Can expenses kick-start Digital Transformation?

When private equity firms in the US complete an acquisition, one of the first things they often do is roll out Concur to handle travel and expenses (T&E). Why focus on such a small part of the business? The answer also applies to another equally high-stakes area of management: digital transformation.

At Concur, we work with a range of technology consulting firms to help them engineer successful digital transformations in their customer organisations. I’ve even heard us referred to as the “McKinsey of travel” at one conference! We’ve discovered that T&E often offers the easiest entry point for enterprise-wide change – whether it’s digitisation or, in the case of private equity acquisitions, taking control of cash-flow and expenditure across the entire business.

There are a few reasons for this. First, everyone uses T&E. All employees, from the most junior staff right up to the C-suite, file their expenses and claims through the same system. If you make a change to T&E processes – such as adopting a mobile-based system or digitising receipt capture – you can be sure that the entire organisation will see and experience it.

Second, the T&E experience deeply affects all its users. The time it takes to file an expense, the ease of submitting and approving claims, the visibility of historical records – all these things can make or break an employee’s productivity. If you’ve ever spent hours compiling expenses from a recent work trip, you’ll know what I mean. A successful digitisation of T&E processes can convince the entire organisation of digital transformation’s value, far more powerfully than any presentation or business case can do.

Finally, digitising T&E takes relatively little time and investment.

Rolling out a system like Concur can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks for smaller organisations, to a few months for multinational corporations. The scope of a T&E implementation is simpler when compared to the many complexities faced when transforming larger, bulkier systems like ERPs, which can drag on for the months or years to successfully install. T&E automation doesn’t just show off what digital transformation can do – it does so with little delay.

The flip side of this is that an unsuccessful digitisation of T&E can turn employees off digital transformation for good, something no business leader will want to do. Here are the three things that all employees should ideally experience with a digitised T&E process:

·     Simplicity: Submitting claims and expenses should be a seamless, automated process, whether you’re dealing with paper receipts or digital records.

·     Accessibility: Employees should be able to manage their expenses anytime, anywhere, taking advantage of the mobile devices that they’re already used to without compromising functionality or security.

·     Speed: Submissions, claims, and approvals shouldn’t take more than a few minutes at the very most, while reimbursements should only take a few days in most cases.

Digital transformation can be a mammoth task, and many business leaders understandably aren’t sure where to begin. So start with T&E. Successfully digitising expense claims can build support for digital transformation like nothing else. Just be sure that your platform is as seamless, accessible, and fast as possible before its release.

Sandeep Krishnamani is Head of Partnerships – SE Asia at Concur based in Singapore.