By Christal Bemont

Small businesses are increasingly adopting enterprise technology to help them grow, yet many don’t employ solutions to simplify operational processes. In fact, did you know that the majority of small businesses still manually track and process invoice data? And that’s despite all the latest advancements in intelligent tools.

When small businesses manually manage data, they spend more time handling administrative tasks and less time on higher-value activities. This can hurt growth amid an increasingly competitive business environment. In spend management specifically, manual functions can monopolize employee productivity, open the door for human error and increase the chances of paying invoices twice or inaccurately reimbursing expenses.

All these mistakes take time to correct, delaying processing and in turn, creating limitations in budget forecasting. We all know cash flow is the lifeblood of a small business, so an owner simply can’t afford to operate on unreliable data. To combat these frustrations, here are four technology tips for small business leaders to follow so they can focus on delivering value to their business.

  1. Automate manual processes. Automation can drastically transform spend data management. For example, expense line items will automatically populate based on purchase data to eliminate manual error and accelerate expense submission and reimbursement. In turn, finance managers receive a timely, accurate view of spend. Small business leaders should evaluate cash flow management practices and implement automated tools where they will get the greatest business value.
  2. Centralize all data to inform insights. Connecting and aggregating spend data gives small business leaders get a picture of cash flow in one view. Leaders should select tools that integrate with one another, for example, ensuring their invoice solution connects with an accounting tool like QuickBooks, as well as with a broader open ecosystem of third-party applications to get more mileage out of their data. This optimization creates greater efficiency. Case in point: EDSI. After the workforce development and consulting business integrated its travel, expense and invoice data, its expense report reconciliation time reduced in half and its reimbursement time increased four-fold.
  3. Consider advanced technologies to improve cash flow visibility. Small business leaders can take automation one step further by employing advanced technologies to improve cash flow visibility plus save employees time on administrative tasks. An AMI survey of small business financial decision makers found accounting and finance teams with visibility into corporate cash flow make more strategic financial decisions. For instance, decision makers are thoughtfully employing tools powered by machine learning to analyze mobile receipts to automatically populate data fields on an expense report. These solutions can reduce mistakes by proactively flagging inaccuracies in data before they happen, so small businesses can respond to events as they unfold.
  4. Consider mobile. Mobile apps let employees manage travel expenses and access information on the go so they can remain flexible and efficient. According to SMB Group, 68 percent of small businesses agree mobile solutions are critical to their business. Mobile expense tools let small businesses capture expenses by simply taking a picture of a receipt.

When small businesses take steps to embrace smart technology to optimize their company’s data management and spend processes, they will get the visibility, focus and agility they need for long-term success. If you’re a leader or decision maker, start leveraging these tips right now to operate more efficiently and position for growth.

Christal Bemont, SVP and GM of Global SMB, SAP Concur

Automation stock photo by Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock