Financial Systems

Concur & Expense Management Systems: From the Implementation Trenches

At 8020 Consulting, we’ve worked with a variety of companies that want more visibility and greater control of their expenses. Those companies might start with obvious questions:

  • How much are we really spending on office supplies or dinners?
  • How much do our employee recognition programs cost?
  • How much are we spending on hotels in specific locales or on business class airfare?

But soon, decision makers add another dimension:

  • How can increased visibility help us make better business decisions?
  • How can we increase the efficacy of every dollar spent?
  • How can we ensure compliance with the company’s policies?
  • Where we are in actual spend vs. budget?
  • Can we have the decision-making data right now instead of months later?

Today’s expense management systems like Concur have made the answers to these questions easily attainable. Companies that leverage these systems can get pre-approved expenses and create clear audit trails. They can audit 100% of expenses as well as gain the visibility they need to improve their business operations.

Benefits of Concur and Other Expense Management Systems

Regardless of whether your company is a $32B entertainment company, a $3B manufacturing company or a $700M real estate company, it can benefit from the increased visibility and greater expense control that Concur provides.

For example, I worked with a company that had an archaic expense management system. Its reporting was so difficult to navigate it was essentially useless. Additionally, all expenses were approved and reimbursed automatically. Once Concur was implemented, Concur’s expense reporting made it easy to see who abused the system, who claimed reimbursements for business class fares even though the policy didn’t allow for it, who shopped on Amazon, and who claimed reimbursements for such out-of-policy things as movies. Of course, all these expenses were subsequently denied reimbursement.

In the first three months after Concur went live, the company’s spend went down by half. Later, Concur empowered change in the company’s culture, too. Everybody learned the expense process, and they understood it didn’t involve preferential treatment. Everybody’s expenses were pre-approved and approved equally according to the policy. That increased morale, and it also decreased time spent on expense filing as well as answering questions from both the management and the auditors.

Benefits You Might Not Have Considered

More than just providing more visibility, Concur helps companies to be proactive – instead of reactive – about expenses. By implementing Concur Request, companies can require employees to obtain pre-approval for each future expense. Expense pre-approval requests are then submitted to the approver(s). (This process is customizable to have one or more levels of approval.) Then, when the employee files an expense report for reimbursement, this pre-approval is attached to show that the company agreed to pay the expense before it was incurred.

Concur also allows for partnering with a Travel Management Company (TMC), so that pre-approval and booking of trips can be done in the same system as the expense reimbursement.

Moreover, as the company acquires hard data for its travel spend and usage, it can later negotiate discounts with hotel chains, airlines, and even retailers such as Amazon.

Having pre-approval and approval audit trails in one system also saves the company time and money, as the system can track the entire process from when the employees file for expenses to when supervisors approve/deny the expenses, and finally, to when auditors audit those expenses. (As a side note, Concur has an awesome report that shows which approvers approve automatically and which approvers actually review receipts and expense line items. This allows for increased responsibility for spend within the company.)

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Additionally, Concur’s platform is constantly innovating and bringing cutting edge solutions to Concur clients. Concur’s newest extended service is Concur Detect. Detect checks 100% of an organization’s expense reports before reimbursement happens using artificial intelligence. This AI audit can alert the company when a spend occurs in a questionable establishment or when a spend occurs with a politically questionable person.

So, with foresight and careful implementation, companies can build customized expense management systems that not only lead to greater efficiency and visibility, but also reflect the way they want to do business.

Best Practices for Implementation

Based on my own experience with Concur implementation projects, I think it’s important to note a few best practices:

  • The initial collection of business requirements is of the utmost importance. Though this might seem like a simple step, it’s critical to a successful implementation. Requirements must be clearly defined and agreed upon before implementation begins. In addition, requirements will most likely be augmented during the implementation, and thus a change management process must be outlined from the beginning and followed throughout. Many companies have great initial requirements but don’t end up implementing the system at all or implement the system late and over budget due to poor change management.
  • Communication, collaboration, and expectations must be managed throughout the implementation process. Once the business requirements are established, it becomes a matter of communication and follow-up. How do the requirements turn into logical processes within Concur? Are the TMC and Concur implementation team members on the same page? As with any successful implementation project, managing expectations and change will be a big portion of the work, and communication will ensure the project is implemented within the timeline. (For more insight into systems implementations, check out our blog on data best practices when switching to NetSuite.)
  • An expert in Concur implementation is a valuable ally. An experienced professional in Concur implementation brings a wealth of knowledge to the project.
  • They can recommend which modules are needed depending on the business needs. Is it only Expense? Is it Expense and Request? Is it Expense and Request and Travel? Would it make sense to implement Invoice, too?
  • They can identify which additional services would be beneficial for the company. For example, would Consultative Intelligence make sense? Or does the company have a strong IT department that can take on the development of custom reporting on its own? Would Service Administration make sense? Or does the company’s business model not require it?
  • They know what to watch out for during Travel module implementation. An expert will know how to select the TMC depending on the size of the company. They’ll also know what questions to ask of Concur and the TMC. (For example, “Are you double charging me for Direct Connect?”)
  • They can diagnose whether the development of custom extract(s) is needed. Extract is how Concur connects to the financial system of record, such as JDE/SAP/SAGE/Hyperion, etc. Depending on your system of record and setup, you may be able to use Concur’s standard extract. Or you might be able to use a custom report for this purpose. However, if you need to develop a custom extract to connect Concur to your system of record, the expert will know how to go about the development to ensure the most efficient timeline for the work.
  • They know how to connect corporate credit cards. This step ensures real-time, accurate expense accruals are feasible and card spend is controlled.
  • They’re experienced in communicating across teams. A Concur implementation involves team members from Concur, the TMC, credit card providers, and internal stakeholder teams. An expert can help ensure transparency, cooperation and collaboration, which is essential for a timely roll-out.
  • They understand pilot testing. The specifics of a pilot test will depend on your company’s specific circumstances. An expert will know how long to take, what users to select, and which scenarios to test.
  • They’ve managed multiple roll-outs. For any implementation project, training the end users is of a high importance. While Concur is intuitive and easy to use as a system, the users will have questions regarding the specifics. For example, “Why can’t I find the hotel I’m used to staying at in Concur’s selection?” The answer might be that it’s out of policy. “Who are my approvers?” requires a simple navigation explanation. A good implementation expert will provide a training document with answers to the most common, and not so common questions, and will be available to answer additional questions.

In short, knowing the capabilities of the platform and the practical realities of implementation shortens the project’s overall timeline and increases user satisfaction. Technically, Concur can be implemented within six to eight weeks. However, many companies spend months implementing because of lack of expertise, changing requirements, and recreating the wheel.

Getting an Expert to Help

Unless you have an in-house specialist, hiring an expense management system expert is a necessary step for any efficient Concur implementation. An expert will ensure that the project is defined and the requirements are documented at the onset, and they can coordinate stakeholders throughout the implementation process.

Additionally, from a longer-term operational perspective, a Concur expert will also ensure reporting answers the important business questions of stakeholders now and in the longer term. Their understanding of the platform’s flexibility means you’ll be able to clearly see and address today’s expense issues, while moving toward your organization’s strategic objectives. They’ll think beyond the immediate future and help you build the platform for your company’s future.

To learn more about 8020 Consulting’s expertise in expense management systems or other financial systems, click here to visit our financial systems service page.

You can also keep up with us by subscribing to our blog for email notifications whenever we post new content. It’s a great way to stay updated on best practices and trends in the finance and accounting field.

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About the Author

8020 Consultant Ellen Vayner has over 20 years of experience in management consulting and project management. She has worked with several multi-national and cross-functional teams to achieve a variety of results, including several financial systems implementations, among them Concur; an international manufacturing facility move; the establishment of an invoice-to-cash process; and the creation of a new reporting package for an executive office. She has worked with clients in entertainment, manufacturing, oil and gas, biotechnology, banking, consumer products and real estate, and her specialties include corporate strategy assessment and development, corporate finance, business case development, and project management. She holds an MBA in Finance and International Business from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, attended London School of Economics as well as took courses at universities in the Soviet Union, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. She also holds a Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute.

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