Industry Update
Supplier News22 June 2021

Dynamic Spend Management Practices in Higher Education: Three Considerations for Returning to Travel This Fall

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SAP Concur

The COVID-19 pandemic caused global disruption to daily operations at colleges and universities. In response to the seemingly overnight switch to a virtual environment, the financial accommodation for testing and personal protective equipment, and the need to address declining enrollment, higher education leaders have been forced to be more strategic with their expenditures. While travel and expense planning may seem like an element that can easily be reduced to save dollars, it is important for higher education leaders to take into consideration how travel and expense programs factor into their institutional mission and goals.

As we cautiously return to travel, there are a number of considerations in determining how to do so safely and transparently for staff, faculty and students. The halt caused by the global pandemic gave higher education finance leaders room to pause and evaluate their travel programs, emerging with updated policies and procedures that were relevant to the current travel and expense needs. Over the past year or so, higher education procurement and finance leaders were forced to consolidate the rollout of many change management processes, such as spend management updates. These improvements shortened the time required to go live on new technology, and institutions immediately saw the benefits surrounding transparency, adoption, and cost management.

Figuring out how to return to travel may seem like a daunting task for many institutions, but there is a silver lining: travel departments now have had the chance to adapt their communications, policies and standard operating procedures for travel and entertainment before students and faculty returned to campus. Moving forward, this allows leaders to increase engagement and utilization of their systems while also creating more transparency around effective management of operational costs. With these things in mind, the top three ways to prepare your university or college campuses to begin traveling again are:

1. Increase visibility of travel requests and needs

With institutions ramping up operations again, leaders are taking a hard look at travel and expense planning to determine which trips are not worth the risk—and which ones are. Some travel and expense programs, like research or study abroad, correlate directly to a university’s mission. Therefore, campus leaders are left to determine how to safely allow travel to continue to further the progression of research goals or recruiting operations. As institutions are reducing their travel programs, they are at the same time seeing a shift in the employee’s travel needs, as the industry slowly recovers from the pandemic.

With institutions ramping up operations again, leaders are taking a hard look at travel and expense planning to determine which trips are worth the risk—and which ones are not. To compensate for areas that were hit directly by the pandemic, colleges and universities are looking for ways to minimize spend on travel and expense programs. However, some T&E programs, like research or study abroad, correlate directly to a university’s mission. Therefore, campus leaders are left to determine how to safely allow travel to continue to further the progression of research goals or recruiting operations while still recouping lost funds.

According to the 2021 Global Business Traveler Report, sponsored by the SAP Concur organization, which polled 3,850 business travelers and 700 travel managers across global markets, 96% of respondents say they are willing to travel for business over the next 12 months. However, 52% of travelers say they expect their employers to provide them with the ability to choose direct flights and 41% of respondents say they want the ability to stay in four- to five-star hotels during their business travel. By implementing new pre-trip authorization processes and expense policies, college and university leaders have more visibility from a regulatory requirements perspective. Seeing the associated costs upfront allows leadership to make strategic decisions in support of their travelers while ensuring the institution is spending its funds strategically.

2. Update policy planning and program deployment

The key to traveling post-COVID is to do so safely. Returning to travel means colleges and universities are faced with new challenges and will need to adopt fresh policies that pertain to the issues today and what they may face in the future. By updating policies to be broader and incorporating more specific and flexible standard operating procedures (SOPs), institutions can accommodate post-COVID travel and expenses and remain agile for a future state with whatever restrictions or federal guidelines that may be put in place. For example, updated policy language can drive the adoption of a university’s travel programs. Colleges and universities will benefit from making sure employees understand that preferred booking solutions, vendors and program-specific guidelines have been put in place to keep employees safe. Also, using a university’s services ensures there is visibility into the traveler’s location in the event the traveler becomes in need of support.

3. Plan for the Future

The only constant thing in travel and expense planning is change. From technological advancements and new modes of transportation to unpredictable world events, travel and expense planning requires swift action on the part of leadership. By understanding what an institution’s ideal future of travel looks like and how these disruptors may affect the institution, leadership can build contingency plans to serve these strategic goals going forward. Instead of waiting until travel picks up again, colleges and universities can start incorporating scalable policies and procedures and begin deploying innovative technologies across departments right. These practices can prepare the institution with resilient programs before becoming immersed in the new fall term. Streamlining the rollout to include both implementation and deployment allows institutions to dedicate time to offering detailed training when travel needs come up. Creating this environment of collaboration between departments and allowing employees to dive into new technology collaboratively ensures continuity once travel resumes full force. The future may not be certain, but leadership can begin identifying what will best suit their institution going forward and work back from there to achieve those goals.

A successful return to travel

The goal with travel and expense planning is just that—planning. For colleges and universities that are looking to reconfigure their travel and expense businesses, it is critical to take measured steps to build in processes that can adapt to both today and tomorrow. Higher education leaders must be proactive in guiding their institutions through the continuous sea of change that is post-COVID travel. Travel and expense management is an instrumental part of a future-focused strategic plan as leaders evaluate how they begin to rebound from the pandemic. By prioritizing travel and capitalizing on the opportunities it presents, universities and colleges can position themselves for success for years to come.

There are a lot of people who may still believe that artificial intelligence (AI) is something that belongs in the future. Thankfully, we’re not quite at the point where robots are planning to take over the world, but there are many ways AI can help the smooth running of your business and make a positive impact right now.

As we soar through 2021, it’s more important than ever for your business to be fully operational from anywhere. One area where costly mishaps can occur, if you aren’t streamlined and automated, is within your AP process. It’s crucial to get this right in order to keep your business running efficiently and save money in the process.

Use AI to Streamline Your Invoice Process

With a manual AP process, invoices are handled by multiple people within an organisation before they finally reach the finance team for payment. Not only can this slow things down, but it can lead to invoices slipping through the cracks, causing a major headache for your AP team and potentially costly problems when month end rolls around.

With the average cost to manually process a single supplier invoice sitting at £9, it’s imperative to find ways to streamline this costly process. AI can achieve this by capturing and uploading invoices to your spend management platform automatically, whether they are on paper or electronic. It can then provide you with a dashboard showing a clear view of your AP function in one place. This easy-to-use solution gives you greater visibility over which invoices need to be paid, when they need to be paid by and who the money needs to go to, as well as more detailed line items that may be useful.

Have Peace-of-Mind at Every Stage with Automated Processing

Collecting invoices, especially paper ones, throughout the last 15 months has proven difficult for some companies; with tales of high-level execs acting as a post person and personally hand delivering invoices to AP teams being common place. So it’s no surprise that broken lines of communication between teams has meant that fraudulent activity is at an all-time high.

Michael Benn, an SAP Concur AP Specialist explained in his webinar, How to Automate Capture, Process & Pay a scary stat we’ve seen recently is that the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) estimated the average business loses 5% of top line revenue to fraud. Imagine how much money your marketing or sales team would have to spend to generate an extra 5% of revenue this year.”

By using AI to automate your invoice process, you don’t have to worry about human error when manually inputting data points. Solutions like Concur Invoice feed the invoice data into all the correct fields and flag up any potential issues or errors for closer inspection. Businesses using this solution have reported seeing an 18% increase in policy compliance.

Save Your Business Valuable Time

Spending time wisely and making sure your employees are happy is at the top of most business agendas. But without automating your invoice process, your AP team are still inputting important data manually. With the average supplier invoice having around 70 data points that need to be captured, if you roll this across the average 500 invoices received per month, we’re talking 35,000 data points that someone in AP is currently having to manually enter or validate.

Even before the challenges of hybrid working, approval processes for invoices could take longer than expected. From chasing for approvals to desk dropping for signatures, there are many factors that can hold things up which don’t look set to improve as we move through 2021. However, with the use of AI, your AP approver will automatically be alerted to which invoices still need approval regardless of where they are. And if using the Concur mobile app can be approved at the touch of a button on the go. On top of this, if your business is already using Concur Expense, no retraining will be needed as the process is the same as when submitting and approving expenses.

AI Gives You the Confidence to Scale

Whether you’re planning to grow in the future, or you’ve seen your business boom over the past year, it’s important to make sure your company can keep up with the workload and manage what’s being spent. Making sure that your workforce doesn’t feel too much added pressure can be difficult when your business is doing really well, but by using AI, you can let them enjoy your business’ success.

With 38% of SMBs believing they will go out of business if they don’t adapt to new technologies, it’s important to find a solution that will be there for the long run.

Whether you are processing 50 invoices one month and 1000 the next, there is no limit to the number of invoices the solution can process per month. Not only does this mean you can grow without fears of employee burnout, but you can make plans for the future without having to worry about how the workload will be handled.

Find Out How AI Can Transform Your Business

With most businesses embracing technology to help simplify workflow processes, it’s time to see how AI can give you the ability to scale and adopt hybrid working models to improve employee satisfaction – companies using Concur Invoice saw an improvement of 46% in overall staff productivity.

AI is becoming commonplace and helping more functions across the business perform more efficiently. If you want to find out more about how AI can enhance your processes, take a look at our latest report How AI and ML Automation Solutions Solve Business Problems.

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About Concur

Concur, an SAP company, imagines the way the world should work, offering cloud-based services that make it simple to manage travel and expenses. By connecting data, applications and people, Concur delivers an effortless experience and total transparency into spending wherever and whenever it happens. Concur services adapt to individual employee preferences and scale to meet the needs of companies from small to large, so they can focus on what matters most for their businesses. Learn more at www.concur.com or the Concur Newsroom.

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