Higher education is rapidly transitioning to purchasing card programs as a means of streamlining the process by which services and goods are procured by employees. With recent growth of the credit payment industry, colleges and universities are embracing purchasing cards, or “pcards”. Pcards are meant to reduce transaction costs, allow access to supplier discounts, eliminate delay in a reimbursement cycle, improve cash flow, and improve tracking of expenses. All good things, except that their use may create more accounting work for faculty and staff.
In the old days, when I used my personal credit card for College-related expenses, I taped my receipts to an 8.5 x 11” sheet of paper, tapped out a few words about the nature of the charges, and sent them along to the next level of approval via campus snail mail. Such work typically laid claim to 10-15 minutes of my time. The new process entails scanning individual receipts as PDF files and then uploading each to the pcard web interface. There are also database fields to fill and comments to render for each expenditure, but it’s the process of scanning and uploading receipts that really taxes my time, especially when I have a goodly number of receipts. Using a campus copier/scanner, I found that pcard receipt processing now entails many more repeated steps: selecting settings on copier; sending file (more settings); retrieving file via email; saving and renaming file to appropriate file directory; uploading file to accounting interface. Recently, I spent 30-40 minutes processing 24 receipts. Not good. And my inner pessimist fears that faculty frustrations with pcard accounting will result in even more of this work getting passed along to academic and administrative assistants. Also not good.
So, accepting that pcards are our future (and not an excuse to slide even more work to academic assistants), I began experimenting with other PDF rendering technology. Here’s what I found:
Using my iPhone and an app called CamScanner, I can shave an appreciable amount of time off the accounting process . Specifically, time is recouped in (1) the scanning process and (2) the uploading of scanned receipts to the pcard web interface. First, CamScanner uses the smartphone camera; I “scan” simply by taking a picture of the receipt. Some nice little built-in app features allow me to define the boundaries of the receipt as well as auto-enhance the text to improve legibility. This all takes about 8 seconds. Second, a PDF version of the image can then be uploaded to the cloud, a nice alternative to shuttling files from my email to a desirable file directory. I use Dropbox, but other cloud storage options are available, including Google Drive, Evernote, Box, and One Drive. Pointing the app and uploading to your preferred file directory takes about 10 seconds. You might add an additional 15-20 seconds if you want to rename the file for purposes of digitally archiving the receipts. Regardless, the smartphone approach is significantly faster than scanning at the copy machine.
There are other smartphone apps available (e.g., GeniusScan, TinyScan), but among the handful with which I’ve experimented, CamScanner is the only free app that allows me to capture and send a PDF file to the cloud without having to pay for a “pro” version of the app. (This said, the pro version of CamScanner affords even more possibilities and just may be your cup of tea if you seek even more complex functionality in your scanning app.)
Furthermore, I can scan from the comfort of my desk or, even better, at the point of purchase, thus shaving a little more time off the accounting process when I return home. CamScanner is available for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Windows 8 phones. If you know of other PDF scanning apps or even other digital workflow practices that ease the pain of emergent digital bureaucracies, please share in the comments below.