Sybase Inc. began its global rollout of Extensity Expense Report a bit unconventionally. Departing from the norm for U.S. companies, the software firm deployed Extensity in Europe first, offering it to 700 employees in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The summer launch on the Continent was followed, earlier this month, by implementation in the United States and Canada, where Extensity will be accessed by approximately 2,500 travelers. Within the next three months, the Emeryville, Calif.-based technology company plans to roll out the product in four additional European countries, before taking it to Asia and, eventually, Latin America.
Automating the expense reporting process in Europe, where previously employees filled out paper forms and snail-mailed them, was initiated because “we had needs in Europe that had to be solved right away,” said Sybase global corporate travel manager Patricia Carlin.
Last June, when Sybase signed its agreement with Extensity, the company was consolidating its European accounting operations into a central location in the Netherlands. Moving to a centralized, automated expense reporting system fit neatly into the new scheme, despite the fact that the company has yet to implement a corporate card in Europe. Sybase, however, already did have a global back-end accounting system in place.
“Extensity showed us their product in Europe, and we got the Europeans to buy in first,” Carlin said. Already, almost 200 reports are coming in per week.
Indeed, a key reason for choosing Extensity—one of four vendor candidates—was the global reach of the Java-based product. “Extensity could build into the system various tax laws country by country,” Carlin said.
Extensity teamed up with PricewaterhouseCoopers last year to build into its product the tax and local business regulations for 29 countries. The euro-compliant system also keeps track of per diems. By year-end, expense reports also should be available in French, German and Spanish versions that incorporate not only the native language of each country, but also such details as the correct format for dates and placement of commas.
Cutting-edge technology wasn’t the only reason Sybase picked Extensity. “They’re very knowledgeable. They understand different practices in other countries and they understand Sybase’s objective,” Carlin said.
Extensity’s professional services team was an integral part of the most important aspect of the European rollout: getting the buy-in. From day one, Carlin had the support of top company executives. But she also worked hard to include the Europeans on the global team in charge of developing the automated global program. The group included representatives from IT, finance and professional services.
“Patricia identified individuals in Europe who would want to participate,” said Henry Dear, Sybase’s director of finance and assistant corporate controller. “They came to the U.S., sat in on meetings, and looked at the technology. It was an educational process to help them understand the benefits. They got to participate versus having the corporate organization say, ‘This is the mandate worldwide.’ ”
Dear also noted that another crucial aspect of a successful buy-in for a global expense reporting system is formulating, to the best extent possible, one policy and one global best practice. “You have to be willing to look at all practices developed in each country to leverage the system and drive in one process,” he said.
“To our advantage, we have a fairly mature process,” added Tom Carey, Sybase’s director of purchasing operations. “As much as possible we built the application to one standard, although you have to have the system adapt to country differences.”
In the United Kingdom, for example, the Inland Revenue, the British taxing authority, requires managers to look at all expense reports and approve them to qualify the amounts as non-income to the employee. “We worked with Extensity to build in flexibility so the U.K. managers could do this,” Dear said. In the meantime, Sybase is submitting a filing to the Inland Revenue defending its “non-active expense management approach” and showing acceptance of the practice by the IRS in the United States.
All Sybase employees have Web access, and the company insisted that the system be on both a Web and a local server, enabling employees to download the electronic form and fill it in wherever and whenever they want. Managers are sent e-mails once the user has submitted the report, and employees put all receipts into a preprinted envelope, including an identifying tracking number (generated by Extensity), which is sent to the center in Holland.
Exceptions automatically are kicked off to the auditor. Sybase audits 10 percent of all reports, picked at random, plus a “hit list” of employees who surpass the spending limits.