When I heard about the SAP’s acquisition of Concur Technologies, it was like an old acquaintance crossing my path again after some time and I was positively surprised. I knew Concur from a project a few years back and it was clear that this acquisition could have huge impact on all SAP customers using Travel&Expense or Concur. But let’s start at the beginning…
SAP and Concur announced that SAP will acquire Concur Technologies for an amount of ca. USD 7.4 billion. Concur is the leader of software for travel and expense management by a huge margin. SAP CEO Bill McDermont put it this way: “There is no No. 2 to Concur — they essentially own this market.” (The Washington Post, 19th Sept. 2014). It is certainly a very good addition to recent acquisitions Ariba and SuccessFactors as well as Fieldglass. It is still early days and I’m sure we’ll hear announcements about integration strategy with SAP’s on-premise package as well as existing cloud services in the not too distant future. Customers will also want to know about the plans for the current SAP travel on demand product. By my gut feeling, I wouldn’t bet on a long life for this still very young product. Given it’s moderate success so far and the fact that SAP just splashed their largest ever acquisition budget on a mature replacement, it would only make sense for SAP to phase the existing travel on demand product out asap. But of course, at this stage, these are all assumptions and SAP may well have some surprises up their sleeves.
What does this mean for SAP Travel&Expense users?
The situation is a little bit different for on-premise Travel&Expense. It’s quite a mature product, well integrated with other elements of the business suite like Financials, Payroll, HR or CATS. Many customers also have invested in bespoke development and for some the idea to have this data in the cloud is still an absolute no-go. SAP knows that, so they will provide support for a considerable period of time. How much innovation we are still going to see in on-premise T&E is everybody’s guess. But given the fact that they will have to dedicate a lot of resources to build first class integration features between Concur, other cloud products and their on-premise system, it’s a legitimate guess to expect development in on-prem T&E features to suffer. So, customers currently using or implementing on premise T&E will have to make a conscious decision about their future roadmap. That doesn’t mean on-premise Travel Mansgement rollouts have to be stopped or any further development for live systems should be frozen. Don’t forget the acquisition hasn’t even happened yet. And if the SuccessFactor acquisition is anything to go by, the full development of integration features may take a few years and many organisations will have sound reasons to prefer an on-premise solutions for quite a few years more. Yet, there will be other SAP users, who’ll find Concur already a great solution to start with, as it’s meeting most of their requirements, and the prospect of further integration in the future is enough for them to tip the balance even now. At this point, we are very much left to speculation until such time as SAP announce their licencing strategy, product roadmaps for on-premise T&E as well as Concur and a reliable development schedule for integration. So, watch this space.
My own Concur journey
Some of you may now be asking why I’m referring to Concur as an “old acquaintance”. Well, that goes back more than 3 years, when cloud was still a mere dream – or nightmare – for SAP. I happened to lead a global T&E project with the deployment of Concur expenses management and their travel booking module, called cliqbook at the time, being the backbone of the whole endeavour. Rolling out an end2end T&E process across 9 countries in 11 weeks would have been quite a feat with the SAP on-premise solution, but impossible within the context of the project, which involved the selection and integration of a global travel agency and rollout of company credit cards amongst other things and was sandwiched in between ongoing implementations of the Workday HCM system and SAP FI/CO modules. I got into this project with about 10 SAP T&E projects under my belt, but I had to a knowledge I couldn’t have taken on this task, if SAP rather than Concur had been the system of choice.
The process to be implemented was not that unusual:
- Employees defined their trips, picked appropriate transport online and submitted it for a quote from the agency.
- Once that came in it was sent to line managers to approval and then booked.
- After the trip receipts where scanned and originals sent to a handling agent, who also submitted them to a VAT reclaim service to recover a percentage of international VAT, expense reports were captured by employees online with credit card data added through an interface and then submitted for approval again.
- As you can imagine, there were quite a few small peculiarities to cover along the way, but Concur coped quite well. The biggest challenge was the trip approval: as the customer decided to require approval for the exact amount, approvals needed to happen, while the ticket price (most trips involved air travel) was held by the agency. So, we had between 24 and 48 hours. That was only feasible with an agile substitution rule in place and mobile approval (at the time done through a reply-email on Blackberry).
I liked that project very much. It was state of the art technology and it involved a considerable change management effort: users came from an SAP context, so there was always the assumption that you can change anything, if you only want it badly enough and have money to spend. The philosophy of a SaaS project was difficult to digest for some of them. It also didn’t help that the travel policy was still being reviewed during the project, so goalposts kept moving. This often affected parts of the config that needed to be done by the vendor team and therefore depended on periods of time agreed upon at the start of the project. These config elements could not always be quickly changed by the customer team, whenever they wanted. However, the Concur team was very helpful and flexible enough to cope.
So, finishing with some thoughts about the software and the project. Please note that these are observations from one particular project more than 3 years ago and only reflect my personal experience.
What did I like about Concur in particular?
1) It’s a slick product, providing an excellent user interface and excellent reliability. It just does the job.
2) It provides enough flexibility for most sensible requirements without tempting the customer into over-customisation as happens so often in SAP on-premise.
3) Mobile approval works out of the box (the workflow does need some setting up and has its constraints, but is a thousand miles ahead of SAP workflow for ease of set-up and maintenance.)
4) The mobile app for expenses was embarrassingly easy to deploy, but more of that later.
5) Concur, even at that time, just understood the Service element of SaaS extremely well. They offered further services that came naturally with the package. This included a receipt handling and auditing service as well as a user hotline. The first “S” in SaaS could therefore have been “Solution” as much as “Software”.
What was challenging?
1) I already mentioned the change challenges faced with users as well as IT staff, who still struggled with the SaaS concept.
2) What had almost blown the deadline was the difficulty the Procrement and Legal teams of the customer had with the SaaS contract. If your organisation doesn’t have a lot of SaaS experience yet, I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to start contract work early and get 3rd party experts to help.
3) As you would imagine, interfaces where a major challenge. The integration between the travel booking and expense elements of Concur worked perfectly well, but the interface with Workday HCM and SAP FI/CO required more effort than expected. We could also have done with some more help from Concur’s side (as well as Workday’s) at that point. However, the worst part were the interfaces with the credit card company, who’s technical experts were not helpful at all to describe it politely. Documentation of their interface formats left loads of room for interpretation at best and were completely outdated at worst. That didn’t come as a surprise, as they proved as incompetent earlier in the project, when they defined data and signatures required on credit card request forms in each country.
4) We could have done with some more documentation of the Concur software as such, most notably its configuration. I understand this point has improved considerably by now.
How did we keep the tight deadline?
1) We had a large group of acceptance testers (4% of the total workforce) in key positions. Even though not all of them were as engaged as we’d have liked them to be, they were extremely helpful in getting everybody on board.
2) A dedicated employee engagement manager, who did roadshows and training, but was flexible enough to play with the tool and take on feedback from the tester group.
3) Postponing the legacy data analysis and renegotiation process offered by the travel agency until after go live.
4) Staging interface implementation in line with first run of each interface until up to one month after go live and run some interfaces semi-manually in phase 1.
5) Keep the first scope lean and implement special processes, most notably candidate travel, expat family moves, and group travel in phase 2 only.
6) We also planned to postpone the integration of the Concur mobile app for capturing expenses and scanning receipts to phase 2. Alas, it turned out it hadn’t been switched off by Concur and when employees found the mobile app in the Apple appstore, it worked perfectly well without extra configuration or training. It was, I must admit, an accidental go live in perfect shape. Given the hoops SAP users had to jump through at that time in order to use mobile apps, this was an absolute stunner for me.
In our project, we didn’t use the latest Concur servces:
- Concur Invoice: an automation tool for supplier invlice processing
- Concur Insight: a comprehensive analytics tool for expenses and invoices ( at the, we implemented some travel and expense reporting, but this comprehensive tool wasn’t available yet)
- Concur Messaging: communication with travelling employees and travel risk management
So, in a nutshell:
- Concur is a great product for Travel booking as well as expense management. It comes with the usual benefits and constraints of SaaS but there is a reason, why it’s the uncontested market leader.
- When I worked with Concur very closely 3 years ago, interfaces to SAP as well as other cloud products where a huge challenge. This is where the acquisition by SAP will most likely add a lot of value, but it’ll take some time. Integration will not only be required for on-premise FI/CA, HR and Payroll, but SuccessFactors, Fieldglass as well as Ariba would benefit form close integration.
- Back then Concur also had a very good choice of extra services beyond just providing access to the software. They were taking software as a service to the second level, when SAP was still struggling with level 1.
- It’s definitely a valid alternative for SAP on-premise Travel&Expense, but customers should consider SAP’s roadmaps once published and then decide whether and when to switch in their own time. As in transactional HR there will probably be many customers,who still feel served best by a well customized on-preimse system for some years to come.
- It’s most likely going to be different for Travel on Demand customers. It’s probably a good idea to check with your SAP key account manager asap before investing any more into this product.
And finally, one point we missed so far:
I haven’t talked about the tripit yet. Tripit is a social media stype online travel organiser to help you keep track of your itineraries. It has been acquired by Concur in 2011 and I’m sure some innovators at SAP already think about how it can work with SAP Jam.