Tech CEO: SAP Concur – “You can’t control what you can’t see”

Tech CEO: SAP Concur - "You can't control what you can't see"

SAP Concur's VP of Commercial Strategy, Steve Roberts talks to Accountancy Age about how to make the switch to digital a success.

Tech CEO: SAP Concur – “You can’t control what you can’t see”

How does SAP Concur’s services help small businesses deal with their accounts?

When your small business uses manual, paper-based finance processes, all the information you need is there, but it can be hard to find in a timely manner. This makes it difficult to keep track of cashflow – and even more difficult to improve it.

Automating these processes with solutions such as Concur Expense and Concur Invoice ensures that everything you need to know about your travel, expense and invoice costs automatically flows into one system. This makes it easier to manage, analyse and figure out how to improve business cashflow.

How easy is it to encourage everyone within your ecosystem to make the switch to digital when it comes to payroll, expenses and invoices?

It comes down to showing people how they themselves will benefit from its implementation.

We recently hosted a webinar in which professionals shared their experience of implementing SAP Concur within a small business, and interestingly, the main focus was on people rather than on the system itself.

One of the panellists told us, for example, that not only has implementing Concur Invoice saved his business substantial amounts by freeing up its employees to work remotely thanks to its mobile functionality, but those employees reported being happier and more engaged with the business as a result.

Another advised that SAP Concur represented an opportunity for people to revisit and replace inefficient processes, and improve and streamline the way things work. Indeed, our own research shows the difference implementing an automated expense, travel and invoice solution can make, with businesses freeing up 500 hours a year per finance employee, and saving an average of £47,000 a year.

Successfully implementing automation requires you to demonstrate how it is fundamentally a facilitator. People aren’t as interested in the functionality of the technology, so much as the real benefits to the individual it can provide. Embrace it, and not only will it transform your processes, but it will transform your people too.

For small businesses, is digitisation simply too expensive and risky?

Many businesses say a lack of in-house IT expertise is putting them off from implementing digitisation. Quite honestly though, when you consider the potential rewards, it’s too expensive not to make the change.

Overall, 65% of companies have reported faster processing and reimbursement times as the result of automation around travel and expenses. For example: 62% reported time savings and greater employee satisfaction, and two in five have seen cost savings.

A lack of expertise shouldn’t hold businesses back from enjoying benefits such as these though. Technology vendors that have the right approach understand that the technical expertise needed to make the most of their product might not be automatically there. So, there is careful consultation at the implementation phase, then training and ongoing support which need to be offered too; you can’t simply sell the technology and move on, it needs to work more as a partnership.

What’s the biggest cost of using legacy systems in financial reporting?

It’s the cost of time wasted, the cost of errors and fraud, the cost of not being compliant. For example, industry research suggests administrative tasks such as processing invoices cost SMBs an average 120 days and roughly £41,000 a year.

A lack of visibility can be costly too. As the saying goes, you can’t control what you can’t see. Without complete visibility over your cashflow, it will be impossible to manage effectively. Indeed, the typical SMB will spend an average 16 days each year just chasing overdue payments.

What are the top three challenges your clients are facing this year?

As a business takes off and grows, they often find themselves wrapped up in an ever-increasingly complex set of legacy systems and iterant updates, which means that financial visibility is difficult to achieve. That’s a real challenge for many of our clients.

Secondly is an education piece – getting other stakeholders within a business to both commit to AI and machine learning technology and the subsequent updating of established financial processes. That is then compounded by ensuring that staff understand and use the systems to get maximum value from them. It’s an area where, again, ensuring that the training and support structures are in place to help the business.

Finally, the elephant in the room is certainly the economic uncertainty that Brexit brings. Many businesses – especially those working in complex, international supply chains are rightly concerned about what the future may bring and the impact this could have. Some businesses have turned to the idea of a ‘cushion’ of cash, where they are not reinvesting any profits for now, but many don’t have that luxury and need to be able to get that real-time scan of their financial health to aid planning and security.

How will small businesses deal with their accounting and wider finance functions in 10 years’ time?

It seems a clear bet that AI and machine learning will play an increasingly significant role, automating many of the more mundane tasks employees currently have to perform, and leaving them free to concentrate on more valuable work. Data entry, for example, is dull, time-consuming, and utterly unimaginative. It makes sense to let a machine do it; they don’t get tired or bored, which means they’re far less likely to make mistakes. That then frees up your financial experts to work strategically and work on the bigger picture.

And, as the technology evolves, we’re seeing data analyse itself – automation is moving to a position when it is almost a prerequisite, and businesses need to be advancing past this. When machine learning manages data in conjunction with the finance team, it aids the monitoring of trends and improves compliance, forecasting, and budgeting instantly and automatically.

Expense reports will write themselves too. It’s already possible to snap a photo of a receipt and upload it into an expense report – all via your mobile phone. But as machine learning advances, it will be able to evaluate, track, submit and manage every digit of expense data with ever-increasing accuracy.

Rather than replacing human finance operatives, AI and machine learning will enable them to carry out more fulfilling work, while saving businesses money by reducing the labour costs associated with more repetitive tasks.

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