Buzz Aldrin’s Expense report: was this the Perfect Trip?
Every traveller, from moon-bound astronaut to the Birmingham-bound Sales Manager, deserves the Perfect Trip
Most of us who travel for business have to file an Expense Report when we get back, and this is often a cumbersome and time-consuming “welcome home” gift that our companies make us go through.
On the Internet this week Buzz Aldrin published expense report number 014501, which was duly paid on August 26th 1969 for the amount of $33.31. The amusing part of this report is the itinerary which includes “Moon” as one of the destinations.
Now, this expense report was probably not the most exciting artefact of that period, which Nixon called “the greatest week in the history of the world since Creation”. But it is still instructive to take a look at it, and see what has changed and what remains the same.
It’s interesting to see that Buzz kept this document for so long, when most of the Apollo paperwork including irreplaceable blueprints and critical mission tapes were recycled over the years. This is because Expense Reports are surprisingly personal, providing a link between the corporation and which starter we had at the hotel restaurant. Anyone who tries to implement an Expense system without understanding the personal nature of travel will fail.
Poor old NASA shows its bureaucratic face with the spectacular 7 level accounting code 039-00-00-00-CA-2031-CB11. This is because back-office accounting can be a little obsessive in making sure that every trip is booked in the “correct” way. Travellers really don’t care, but too often they are unable to process their Expense Reports because some cost centre in some long forgotten chart of accounts is no longer valid.
I see that the trip had to be approved prior to launch (ref X-22002). I love the idea of a NASA accountant “approving” the Apollo 11 mission, arguably the most important “trip” ever made by the human race, by approving this travel authorisation. Nowadays, in our Travel and Expense systems we too often impose additional approval steps which don’t really add any value. Workflows need to reflect reality, not be some vestige a previous manager’s mandate.
The Apollo 11 mission was not without hiccups, but the mission was an unqualified success: with all of the mission objectives achieved. It still inspires schoolchildren, artists, poets and scientists today. In fact, in many ways Expense report no. 014501 was The Perfect Trip.
Every traveller, from the astronaut to the over-tired sales manager on a short overnight trip to Birmingham deserves the Perfect Trip. The Perfect Trip involves the entire travel ecosystem, from planning and booking to travel and expense reimbursement. For modern day travellers, business travel should be entirely personalized – within the context of their corporate travel plan. Business travel should also become completely effortless whether you’re talking about booking a cab or changing a flight or booking a hotel or getting a receipt into an expense report – all of this should be seamless and automatic without you having to do anything.
We are not all going to the moon, some of us are just trying to get back from Detroit, but we all deserve a system that treats us as individuals, doesn’t impose bureaucratic straightjackets or introduce additional barriers to getting the job done. Can you say that of your existing Expense Reimbursement or Travel Booking system?