The world of QuickBooks Expense Management is an interesting one, and an area that I should be examining in more detail. The problem is, most of the expense management programs that I’ve seen are complicated to set up and use, aimed at larger businesses than what I normally deal with. Lately, though, there have been a number of newer applications coming out that I might call “entry level” (although they might not like that term). So, today I’ll jump into one that has a LOT of neat features, Tallie.
Although this is a new product (and so it has a few rough edges), it is produced by a company that has a long history in online time tracking and billing software, SpringAhead. Tallie focuses on expense management – it doesn’t provide time billing/tracking (at least not at this time).
What does Tallie do? It is a web based and mobile accessible product that lets employees enter reimbursable and billable expenses easily. There are many interesting features, including the ability to capture and analyze receipts to automate the job of data entry. And, it can post this information to QuickBooks (desktop version).
Tallie is focused on this specific task. it isn’t as comprehensive as a product like BigTime, and it isn’t aimed at enterprise-sized companies.
I’m not going to go through Tallie in great detail – this is not a tutorial. I’m just going to hit a few of the high points to give you an idea as to how this works, with an emphasis on how it integrates with QuickBooks. Note that Tallie is still an evolving product, so some of the screen shots I show here may change in the near future.
Tallie Expense Management: Web Interface
Let’s start off with the web interface. I’ve already set up my system with customers and jobs, and expense categories (I’ll go further into that in the QuickBooks section later).
I have an expense that I want to turn in. I’ll click on the Add icon in the web interface.
This pops up a window to enter the expense manually:
- Merchant is the business that I paid for this expense (oops, I forgot to enter that, I can come back and get it later).
- Date can be changed to the appropriate date, directly or using a calendar.
- Expense Category is a dropdown list of categories set up in Tallie. Later you’ll see that these can be associated with accounts or items from QuickBooks.
- Project/Job is another dropdown list. These can be customers or jobs from QuickBooks. The dropdown list will only list the projects that I am approved to work on, rather than the entire list (very good feature).
- Department/Class can be used to classify the expense – in this case it is my Class list from QuickBooks.
- Reason is a brief description of the expense.
- Billable can be used to mark this as a expense that is billable to the customer.
- Amount is the amount of the expense.
You can edit the record after you have entered the basic information. For example, you can “itemize” it to create splits to different accounts.
This is pretty easy so far, but nothing special.
Now let’s look at a higher level of sophistication. Here’s an image of a receipt that I took, that I want to enter into Tallie. Crumpled, not too clear.
Using the web interface, I can just drag the image onto Tallie:
Within seconds, here’s my new Tallie expense record, ready to edit.
This screen shot is taken just a few moments after adding the image – note that Tallie has analyzed the image and has already entered the merchant name, receipt date and cost! I didn’t type ANY of that information in myself. Now I just have to enter the details about the project and expense. SIMPLE!
By examining the receipt Tallie has taken a lot of the work out of the process, which makes the information more likely to be accurate AND also makes it more likely that I’ll actually USE the program, since it has made it very simple to enter my expenses.
There are three major differentiating features that you’ll see in action here:
- Automation: Tallie does what it can to automate the process for you. It finds the merchant, the date, the amount, and more, from the receipt and fills in those fields for you.
- Learning: You’ll find that once you start entering expenses classified in a certain way, Tallie learns and will start filling in more fields for you. For example, I entered “Meals” as the expense category for the Peets receipt. Later on, as I add more receipts from Peets I noticed that they are already classified as “Meals” by Tallie.
- Duplicate Detection: This is a feature that I like very much. Let’s say that I add that same receipt twice. I have all these receipts, sometimes I just lose track and they get in multiple times. In the screen shot below the first copy (with all the info from the project, etc.) is on the right, and my duplicate entry shows on the left. Note that Tallie has flagged these as “possible duplicate”.
Click on that link at you have the option to merge the two record or keep both. Very nice!
You can also submit mileage expenses, and Tallie will calculate the mileage for you from the addresses.
Here I’m entering the from address for the round trip, and as I start typing the address Tallie tries to find a match so that I can select it easily.
After I enter the second address, Tallie has calculated the mileage for me, which I find to be a GREATE help.
Submitting Expense Reports
Now that I have entered my receipts I can add them to a Report that I will submit to the person who has been assigned as the approver. Create a report and the expenses will show up in the report automatically, based on the project. You can drag a receipt off another report onto this new report, or off this to another report, very easily (they make VERY good use of drag/drop technology throughout the product).
Once the report is ready to go, I just click the Submit Report button and it is sent to the approver, who automatically gets an email notification that an expense report is ready to go.
Note that the approvers does not have to log in and look around for these reports to approve the expenses – that can be done just by clicking on the approve button in the email. Tallie is working very hard to make all of the steps in submitting and approving very easy, because the easier it is the more likely that people will use the program to do their job.
When the expenses are approved, an email message is sent to the person who originally submitted the expense. Again, it is a way to simplify and smooth the data entry process.
Tallie also allows you to use either a company credit card or a personal credit card, and will pull information from the cards into Tallie. I have to admit that I have not used this feature so far, but when I talk to other users who have they like the feature very much.
There is a lot here that I’m skipping over. Tallie provides a wealth of features to control the approval process. You can have multiple approvers, you can require that they all approve the expense, and more. There are email reminders that there are expenses to submit and reports to approve, if you don’t handle them in a timely fashion. There are analytics reports that help you track the expenses by project, expense type, merchant, department and more.
Tallie Mobile Apps
You can also enter your expenses with your iOS and Android mobile devices. In my examples I’ll use my iPad.
Here’s a list of receipts that I have entered.
To add a new expense, I can click on either the camera icon to use the iPad camera to take a picture of the receipt, or I can click the plus icon to manually add a receipt.
If I take a picture then Tallie will (if I am connected to the Internet) scan the receipt just as I described above, and will fill in the date, merchant and amount. It may also fill in other info if it has “learned” about this merchant. While the scanning is proceeding, you can enter info like the department and project. The same lists are available here, just as are available in the web version.
If you are not connected to the Internet then you can take the picture of your receipt and add that picture to an expense record later.
This is a “native iPad app”, not just a view of the Tallie website through a browser. That is good as it allows them to use all the features of the iPad. I’m very happy with this app, it is easy to use and navigate. You won’t use it to manage your lists, or to approve expense reports – this is aimed at making it easy to capture your receipts/expenses immediately, before you forget the details. It accomplishes this task very well.
QuickBooks Expense Management
There are two types of subscriptions to Tallie, a “Basic” and an “Integrated” subscription. With “Basic” you don’t have a minimum number of users but you also don’t get any integration with additional applications. “Integrated” requires a minimum of 5 users (at the same rate per user as “Basic”) but it also allows you to integrate with QuickBooks (or Microsoft Dynamics GP), SmartVault and Bill.com. There is a one-time integration setup fee for an “Integrated” account that will vary depending on what integrations you select.
For QuickBooks Desktop (the only QuickBooks product they currently integrate with) you will install Tallie Connect, a synchronization engine that will exchange information between your selected QuickBooks company file and your Tallie account. They aren’t using Intuit Sync Manager, which I think is an advantage. Sync Manager still has issues that vex people, and by not using it Tallie avoids a lot of headaches. You’ll see the Tallie Connect icon in your system tray.
Information is synchronized:
- Every hour (you can adjust this),
- When you specifically request it to be synchronized by selecting an option in your Windows tool tray,
- When you Export expenses from Tallie to QuickBooks,
- Whenever you update a list record in Tallie that relates to a QuickBooks list record.
QuickBooks Lists in Tallie
Tallie pulls over a number of list records from QuickBooks in the initial setup, and it tries to keep these lists in sync.
Employees: The employee list is imported and you can set them up to be Tallie users.
Customer and Projects: Your customer list is imported, with QuickBooks “Jobs” becoming Tallie “Projects”. There will be one “Default” project set up for each customer, and then an additional project for each QuickBooks job.
Here’s a portion of my QuickBooks customer list:
Here’s what you see in Tallie. Note how there is a “project” for every customer, even if they don’t have a job.
Vendors: Tallie will import your Vendor list for reimbursable bills. This is an area that I haven’t explored in detail yet.
Accounts: Tallie will import your Chart of Accounts, which you will use in setting up Tallie expense categories.
Items: Tallie will import your Item list, which also can be used in Expense Categories.
Here’s the expense categories list in Tallie, showing how it uses the QuickBooks Accounts and Items. Note that Tallie prevents you from using both an item and an expense account on the same record, which is good.
Classes: You will be using Classes when classifying expenses – this is also referred to as a department when entering an expense. For example, here is my class list in QuickBooks:
And here is that same list imported into Tallie:
Posting Expenses to QuickBooks
Once you have an approved expense report you click on the Export button, and Tallie will export the information to QuickBooks.
Here’s the expenses showing as billable expenses for the customer/job:
And here’s the reimbursement check:
Note all the information that comes over in the “memo” from Tallie.
This part of the integration works very well.
SmartVault and Bill.com Integration
SmartVault is my favorite document management system, and I’m very pleased to see that Tallie will integrate with it as the repository for scanned receipts. One of the key features of SmartVault is that it integrates with a many of the applications that I use (including QuickBooks), and every product that works with SmartVault is going to get a lot of interest from me.
When you export your expense reports to QuickBooks, Tallie will put the attached receipt documents in your SmartVault inbox. Then, in QuickBooks you can open the appropriate transaction and attach the document from the inbox. Or, you can log in to SmartVault and move the document to the appropriate vault.
See my review of SmartVault with QuickBooks.
Bill.com is a widely used cash flow management program that works with QuickBooks, so integration with that is another huge plus for Tallie. I didn’t have an opportunity to test that integration this time.
Integration between “best of breed” applications is an important consideration when you are choosing products to incorporate into your business. Tallie does a good job.
There Are Problems, Though
Tallie is a relatively new product so I’m not surprised to find that there are some things that don’t work as smoothly as I would like. SpringAhead is aggressively working to resolve problems as they are discovered.
Note also that some of these issues are sometimes hard to duplicate – and they might have to do with my particular installation. I’m working on some of these with their excellent support team
I see problems with:
- QuickBooks list management.
- Saving Changes to QuickBooks too soon.
- Obscure Error Messaging
QuickBooks List Management
I’m concerned with some of the details of how Tallie coordinates the various lists with QuickBooks. Sometimes I can make changes in a record on Tallie’s side of things, and these get pushed out to QuickBooks – but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Also, some of the changes that get pushed out can create some major problems.
Let’s think about this – what is the level of control that you want to give to the Tallie admin user? Sure, this person is going to have major control over all of the expense management, but does this mean that they should have complete control over the QuickBooks Chart of Accounts and Item list? I don’t think that this will always be the case.
Tallie lets the admin user add records to all of the lists that are synchronized. Also, Tallie lets you edit those list records, and usually it pushes the changes back to QuickBooks. This is where I’m struggling to pin down details – SOME changes are pushed back to QuickBooks but some aren’t. It isn’t always clear what changes made on the Tallie side of things get pushed back into QuickBooks. There are things that you should NOT be able to change in QuickBooks from the Tallie side, like account or item “type”. I don’t like the degree of control that the Tallie admin has. This person should not be able to make these kinds of changes to the QuickBooks Chart of Accounts and Item List.
On the other hand, according to the folks at Tallie there are customers who WANT the ability to do this from the Tallie side. I believe that this may be mainly to limit the lists on the Tallie side of things, not to affect the QuickBooks side of things. I would like to see Tallie changed so that you can make changes in the Tallie record without that going back to QuickBooks, at least in some cases.
There is one particular change that Tallie allows that I think is a major flaw. In the Tallie list records there is an Active field. I was looking at the account list and thinking that I didn’t really need to have all these accounts listed in Tallie, so I though that I could change this setting to just hide the account from Tallie:
I was distressed to see that this syncs with QuickBooks to mark the account as being inactive there also. It shouldn’t do this – my expense admin user shouldn’t have the ability to affect the QuickBooks chart of accounts this way. This occurs with all lists as far as I can see. You can hide records that have balances, and that can create major problems with many reports in QuickBooks.
Saving Changes to QuickBooks Too Soon
Another little issue to point out. If I edit the Account record in Tallie, there are two buttons at the bottom of the screen: Save and Exit and Cancel. My expectation is that Tallie will sync these changes back to QuickBooks if I click Save and Exit. However, if I make a change like changing the Active setting, that change is synchronized with QuickBooks immediately. I don’t have to click Save and Exit. In fact, if I click Cancel the record is still marked as inactive in QuickBooks. Not good!
Obscure Error Messaging
There are several places in the program where I’m not happy with how Tallie deals with error messaging. The messages are too hidden. I’ll give you one example.
Sometimes the synchronization with QuickBooks runs into a problem. Some of your information might not be set up the way that QuickBooks wants, and your transaction might not be able to post. That is the beauty of the QuickBooks SDK programming interface – you can’t do something programmatically that the QuickBooks user interface won’t allow. If there is a problem with synchronization, an error notification pops up.
You’ll see an error icon next to the report, and there is a popup message when I hold the cursor over that icon. But what exactly went wrong, what should I fix?
I wasn’t sure what to do at first. Clicking on the warning icon didn’t do anything. So, I click on View. This gets me closer, but it is still obscure.
The top error tells me there is SOME sort of problem, but not what. Fortunately, in this case I only have two expenses in the report, so I noticed the little warning icon on one of them, at the bottom. What if I had a hundred expenses here? You would have to scroll through them all to find that error icon.
Holding the mouse over that icon tells me what the problem is.
There really should be some sort of report or summary of errors, so that I can get to this faster and easier.
I’m also running into something they can easily fix if they put their mind to it – the “no disk in drive error” that I talked about earlier this year, which pops up on your QuickBooks desktop computer when you are trying to push expenses from Tallie into QuickBooks. It’s a bug in QuickBooks, but the workaround is simple for a software developer (if you see this problem you can fix it with a registry fix outlined in that article).
At the time I’m writing this, Tallie is available in two formats, “Basic” and “Integrated”: Basic is available at $7 per user per month with no minimum on the number of users. This version will not provide integration with other programs (like QuickBooks, etc.). Integrated is also available at $7 per user per month, but with a minimum of five users.In addition there will be a one-time setup fee for the integrated product that you want to use. QuickBooks integration/setup should cost about $300. Tallie Sales will help you with pricing the options that you need.
Support is free and included in the price.
Update: 9/4/2013: Tallie has changed the pricing structure (you should always review the info in a product’s website as prices change often in this industry). The fee for new users, starting 10/1/2013, will be $9.00 per active user per month, with a monthly minimum of $25.00. If you have users who are not active, who don’t create an expense, you won’t be charged for them (other than your monthly minimum). This is an interesting change – although it seems to get away from the “basic” plan (no minimum number of users) it does let you add more users without worrying about running up your bill, particularly if you have users who only submit expenses occasionally.
I Like It!
Tallie is a young product, and it shows some of the characteristics of something that is relatively new. SpringAhead is an experienced company, so they know what they need to do to bring this to market. Sure, I have some gripes, but these are all issues that should easily be fixable. Most of them relate to issues with QuickBooks integration, which can be complicated. I like how the system works. The workflow is smooth and simple, but you also have a lot of control. For the QuickBooks integration, at this point all I can say is that you want the person who submits the reports to QuickBooks to be someone who is responsible, careful, and who you are OK with having this level of control. The submitter has a lot of control over things going on in QuickBooks. And, I would be very careful with making changes to lists on the Tallie side of things.
On my last cross country air trip I was sitting next to a person who had a laptop out and a wad of receipts. He was laboriously going through each of them and entering the information into Excel on the laptop. It was funny, in a sad way, watching him juggle all of those receipts, trying to keep them organized and not falling on the floor, then binding them with paperclips to keep them together in groups. I already had my receipts entered, since I had scanned them with my iPad right at the time that I incurred the expense. No paperclips or Excel for me!
I believe that if you want people to use your product for everyday chores you have to make the product simple and clean to use. If it is more work to use it than it is to do the task manually (or in Excel), people just won’t use it. Certainly, management gets a lot of pluses out of any application like this, but what if the employees won’t use it? I believe that Tallie is one of those products, one that people will be happy to use as they find that it simplifies the task for them.