Sunday, April 1, 2001

Managing expenses with Palm and Notes


By Mick Moignard

Filling in expense forms is a pain. Even if you use a spreadsheet to fill in the forms, it's still a pain. You have to try to remember what all those receipts jammed in your wallet were for, find the notes you made of all the mileage that you've traveled, and then write up a claim form from it all. And if you have to do it in multiple currencies, as well, it just gets too hard. Fortunately, I managed to crack this whole problem using a Palm IIIc, the Pylon Conduit, and some Notes development. In this article, I'm going to show you how you can do it too. While this Programming Power article is ideal for Notes and Domino users, it'll provide insights into development techniques for all you techies out there.

All I do now is make a quick entry on my Palm device when I incur an expense and keep the receipt. I HotSync my Palm device and then create a regular Unipart (my employer) company expense form in Notes. It takes just a few clicks before it's ready to sign. I then attach the receipts and submit. And it's always right the first time. Since I developed this application, I have submitted over 15,000 UK pounds (maybe $25,000) of expenses with it over about 16 months, and I haven't had one single claim rejected.

So how does it work?

The starting point is the standard Palm Expense application. You can use this to enter expense items, as shown in Figure A, right at the point where they happen.


The Palm Expense application records your expense items.

By tapping on Details, you're taken to the Receipt Details screen, pictured in Figure B, where you can add more information regarding each Expense.


On the Receipt Details screen, you can add more information.

The only thing I do differently is that I use the Vendor field to write a word or two of description if I feel I need to. As you will see later, this is entirely optional.

You should then HotSync your Palm device with your computer (I HotSync with my ThinkPad) using Pylon Conduit from what used to be Globalware. That company is now part of Avantgo, and you can find Pylon Conduit at You don't need the whole PylonPro product, the standard Pylon Conduit will do.

You should then configure Pylon, as shown in Figure C, to synchronize expenses with a separate Notes database, rather than with your mail.


Here's the Pylon configuration for Expenses in my personal address book. (click for larger image)

Pylon creates and synchronizes one Notes document in this database for each entry on your Palm device. When you're ready to make a claim, you just go into the Notes database, select the items you want, recalculate them to work out mileage and currency conversions, and then make a claim from them, as shown in Figure D.