Expense Management

Best-of-Breed or One-Stop-Shop Five Questions to Consider for Expense Automation

March 15, 2023

8 min read

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If you're considering a new expense solution, what's the best approach for your vendor selection? Do you stick with your ERP provider's jack-of-all-trades system or a dedicated T&E system.

    When you’re putting together the best technology stack for your business, you often have two choices: an all-singing, all-dancing solution that can – nominally at least – do everything you need it to, or a more nimble, task-specific solution. The bigger solution can seem the safe pick, as it may not be quite as specialized in one area, but it does everything passably. But maybe you’re drawn to the more tailored solution because it has more innovative features, or is more flexible or tailored for your organization's specific needs.

    So what happens when it’s time to streamline your expense management system for your global operations? You have the same dilemma: Should you go with a one-stop-shop or best-of-breed solution? Go for a one-stop shop and you’ll have a single vendor providing your global expense management solution and travel booking offering. If you go even further and opt for your ERP’s expense module you’ll get a full suite of financial and HCM solutions.

    Read more: 3 Ways Dedicated Expense Vendors Outshine FMS Suites

    On the face of it, it may seem like an obvious choice. A single vendor can promise streamlined contracts, deeper integrations between the different modules, and may even claim cost benefits. But is it really that clear? Not necessarily.

    If you choose one vendor for travel booking and expense, you get their one solution for each of those functions, regardless of whether they’re the best fit for your organization. And we all know that “one size fits all,” usually means something more like “one size doesn’t really work very well for anyone.”

    Using tailored solutions can provide far greater flexibility. A solution that’s designed specifically for organizations of your size. One that allows you to bring all of your other preferred solution providers together, to create a custom solution that is optimized for your organization's specific needs. You can plug in your favorite travel management company / online booking tool, your corporate card program, bank feeds, and be more agile in your approach.

    So now what? Answering the following five questions can help you determine which approach would best fulfill your expense system needs.

    1. How well does it really integrate?

    This question obviously applies to best-of-breed solutions, where the different parts are actually designed and produced by different companies. But it can apply to one-stop-shop solutions as well as they have often acquired much of their technology.

    Software development can be a long and costly process, and some one-stop-shop vendors may have simply acquired other vendors to fill gaps in their service portfolios, and then rebranded them as their own solutions. What appears to be a single, wholly integrated system may have actually started out as multiple software systems that have now been cobbled together. The results, too, can be monstrous if the different software solutions were written in completely different software languages, making it tough for them to communicate and work in tandem. Since one of the big benefits of a one-stop shop solution is ensuring seamless integration, making sure that’s the case is a top priority before choosing a single vendor over multiple best-of-breeds.

    2. Does it work well for everybody?

    In a perfect world, finance and travel departments work together to select a solution that fits the unique needs of each department and makes business travelers more productive. For example, travel managers need more compliance reporting, more category volume reporting, and travel spend visibility for the CFO. Both departments want a solution that reminds travelers of per diem policies and negotiated vendors. Accounting teams want solutions like bank card statement reconciliation or even better, integrated card issuance and management. Then there’s reality.

    All too often you may find company higher-ups making decisions without a lot of input from the departments or individuals who will actually be using the solution. They may instead be steered by various internal or external forces, resulting in a decision that pleases few.

    One cause of displeasure can be ending up with a sub-par, jack-of-all-trades solution that’s definitely the master of none. More displeasure comes from the departments that were slighted when making the decision. Not only did disregarding any input make it clear their needs are not a priority, but it also destroyed the chance of receiving valuable and well-informed input on what to look for

    3. What happens if part of it doesn’t work for your requirements?

    Let’s say you do go for a one-stop shop global expense management solution, but you’re not happy with a certain function that doesn’t do the job you want. Would you be able to keep the system in place and simply disable that particular function, replacing that function with a solution from a different vendor?

    The answer may be a resounding “no,” as some vendors offer all-or-nothing choices when it comes to using their software. You may then find yourself stuck using parts of the solution that you don’t like, or be forced to remove the entire thing and completely overhaul your entire travel and booking expense environment. The vendor, of course, is counting on you being so daunted by the prospect of a complete rip-and-replace that you’ll end up sticking with them for the long haul.

    4. Is a single support contact really better?

    While having a single provider could mean a more straightforward support resolution, in theory, reality can again rear its ugly head. Support teams for large organizations certainly won’t have as much in-depth knowledge about the specific components of your solution as you’d find with specialized organizations. With a single, large vendor, you may actually find it takes more time, not less, to identify and resolve an issue.

    5. Does it actually do what you need it to do?

    It’s really easy to go with the obvious and straightforward option – even for business software – even if maybe it’s not the best solution. But it’s a very risky proposition which could prove to be … career-limiting.

    So the biggest question you have to ask yourself is whether the solution you’re looking at will perform in the way that you need it to. Does it offer the functionality and configuration that you need it to, in order to match your organization’s existing processes, or will you need to change the processes to work around it? Is it intuitive and user-friendly or will your employees need to be trained to use the new system? Do the back-end processes such as spend analytics and approval workflows deliver the efficiencies and insight that you need?

    Whichever way you answer these questions, it’s critical that you get unbiased third-party insight into your vendor shortlist. Customer references are essential, and there are also resources from experts such as industry analysts that can help you make the right decision.