Solutions from Concur integrate the T&E process to give managers visibility, compliance and control over expenses- An interview with our MD, Neeraj

With business processes becoming more human centric in their ways to deal transactions, it has become crucial for entities to invest in corporate travel – a key operational business activity for Indian enterprises as they visit clients, suppliers and investors and pursue the ongoing aim of building their business both domestically and internationally. However, a recent study done by the CFO Innovations Asia reveals that as large as 74% organisations have more than 21 people that travel on business purpose on a regular basis leading to a need for greater visibility and control over the travel and expenses process.

Indian enterprises are at a tipping point of technology adoption in terms of managing their Travel and Expenses [T&E] expenditure. Organisations deploying automatic T&E processes, have an in-house platform and are not linked to any cloud-based architecture. The present system for Travel and Expense function cites difficulties in obtaining more granular information on individual employee patterns of usage and compliance, and a lack of flexibility in obtaining best pricing for hotels, car rental and airline costs.

Compliance and showcasing information ready for the audit process happens to be other relevant challenges that this industry needs to overcome at the earliest. With successful cloud adoption, systems and processes for the travel business in organisation will see a streamline of operations, resulting in a greater compliance, visibility and control to deliver better data management to senior managers, and also into improving the audit process. This is where Concur, a SaaS company providing travel and expense management services to businesses is creating a dent in the T&E space. Neeraj Dotel, Managing Director, India and SAARC Concur spoke to , around the current challenges that is faced by the Travel and Expense industry in the market and how cloud adoption can act as a transforming wave in the T&E sector. So let’s get started with the Q&A…

Note : ‘I’ in the interview refers to Neeraj Dotel.

Can you give a brief introduction about yourself and some insights into Concur India

Am currently working as the Managing Director for Concur Technologies for its India and SAARC operations. Prior to Concur, I have worked with Compuware as their MD for a period of 3 years and earlier before that, I was associated with Microsoft in different roles for almost 11 years.

With more than 21 years’ experience in sales and marketing overall, my expertise also lies in financial services and technological transformations in the banking sector.  In my current role, I have been helping Concur diversify its business in India.

Concur, n SAP company, is a global leader in travel and expense management and is in its fifth year of operations in India. Our founder is of Indian origin and along with Mike Eberhard our President, we are very passionate about our focus in the country. We are continuously increasing our presence in India with stronger investments and in roads.

We have setup the Bengaluru delivery centre with over a thousand employees working there. India is an evolving market for the travel and expense segment and one of the top 20 markets for business travel globally. The estimated expenditure last year on business travel alone was $33 bn and expected to grow at double digit rates. Eyeing this opportunity, we have been planning several investments around business travel through booking websites, with the recent one being an equity investment in Cleartrip.

Concur has helped companies to recover Input Tax Credit taking companies of all sizes and stages beyond automation to a completely connected spend management solution encompassing travel, expense, invoice, compliance and risk. In India, post GST implementation, Indian companies have become very sensitive towards their employees and clients. Customer experience and bottom of the pyramid is the most crucial element here. Indian enterprises are looking out for methods to reduce investments and operational costs, at the same time provide a superlative employee experience. We tend to leverage this, and provide them with tools that cater to the aspirational needs of their employees and ensure business growth in the process.

Even in large MNC’s in India, the Business Travel & Expense Management is not yet automated [i.e. still there is lot of paper work involved], how can Concur help such organizations so that they can take the Digital leap in the T&E process ?

Digital transformation is not just a process but a philosophy of business. It is a drive to make a complete paperless economy. It impacts a CFO’s job in terms of expense visibility, employee productivity and policy compliance. About 98% of business travellers in India feel that it is painful to not only deal with the stress of travel but also with the stress of claiming expenses.

We at Concur believe that digital transformation of an organization should be such that it is easy and intuitive to use and the people using it should be able to reap its benefits. We provide these CFOs with advanced solutions that automatically synchronise their financial data of the entire spend process. The automation of these processes enhances the experience of business travel, reduces time, and increases transparency and visibility. Our intention is to become the most preferred application for business travel and expense management. We abide by the philosophy that you cannot save what you cannot see, and try to deliver on the same lines.

Can you touch upon the current scenario of Travel & Expense industry, especially from an Indian perspective ?

The travel and expense industry is evolving in response to the growth of mobile technology. Travel professionals are realising that they need to modernize their tools and programs for improved efficiency. A study by GBTA foundation, explores that direct booking behaviour in employees is becoming increasingly popular, with nearly 40% of business travellers regularly contacting the suppliers directly. Employees are sometimes not satisfied with company-preferred tools and therefore they are adopting a self-service approach.

Companies realising this are now looking towards integrating mobile technology and corporate travel processes, realising the importance of implementation of streamlined solutions to cater to the needs and requirements of their employees, to ensure the safety and security of employees, especially those traveling on behalf of the company and minimise cost. When it comes to corporate travel, Duty of Care is an important business challenge. The Business Travel Show 2017 forecast reveals Duty of Care as one of the top concerns for organizations in managing business travel, along with curbing spends and enforcing compliance [Source]. Duty of Care is defined by organisational culture and the local context under which an organisation operates. In all of Asia, as also in India, relationships with co-workers are highly valued.

Another trend is that many business travellers are using ride sharing services – Uber, Ola and shared accommodation like Airbnb, while on a business trip. The sharing economy is a big push towards being business relevant. Through our robust travel and expense management solution, Concur is providing clients with greater control and application of travel policies, and enabling seamless processes through an integration of Concur’s online booking tool and travel request authorisation.

Concur now offers access to low cost carriers like IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir along with hotel options like Accor and Airbnb, all of which is absent in traditional channels. With disruption present in every sphere of business today, the relevance of a sharing economy is also growing considerably.

What are some of the major advantages of taking the T&E to the cloud [using solutions from Concur] and how would it benefit [in terms of savings] to the organization adopting your solution ?

The most basic advantage for companies to take travel and expense to the cloud is to reduce the cost of operations. The traditional methods of capex investments, building your own solutions, and customising is not just complicated,  but also consumes a lot of time and money. Concur’s idea is to make travel and expense management easier. Our innovative solutions improve customer experience for the modern business traveller. We integrate the T&E process to give managers visibility, compliance and control over expenses. It enables you to compare spend data, analyse cash flow and eliminate any errors. It’s not just about automation, we also care about the customer’s needs as well, understanding the relevancy of the approach to be taken.

One of the major issues that companies face while dealing with Travel Expenses is ‘Submission of Fake Bills’ from employees, how does moving to the cloud curb such malpractices by employees ?

A research conducted by Concur observed that 20% of expense reports submitted have some problem or other which might be a compliance default or a fraud or fake bill that caused it. In India the risk is higher because we are also operating with hand written bills, which are admissible most of the time. An employee can easily use this to get wrong bills into the system. So, the magnitude of the problem is huge and we believe that if a solution like ours is not adopted to manage those bills and eliminate errors for on the T&E process. Inflating bills or submitting forged bills which happen in every company, whether it’s unintentional or intentional which eventually exposes the company to litigation and fraud of things.

Concur captures expenses which prevents unintentional padding [inflating expenses] and there is no scope of inaccuracy. Additionally, certain things cannot be captured at source, especially fraud analytics, however, we have invested in a technology that analyses the patterns and numbers that people are putting in the expense reports with regards to the point of events.

There are various ways by which Concur curbs padding, such as manager and auditor approval, or keeping track of bills and tickets. Employees who do not have receipts will have to submit an affidavit which has to also go through the approval process. Lastly, we have app centre partners who provide sophisticated recording of journals and study and detect the patterns by tracking the actual number of miles travelled through synchronization with google maps. So, this is the sense of promise and vision we offer to our clients.

There are lot of fin-tech startups that are integrating payments, T&E, Insurance/Finance services, etc. into a single product, how does Concur plan to stay ahead of its competition in terms of innovation and adaptability ?

Mobile micro services is the next big thing with the ability to capture expenses at source and the ability to sync with your email and Outlook calendars. Gaining popularity amongst Indian enterprises, it will be the next big tool in business travel. Concur provides an integrated approach towards management, tracking and evaluating employee expenses. For example, hotels, airline ticketing and conveyance. We have partnered with 100 plus service providers globally and in India which includes financial integrators, payment companies, hotel and restaurants, travel management companies, cab aggregators and ground transportation companies to benefit our customers.

In the Indian context, we presume to have spreadsheets as our only competitor. Spreadsheets are typically adopted by companies who haven’t understood the concept of spend management and not figured out a way to optimize cost. Concur proposes an array of solutions to ease the management process: Invoice Capture using

SAP Leonardo

The tool helps to capture expense at its source, by letting the end user capture invoice data real time and provides a wide scale accuracy.

Expenselt Pro App

The tool has the ability to leverage several data points [card data along with OCR, user history, company history etc.] to analyse the type of expense when formulating expense reports.

Fraud Detection Analytics with Concur App centre partner Oversight

Oversight proprietary software applies multidimensional artificial intelligence techniques to monitor and report on the behaviour related to cardholders, merchants, spend categories and items purchased. The tool detects risk activity including unusual spend patterns, duplicate expenses, split transactions and suspicious out-of- pocket expenses.

Rocketrip: Real-time pricing algorithm technology

Rocketrip gives employees real time budgets and allows them to save from the estimated budget. The algorithm tracks actual prices for transportation and incorporates this information with the available budget. It provides the company with insights and analytics about travel spend, irrespective of which travel site used by the employee for booking.

Mileage Rate Service

With Concur Drive, employees will be able to automatically capture the routes travelled using GPS. The user can set days/times in order to capture their mileage. They are then provided a log of mileage that they can select the trips they wish to expense. This is seen as a huge time-saver for employees while granting approvers visibility into actual mileage and hence prevent misuse and padding.

Your views on Digital India and how that movement has paved the way for automation in Travel, Expense, Invoicing, etc.

India is in the throes of a digital transformation with digital adoption spanning all businesses across the corporate spectrum. IDC reports that work process automation in companies is leading to increased employee productivity, more cost savings and reduced time spent on expense management with a lesser propensity for errors. Automation is also resulting in better compliance practices in organizations through efficient management. A recent CFO Innovation Asia Study reveals that in India, about 39% organizations are fully automated, with online processes for employee travel and expense. Around 23% organizations use a mix of methods for travel and expense, indicating that automation is catching up in India.

Digital transformation is positively impacting the CFO’s job, in terms of value proposition, visibility, employee productivity and compliance. Concur is offering CFOs end-to-end solutions that automatically synchronize financial data across the entire employee spend process, from pre-spend approval to reconciliation. With Concur, companies can automate expenses and streamline business travel, save their employees’ time, and have more visibility into important line items, helping them focus on what matters most.

There are still lot of issues with GST [both implementation and understanding based], how does Concur support its customers to make their Bill Submission, Invoicing and other processes smoother and less time consuming ?

We have dealt with countries with similar tax reforms such as Canada, Australia, and UK and do understand the pain points associated with tax reforms. We have built experience of 38,500 customers across the globe in over 60 countries. We keep ourselves very well prepared and with the tax reforms.

With GST in India, we have been constantly responding to the need of our customers and guiding them on the impact of GST on T&E and the efficient use of budget. With end-to-end spend transparency, companies can uncover insights that lend to more effective spend management. As a result, business leaders can make smarter and more informed decisions. 

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