I recently had the opportunity to join Concur experts as part of an Analytics tour in the UK, with two presentations in in Manchester and London.
As you probably know, SAP acquired Concur, a leading provider of travel and expenses solutions, a little over 18 months ago.
Concur is focused on providing the “Perfect Trip” with alerts and automation providing the most seamless travel experience possible.
I’m a keen user of Concur myself via the TripIt application. I simply forward my email travel notifications (flights, hotels, etc.) and it assembles them into trips and adds relevant information (maps, weather, etc.).
This includes more persona-focused dashboards, better cleansing and normalizing of data, and more proactive analytics with automated triggers and actionable alerts.
Up until now, Concur had focused on providing solutions for two main roles: travel managers and users, but came to realize that when it came to analytics, there were many other profiles that needed access to travel information. And so the company has worked to provide different interfaces and analytic dashboards for department managers, expense managers, finance managers, travel managers, vendor managers, and legal & tax managers.
For each “persona”, the company did research into the problems faced by the role, the insights they might need, and — most importantly — how that insight could be turned into concrete actions.
For example, rather than just sending a report that summarizes prior and future travel compared to budget, department managers should be able to set a trigger when the travel expenses reach, say, 80% of the budget. And since the point is to help managers better manage expenses, not just view them, the analytics system should be able to automatically trigger changes to operational processes. For example, by adding an extra authorization step into the existing travel booking workflow.
As with all analytics, getting the right data is a big part of the problem. To fix this, Concur does a lot of work to connect, clean, and normalize all relevant data elements across the travel booking system, the travel company, data from credit cards, HR information, and the expense system.
This helps organizations spot problems and fraud that might not come to light if you analyzed data from any one of the disparate systems used as part of the travel and expense process.
For example, imagine an employee who doesn’t book travel through the corporate system, who claims fees for extra miles as “excess baggage”, and travels in business class despite only being authorized to travel in economy.
- Looking at the travel booking system, you might think the employee doesn’t travel at all;
- Looking at the credit card data, you might think that she just travels with a lot of baggage;
- Looking at the claim system you might not realized that the employee was traveling in business without being authorized.
Having all this data cleanly integrated makes it much easier to see that the employee is in fact carrying out deliberate, systematic fraud.
These types of insight are more powerful if all employee travel is covered. As a frequent traveler myself, I know that I sometimes have to resort to booking trips directly because it was not an available option in the standard corporate system. So I was particularly interested by Concur’s TripLink solution that enables organizations to capture and analyze even the reservations that employees book directly with external providers.
In addition, Concur offers customers, for a one-off setup fee, the ability to extract travel and expense information to an organization’s data warehouse for an even more seamless organizational view.
Looking to the future
Concur is continuing to expand its existing business intelligence solutions, for example with the addition of more language coverage over the coming quarters. But in parallel, the company is working on the next generation of its analytics solutions that will be based on the SAP HANA cloud platform.
In particular, this will address the need for better real-time access to travel information. Much of the data used for Concur analytics today is uploaded through nightly batch jobs. The means that the information is at least a day old, and this is increasingly out of step with the need for Live Business processes.
For example, Brian Tarble gave the example of a deeply-indebted employee who used her corporate card for a personal spending spree just before leaving a company. Because of the lags in the system, the company didn’t find out until several weeks after the employee had left. Had the information been available for analysis sooner, the company could have retained the expenses from the final pay check, rather than expend time and energy trying to claim it back.
Using the SAP HANA cloud platform will also expand analysis possibilities with integrated spatial, text analytics, and predictive features, and make it easier for real-time integration with other corporate and big data systems.
SAP travel analytics examples
For my presentation, I gave examples of how analytics is changing the world, and SAP has helped other organizations analyze and optimize different aspect of travel (Manchester) and the finance function (London).
In particular, I talked about the opportunities for greater use of predictive analytics in the future — for example, we can now start to use algorithms to automatically find and define “unusual” behavior.
Examples of existing solutions in this area include SAP Fraud Management. It covers compliance and fraud analysis in many different types of processes and transaction, including travel and expenses. For example you can use advanced functionality such as social network analysis to spot sophisticated insurance claim fraud patterns, even when each individual claim does not set off any alarm bells.
Jacqui Carey explained the advantages of the Concur Invoice Management solutions that allow organizations to manage other types of expenses in addition to travel. She gave the example of a large sales kickoff meeting where organizers had offered only basic coffee as an effort to keep costs down — but only later realized that the expensed Starbucks bills would have more than covered the extra cost.
Many thanks to Carlo di Caprio, Rachel Burgess, Petr Seidner, and Ranie Georgiou for organizing the events and inviting me to present — and if you would like to know more about Concur’s analytics solutions, check out the next Concur Fusion Exchange event near you.
A reminder that for business people, analytics and operations are the same thing, and should be seamlessly integrated
I typically present to audiences with many different roles and from a wide variety of industries. Joining the Concur Analytics tour was a refreshing change, with the ability to drill into the analytics needs of a much more defined business area.
In particular, it highlighted for me the importance of tight links between “analytics” and “operations” that are too often thought of as separate disciplines.
The reality is that for most managers, these activities are just two sides of a seamless business process. They don’t want self-service analysis tools that are separate and incompatible with their business processes — they want to be able to access the information they need automatically as part of a seamless flow.
Indeed, ideally they don’t want to have to do much “analysis” at all — they want systems with the intelligence to understand what is happening and automatically take proactive steps to prevent bad things from happening in the first place.
The future is in embedded analytics as part of seamless business workflows in addition to self-service tools — and thanks to new cloud solutions like Concur, SAP is maintaining its fight against non-integrated, standalone analytic silos.