Since its establishment, about 25 years back, SAP Concur has taken companies of all stripes to a seamlessly connected spend management environment.
Analytics India Magazine caught up with Mankiran Chowhan, Managing Director, Indian Subcontinent, SAP Concur, to get insights into the rapid digitisation of the corporate travel industry.
Sign up for your weekly dose of what's up in emerging technology.
AIM: What are the major tech solutions offered by SAP Concur?
Mankiran Chowhan: The company’s core focus is to transform the way customers manage, spend, and enhance user experience for their workforce. Our solutions help organisations to harness the power of analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to automate spend management, improve visibility, control cost, budgeting, real-time decision making, and compliance.
Some of the major solutions provided by SAP Concur include:
- Concur Expense automates expense management and helps the finance department take total control of spending, irrespective of where it happens. It utilises AI to automate and integrate spend information from multiple sources and helps in making intelligent business decisions based on accurate data.
- Concur Travel solutions help make corporate travel management easier by providing access to content from multiple global distribution systems, insights into travel spending and consolidated data from the company’s travel management company (TMC), location check-ins, and HR profiles and Concur TripLink for every employee.
- Concur Invoice automates the Accounts Payable (AP) workflow through machine learning capabilities. It automates approvals and streamlines purchase requests, thereby boosting compliance, internal control and overall business profitability.
Our solutions help businesses across industries – such as automotive, financial services, healthcare, life sciences, manufacturing and IT/ITES – run at their very best.
AIM: How is SAP Concur leveraging new-gen technologies such as AI/ML and Analytics?
Mankiran Chowhan: Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) are opening new possibilities in corporate travel. We believe AI, and particularly bots, will reshape the corporate travel industry by personalising traveler experiences and simplifying tasks.
At SAP Concur, we use AI and machine learning (ML) to make everything from travel booking to expense auditing smarter, more automated and easier for employees.
For example, we have bypassed optical character recognition technology, which is an industry-standard to extract data from images, and have implemented ML in Concur Invoice and Concur Expense to extract data from invoice and receipt images, and automatically classify data and populate reports.
AIM: How does SAP Concur facilitate digitalisation of workplaces?
Mankiran Chowhan: The entire spectrum of SAP Concur solutions drives digital transformation for enterprises by helping them in automating and integrating several spend processes, drawing strategic insights and improving business agility. Organisations can seamlessly manage their procurement of corporate travel through Concur Travel, automate employee expense reports through Concur Expense and streamline vendor invoice processing through Concur Invoice. SAP Concur also has simple mobile solutions that help employees get expense reports done quickly and easily.
The changing landscape of how we work in the COVID-19 era has made corporations adopt digital solutions faster than their earlier digital transformation plans. In the corporate world, this signals the beginning of a minimal paper or paperless culture. SAP Concur is focused on eliminating paper-based processes by providing digital solutions that reduce overhead expenses of spend management and provide for efficient travel and expense management.
AIM: What are your predictions for the corporate travel industry in the light of the pandemic?
Mankiran Chowhan: We expect 2021 to usher in an era of responsible travel. Travel corridors are expected to become more prevalent, especially in the spring. Members of the C-suite, salespeople, and essential workers—will remain as early adopters. Travel providers, including hotels, airlines and car rental services, may require travelers to disclose their COVID-19 health status till a full-fledged country wide vaccination drive is concluded.
This could include digital health passports displaying a traveler’s vaccine or negative test status or rapid testing right at the gate or rental car pick-up, to proof of vaccination. Digital health passports, displaying a traveler’s vaccine or negative test status will emerge as we transition to a new normal in global travel. Mid-to-late in the year, the experiences of early adopters, measured by low infection rates, will then influence the broader base of travelers.
We also expect companies to add new environmentally sustainable practices to their corporate travel programs. These efforts will inspire travelers who rank sustainability as an important consideration while traveling.
AIM: Why is it important for enterprises to invest in digital tools for long term resilience?
Mankiran Chowhan: The pandemic has drastically changed the way businesses operate. With lockdowns, social distancing norms and the advent of a hybrid workforce, the need for remote collaboration between departments and virtual communication between employees has been paramount for business continuity.
In such a scenario, technology is proving to be one of the most valuable assets. Processes that were dependent on paper and constant human intervention have proved to be inefficient and vulnerable to the rapidly changing circumstances. Technology – such as AI, ML, cloud-based services – transcend the boundaries and limitations of physical dependency. Digital solutions can help automate repetitive tasks and eliminate the need for any human intervention.
For example, finance departments that operated using paper-based invoices and reports hit a major roadblock once everyone started working remotely. Use of integrated intelligent spend management (ISM) solutions has helped companies in streamlining their expense processes bringing peace of mind to the employees and ease for the finance departments. ISM solutions can further help the business leaders keep an eye on spending and find ways to tighten the control and best direct cash flow. This allows the business leaders to create a more agile and resilient enterprise and set the new world’s groundwork to come.
AIM: You spoke about how data will move from being analytic to a predictive decision-making tool. What does that mean and what will this shift entail?
Mankiran Chowhan: Many organisations have started to realise their financial data’s potential to guide business decisions and leverage it to reach even greater success levels. With operations becoming largely automated, finance will double down on business insights and service using predictive technologies. According to an SAP Concur commissioned research, 98 percent finance leaders believe it is important to have total control over spend management.
To use financial data as a predictive decision-making tool, we look forward to an increase in the use of intelligent spend management (ISM) solutions. These will automate monotonous and menial tasks of a finance department and provide more meaningful data with actionable insights.
As most CFOs demand a holistic view of their expenses, such solutions will support data consolidation from multiple sources, providing resolutions for day-to-day business challenges. The implementation and adoption of technology would help the finance leaders manage budgets better and identify the priority areas to redirect monies.
AIM: How will AI adoption change businesses?
Mankiran Chowhan: As businesses will continue to maintain hybrid remote-working models and want to be prepared for other disruptions in 2021 and beyond, AI use cases in the workplace will grow.
We will see more businesses leaning on AI algorithms to make decisions to support real-time financial transparency. It includes managing spending in near real-time to improve budget management and liquidity, increasing compliance and eliminating errors, and maximising profitability.
There will be a broader use of AI to add intelligence to applications and eliminate manual processes to give firms a much-needed competitive boost by improving their productivity. Firms can make considerable savings each year − and improve employee satisfaction and experience− by automating their finance and administration processes. This will further kick demand for AI into overdrive for more back-office operations in areas such as Accounts Payable (AP) and Accounts Receivable (AR).