, payment processing, receipt imaging and compliance auditing services is extremely limited and the choices can be very pricey. InterplX’s ExpenseNet software and services suite is very competitive with ExpenseLink and our fees are significantly lower than the competition’s resulting in a win-win for our newest clients and for InterplX.
In addition to T&E we offer P-Card management services focused on statement approval, receipt imaging and compliance auditing. Our unique p-card offerings work well withstand-alone p-card programs as well as combined corporate and p-card programs, often referred to as “one-card solutions”.
It appears that there are quite a few players offering expense technology solutions. What separates your company from other companies providing similar products & services?
What sets us apart is the unique combination of experience (we’ve been processing expenses, receipts, payments and audits for over 15 years!), proven solutions for the mid- to large-market, the most complete service suite for end-to-end expense processing, highly flexible and open architecture and the lowest cost structure in the market. Our ExpenseNet software is a true SaaS solution built on a multi-tenant platform with powerful configuration capabilities to support virtually any client’s requirements. Additionally, we are profitable, debt-free and growing by more than 20% per year, even in this down market. We believe we are the logical and safe alternative to the 800-pound gorilla in our space.
What are some specific key product differentiators that provide you with a distinct advantage over your competitors?
Considering that most of our competitors are marketing primarily a software solution with limited support services, InterplX’s robust software combined with a full suite of back-office services is a key differentiator. Add to this the fact that our fees are extremely competitive even when reimbursement, imaging, support, and compliance auditing, are included, the case for InterplX becomes compelling.
Another differentiator that makes InterplX an attractive choice is what has been described as the most configurable workflow on the market. Of course hierarchical approval, such as routing based on Grants of Authority is standard but in addition InterplX is able to configure the system to route reports for approval based on alternate Departments or Projects being charged, reports requiring a second approval by AP for instance, alternate routing based on Proxy and Delegate profiles. ExpenseNet will automatically escalate reports that have languished for too long in an Approver’s queue.
Our receipt imaging options are another point of difference and a big value added feature of ExpenseNet. InterplX offers our clients four receipt imaging choices; scan & upload, scan-to-email, fax to our fax server, and standard postal mail to InterplX’s document scanning operation. And we can support all four simultaneously. Today, with the proliferation of multi-function machines most of our Users are able to scan their required receipts into image files (.PDF, .BMP, .TIF, .JPG, etc.) and then attach the file or even multiple files to their expense reports before they submit. If they have access only to a Fax machine, they print off a bar-coded cover page and then fax the required receipts to InterplX’s Fax server. Our system matches the receipt images to the expense report and attaches the file the report for routing and approval. Approvers are able to view the receipts while reviewing the expense report and the complete expense report file is available in an on-line archive for up to 7 years. InterplX offers a mail in service too. This service allows Users to mail original receipts to our Shakopee operations for imaging and archiving. In addition to imaging mailed in receipts, our team gathers and forwards original receipts required for VAT/GST reclaim processing to service companies like autoVat and Meridian.
What are the most important questions that a company (looking for a solution) should ask before selecting an expense management provider?
Although it may not be the first question “Cost” is always a critical question. And, since many of our prospects have already spoken to one or two of our competitors, they are expecting that it will be difficult for them to cost justify automating T&E let alone get the project funded. We often hear that budget isn’t available as the primary reason why companies have not yet automated their T&E.
Once it’s been decided that SaaS is the most cost effective (and probably the easiest to implement and to manage) then their focus must turn to adaptability. If the system isn’t User/Approver/Administrator friendly then the solution may create more problems (translation: costs and frustration) than it solves. What we have seen lately in the market is for some T&E solution providers to want to load Users up with a lot of marginally beneficial systems that tend to complicate the Users lives more than they benefit the company. This is especially true if the goals to control spend can be just as effectively achieved with resources that are already available. But these options can make for a great sale. In the car business they are called “Ten pound deals”. If T&E reporting isn’t easy for the User, or for that matter their Approvers and the Program Administrators then it will be a difficult project to implement and maintain.
One of the most frequent questions we receive involve how the products are licensed and installed. What are your thoughts regarding the traditional licensing model versus the software as a service model (SaaS)? Which does your company provide and recommend?
While the market has been trending to a service (SaaS) model, InterplX has been built from the ground up as a service (SaaS) company. Our ExpenseNet software is built on a multi-tenant architecture. This means that all clients are on the same version and run on the same code base. Maintenance and overhead are controlled. The competition deals with multiple versions across their client base that must be maintained and supported. In fact, installed software vendors (ISV’s) have a huge issue with clients on out-of-date versions of their software. The excess costs involved in supporting these clients are a huge issue for them and their clients. With ExpenseNet all clients benefit from systems enhancements and all clients are on the current release, automatically. This is a big advantage to our clients.
Do you have any new customer or partner wins that you want to share with our audience? If so, why did they select your company or product?
On December 30, 2008 we received a call from the Director of Finance at a large retailer (+2,000 stores) that they were prepared to notify their incumbent system provider that they were going to pull the plug and convert to ExpenseNet. They asked if we could be ready for them by February 1st; fewer than 30 days. Our implementation team said we could. And we did. Including training more than 800 users; the system was fully configured, the financial system interface was tested and ready, corporate card statement import was completed, and arrangements for funding employee and card payments were done. We did underestimate the time it would take us to modify a workflow requirement so for a short time we set-up a “work around” and soon after roll-out we delivered the enhancement for them.
This company chose InterplX for several reasons and although price played a key role (we’re usually 40%-60% less than the competition) it was ExpenseNet’s user friendliness and our customer service that won them over. In fact they determined that the change to ExpenseNet was easier for them and their end-users than it would have been to convert to the acquiring company’s very complex system. We delivered on all of their requirements in a tight time frame and we’re saving them a substantial amount on automation and expense report processing which, in the retail business, means a lot.
This industry has been in a high growth mode for a couple of year now. What do you see happening with the industry, and the need for these types of solutions, over the next 12-18 months?
We see the market continuing to expand as there are still many North American companies that have not automated. In addition, like most industries, our industry will continue to expand on a global basis. Technology drivers will include smart-phones, net-books, and the ubiquitous wireless availability of the Internet. We believe the corporate card market will expand Level-3 data capabilities reducing the need for receipts and rendering the import of reservation data useless as a pre-population process. Card data is actual spend and real dollars. Reservation data is approximate and prone to change/cancellation. It is an unnecessary complication that users do not want or need.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Is there anything that we have not talked about that you would like to discuss with our readers?
In recent years we’ve been witnessing a proliferation of T&E automation enhancements whose value propositions seem to us to be doubtful. Most notably is the recent ballyhoo surrounding integrated travel reservation data to pre-populate the expense report. Not only does this concept add a new layer of complexity and frustration for the Users, it does not add any real value to controlling or reducing expenses. In fact, based on our calculations, the only beneficiaries from integrated booking data are the system vendors. Reservation data is by its very nature incomplete and not accurate. Furthermore our experience shows that more than 50% of expense reports do not even involve booked travel. So this new wrinkle is only applicable to less than half of all expense reports. Further, air reservations are, in fact, air ticket purchases. The data from the purchase is available from the corporate card feed, so reservation data is extraneous. In the case of hotel or car rental reservations, past research indicates that around 30% of such reservations change from the point of booking to the point of travel. For example, the traveler has to change their itinerary for some reason, they return home a day early, etc. In these cases, they would be required to explain why their reservation is different from their expense report. This added layer of complexity is unnecessary. Better to compare booked to actual on an after-the-fact basis via reconciliation reporting and, if any, pursue the few travelers that chronically abuse the booking process rather than penalize all travelers. At InterplX we support a cooperative process utilizing the clients’ travel management partner and our reporting capabilities to enable best-in-class “booked vs. actual” reporting. All of the controls are there while we keep it User friendly.
To all of our readers, if you have any additional questions or would like to speak with InterplX about your T&E needs, please send me an email or contact InterplX directly:
Vice President of Sales