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Expense reports to be a thing of the past: SAP Concur

Expense reports to be a thing of the past: SAP Concur

Originally posted by Yolanda Redrup @ afr.com

Of all the menial tasks that working full-time, or part-time, entails, the expense report has to be one of the worst.

But spending hours filling out details for why you took an Uber on a Thursday, or why your phone bill is $10 higher than the previous month could soon be a thing of the past thanks to the the ongoing investment in artificial intelligence and machine learning from SAP Concur.

In as little as five years, frustrated employees around the world may no longer have to deal with the burdensome task, with SAP Concur president Mike Ebarhard telling The Australian Financial Review the company would be able to do away with expense reports when digital receipts became commonplace.

"As funny as it may sound for a company focused on expense reports, our goal is to eliminate them," he said.

"The best way to do that is for our environment to keep becoming digital. As more receipts start coming in digitally, many of our customers are saying if the spend is approved and it's within budget, then doesn't it make sense to no longer have manual entry line items and manager approvals?

"If companies move to a budget-based approach to expenses, then if a trip is approved and the expenses are within budget, the expense report will be removed but you'll still have the substantiated data that's been supplied digitally."

Widely used by big businesses around the world, SAP Concur has 56.1 million users, with 44,000 customers across 150 countries. It also processed $160.4 billion worth of employee expenses in the last year.

Originally its own company, Concur was acquired by SAP for $US8.3 billion in 2014.

The business has operated in Australia since the early 2000s and Mr Eberhard said the region was one of its most mature markets.

"We have well over 1000 customers and well over 100 employees in Australia. We have learned to focus on what's important to Australian businesses and some of the things that are pretty unique like fringe benefits tax and the goods and services tax. It's been a great success," he said.

The business has already been investing in AI and machine learning and rolling out features across its suite of products that deploy these technologies.

Its travel booking solution TripIT uses machine learning to enhance the way it organises a person's travel plans based on their emails and its ExpenseIt tool uses it to improve the accuracy of its image recognition software that lets a user take a picture of a receipt and have it auto-populate certain information fields based on the image and previous transactions.

And if any employees noticed an increase in expenses being knocked back in 2018, it's likely because of a new product called Concur Detect, which automatically highlights expense reports which breach a company's expenses policy, whereas previously auditors just selected a random sample of reports to check.

Mr Eberhard said Concur Detect had been the most successful product launch in the company's history.

"The customers aren't asking to have less auditors, but they are asking how the auditors can do more meaningful work," he said.

"This focuses on the exceptions, so rather than an auditor having to go through 15-20 transactions that are accurate to stumble on one that isn't, this surfaces the exceptions to them straight away."

Bad luck to anyone hoping to sneak through a phone bill with some additional calls to overseas relatives at Christmas time, chances are the higher than usual the phone bill will be automatically detected.

In 2018 SAP Concur also formed an integration with popular workplace messaging tool Slack, meaning that for companies that link their SAP Concur and Slack accounts, employees can complete common expense tasks like uploading receipts, booking travel and approving expense reports through Slack. Similarly, it has also released a product that's been integrated with popular Chinese messaging tool WeChat.

But Mr Eberhard said for expense reports to disappear completely, it was reliant on digital receipts becoming mainstream - something in which Australia is lagging behind other western nations.

"[There's been] incredibly impressive moves in China to become digital, and there's been regulations in France and Spain for digital receipts, so there are other markets moving faster," he said.

"But it will improve with every supplier as they go digital."



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