Is It Time to Finally Blow Up “T&E” Once and For All?

Answer: yes. But there is way more to the story.

I don't want to go all Sam Kinison or Lewis Black here, but I’m sick and tired of T&E as the little black sheep in spend management. It’s not just one sheep, it’s a whole flock of them, and they need to be separated, sheared, with what we get woven into something more coherent. Let me explain…

First, we can’t even get the name right! What does T&E mean anyway? Is it travel and expense or is it travel and entertainment? Let’s pick one and stick with it.

Of course, if we want to pick one, we need to understand what these words mean. More specifically, is “expense” the same as “entertainment”? No. But is entertainment merely a type of expense? Not exactly. Entertainment is also an outcome (to improve employee morale or close a deal with a client), and it’s also a process (e.g., dining). If procurement is to help serve up solutions that accommodate different stakeholder roles doing separate processes that involves different spend categories, then the words matter. They are separate building blocks in a holistic spend management solution design.

Speaking of the “spend” in spend management, let's return to the other word in T&E: "expense." What is an expense? Is it any expenditure? Is it only a third-party expenditure? Is it only a third-party expenditure that is classified as a non-capital expenditure? Is it a further subset only representing indirect spend? Or is it even further down—that is to say that it’s only indirect supplier spend that is run through employee expense reports?

If so, who ordained that “expense management” is really about automating expense reports? Shouldn't expense management really be about spend management? The answer is yes. Well, some might say this area also adds travel planning and approvals. OK, well, whoop dee doo! Now we have added some spend category related tools for spend planning that applies to a few spend segments (air, car, hotel, etc.). We’re talking about 5-10 percent of the processes and spend categories within indirect.

Oh wait, we need to add in the value of downloading p-card charge details to the expense report and the ability to take a picture of a receipt on your cell phone. Now we’re talking strategic! And what is a p-card? It’s a physical or virtual (ghost card) method of buying something and also for settling on the back-end (with a service fee). And companies are all over the place in terms of their perspectives on this (e.g., not even getting into gory details of central pay vs. buyer pay and other plumbing). It's a potential source of maverick spending and fraud. It has its place, but let's focus on the big picture.

Yes, it’s a pain point for a mobile workforce, but let’s finally admit that trying to bolt together this small amalgam of business processes, spend categories, and techniques/tools and then shoehorning it into our spend management processes (not just procurement processes mind you!) has basically run its course. There is value in it, but it needs to be unpacked (or ripped apart) and then re-assembled in a way that is much more extensible and easy to integrate with the rest of real expense management… spend management (including internal spend too).

Keep in mind that I don't want to throw out the innovative little babies (that have gone along with the expense management “space”) with this bathtub of stuff floating around. If I am going to take you into the valley of death, I'll need to take you back out. So, stay tuned for my next post on this topic.

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