Sharing thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and the occasional opinion.
CFO? 5 Trends to Watch!
How analytics, robotics, next-gen cloud computing, cybersecurity, and evolving budget tools will shape tomorrow’s organizations.
CFOs are tasked with ensuring that the accounting basics, such as processing payments and reconciling accounts, are handled without a hitch. But simply having the bare minimum in terms of financial infrastructure won’t get an organization, or a career, very far.
Modern senior finance professionals need to think strategically about how automation and streamlined processes will impact the finance team — and ultimately the business — five years down the road. To be tactical partners with business leaders and the C-suite, chief finance officers need to be scanning ahead to help the company thrive and meet continuously evolving demands.
The job of the CFO is evolving beyond the accounting function, and modern CFOs need to be well-versed in the latest fintech trends. Knowing your way around a spreadsheet will no longer suffice. Successful CFOs should look to the tools and strategies that will shape the next five years.
This white paper outlines five financial technology trends that CFOs need to consider as they establish priorities for the finance team and the enterprise.
Read the complete white paper: SAPConcur_18_Global_5TrendsforCFOtoWatch_Eng
About the White Paper Sponsor – SAP Concur®
SAP Concur® solutions take companies of all sizes and stages beyond automation to a completely connected spend management solution encompassing travel, expense, invoice, compliance and risk. For more than 20 years, these leading, innovative solutions have kept customers a step ahead by delivering time-saving tools, connected spending data and a dynamic ecosystem of diverse partners and apps. User-friendly and business-ready, SAP Concur solutions unlock powerful insights that help businesses reduce complexity and see spending clearly, so they can manage it proactively.
Predictive analytics and data will continue to drive business decisions with more precision and insight than ever before.
Robotics will take over more back-office operations in areas such as Accounts Payable (AP) and Accounts Receivable (AR).
The next-generation of cloud computing will spark the explosion of connected devices and more real-time user interfaces over the next four to five years, according to a recent Gartner report.
Cybersecurity will remain a hot topic, given that 2017 was riddled with high-profile attacks
Budgeting processes and technologies will continue to evolve. As a result, finance will need to hone its tech skills during the budgeting process.
Need Higher Profitability
For Your Projects?
Our Bottom Line Improvement calculator can help. Click the calculator to use or read more below.
Visibility into all project-related spend is critical for a true profitably picture. Advice on what to consider is easy to find but often excludes an important aspect which can skew the numbers to a false positive or negative.
Not Billed Back to the Client
It seems simple enough to track and report expenses but companies using manual processes to assemble client billing statements can miss anywhere between 15 and 35 percent of their ‘out-of-pocket. This is money already spent – and reimbursed to the employee or paid to the credit card or vendor.
Failure to recoup this money results in lower profitability – period. The client expects to pay and needs one thing: documentation.
Curious to see how your numbers affect the bottom line?
Click the calculator and find out!
Is your expense report process
creating a data silo?
For most companies, expense capture is much bigger than tracking the travel spend for employee reimbursement at the front end. The data collected is utilized in the larger financial ecosystem, used for profitability measurement and modeling, billing to clients, projects and cost centers, and even compliance.
Often these back end processes are supported by a collection of disparate applications brought into the company over time. As standalone systems, they do a great job, but once the data is needed elsewhere, things can fall apart. Manual steps become the norm opening the potential for errors and guaranteeing bottle necks.
Follow the money before choosing an expense management application. Understand where and how your company uses that information – all of it. In doing so, you’ll create a valuable requirements list aligned with your company rather than to a single department.
Use that information as your road map to vet the available software. Make sure it has the hooks needed to support your other mission critical processes and automates key points in your workflow.
Think of expense reporting as a ‘source of truth’ for your company. The data is too valuable to stay locked away in a silo. It has the potential to bring efficiencies and accuracy to other applications and help with strategic business decisions.
4 Hours Per Expense Report?
Before You Say No …
How about 15 minutes? That could be true if all you’re doing is filing your expenses.
As most folks are aware, expense reporting automation is fully matured. It’s subscription-based,
in the cloud, supporting everything from e-receipts to automatic credit card downloads, reporting
and approving – all from a smart device.
However, if you bill back expenses to clients and projects your per-expense report time investment could be much higher. Why? Because that second half of the workflow is often stuck using processes and applications developed decades ago. Organizing expense bill back properly takes an unprecedented amount of detail. That is to say at granular levels with sophisticated cost tracking per client, project, activity and task, splitting expenses across clients, and associating receipt images with each item.
This process is often accomplished manually – even by companies with state-of-the-art front end expense and travel management software. Expense report data is exported into spreadsheets where it’s sorted and re-arranged to reflect the expenses against the client’s project. Receipts are collected, copied, and then re-assembled with each client statement. Splitting an expense between clients? Copy the receipt twice!
As you can see, there can be a major gap in how technology is applied to the overall workflow. Focusing on the spend side is a wise business decision but only focusing on the spend side is not.
That ‘4 Hour’ number is real.
Billing back expenses properly should be just as efficient as the process to report the expenses in the first place.
And it can be.
You Don’t Know
What You Don’t Know
Why Consulting Companies Are Losing 35% in Project Expenses.
Clients signing on for consulting services agree contractually to reimburse the vendor for their project related expenses. But – did you know that up to 35% of project-related expenses go undiscovered and are never billed back to the client?
This is real data from Pivot Payables’ customers. Here’s what we’ve found after digging deeper into the reasons why.
Manual Processes the Root of the Problem.
Expense Reports Can’t Flag Client Expenses Accurately.
If your consulting company uses spreadsheets or other manual processes to report expenses then you’re starting at a disadvantage. Spenders need an easy and error-proof way to report and allocate each expense to the proper client but maintaining current project lists in this scenario is nearly impossible. Piling on to the problem – manual methods often don’t require the spender to make a choice between billable to the project or not.
Pivot Payables customers say:
It’s enough of a challenge to get spenders to submit their expense reports on time.
Going beyond that is a big ask. They don’t have the right tools so there is no
guarantee they would provide 100% accurate information.
Disadvantages of Manual Methods are Exponential.
Backup Documentation Assembled from Disparate Sources.
It’s common for projects to involve a team of services folks – each submitting expense reports over time. Collecting all those expenses – along with receipts – is time-consuming and requires thorough review to make the process worth it. Especially challenging is allocating expenses between multiple clients while at the same time ensuring clients see only their project expenses.
Pivot Payables customers say:
Assembling backup documentation can take hours for each client per billing cycle.
If you bill each client once a month, the time adds up as do the potential errors.
How Do You Know You Have All the Expenses?
The resulting backup documentation from a manual process is part science; part art. While there are expense reports and receipts to prove expenses, those are only for the ones that were entered correctly at the beginning or – through manual review – discovered along the way and corrected.
Pivot Payables customers say:
We thought our only problem was the extraordinary amount of time
it took to assemble the expenses into client backup documentation – nope.
Automating the process allowed us to look back and compare, finding enough
missed expenses to pay for our new system for two years.
And that’s just one story!
Consulting companies do bill their clients for project expenses – but only the ones they know about. Now you know.
Professional Services Revenue
69 Billion in 2015
Could Margins Have Been Higher?
It’s not a matter of could; it’s a matter of how much.
Experts advise professional services organizations do these two things to grow their business:
1. Focus on higher margin deals
2. Reduce non-billable expenses
Let’s add one more:
3. Maintain true visibility of billable expenses
To focus on higher margin deals you must first determine the true profitability of your current projects – accomplished only with accurate spend data. Many services organizations do not have a complete view of billable expenses leading to long and short term problems. First, it blocks accurate profit modeling and forecasting and second, those missed expenses affect the bottom line.
Likewise, visibility into non-billable project-related expenses – opposed to general operations costs – is just as important. Understanding overhead costs for certain types of projects is the only way to analyze if they can be reduced. Maybe yes; maybe no. You need the data to make the call.
Getting to the right data is as straightforward as putting the right processes and tools into place at the correct points.
It’s important to address the entire workflow – not just expense reporting – not just expense billing.
If you’re using spreadsheets and manual processes for either of these, it’s time to reconsider.
Today’s online applications and services manage this entire workflow in the cloud, from spend to invoice. Automated processes replace manual steps, client and project associations happen dynamically during expense reporting, and all the data flows through to client project invoicing.
Let’s deconstruct the process and look at when, how, and what type of data should be
collected – then why.
It starts with the spender’s expense report – the most practical point in the process to capture project expense data. These folks are the closest to the project and have incurred most, if not all the expenses.
Today’s expense management software can automatically download credit card transactions and pre-fill the report, flag the correct expense type and wait for it, associate the expense to the Client and Project and assign as billable. Couple this with airtight approval cycles and you have tracked 100 percent of project expense spend.
Ideally, project expenses are tracked at multiple levels with Client at the top followed by Project then Phase and Task. This hierarchy tracks spending at a minimum for each Client and Project combination and goes beyond that to deeper levels if required.
The next layer of reporting is at the expense transaction level and the more flexibility in expense allocations the better. For example, the capability to allocate the entire expense or a portion of it in the following ways:
- Associated to a client and project as billable
- Associated to a client and project as non-billable but still related to the project
- Split the expense between multiple clients and projects
- Tag as general overheard not related to a project or allocated as a personal expense not reimbursable to the employee
Access to project spend data at granular levels serves both tactical and strategic aspects. No more missed expenses mean 100 percent of reimbursable costs are recovered. And, the accurate view of both billable and non-billable project costs provides the foundation needed to determine project profitability and margins.
Hard Facts About Soft Dollars
for Project Expense Bill Back
Resist the temptation to ignore soft costs when it comes to the process of billing clients for their project expenses.
It probably costs the same to process a $15 dinner expense as it does a $450 airfare.
This all starts to make sense once you scratch the surface in a manual process and you
don’t need to dig very deep.
Why? Because everything is pretty much equal in a manual process.
For the spender:
- Enter the item into the expense report.
- Locate the receipt.
- Allocate to the appropriate clients and projects.
- Submit the expense report and receipts.
For the accounts receivable group:
- Gather the expense reports and receipts for billing.
- Copy the expense reports.
- Determine allocations to one or many clients.
- Copy the receipts for all client allocations.
- Enter all the above into a spreadsheet or invoice document.
- Verify every expense whether $15 or $450.
- Final approval process.
- Oh what the heck – make copies for each client!
Same Effort for $15 and $450.
Manual methods could put you upside down.
How much does it cost you to bill back that $15? With automation it’s probably pennies to process the expenses with all things considered.
Every dollar counts. That goes for both hard and soft currencies.
Think about it.
Planning Workflow Improvements?
Target Process 1st; People 2nd.
Because process is the foundation; the toolset that employees use to accomplish their tasks. If the tools don’t change then there’s not much that can be improved beyond doing the same thing faster – including the mistakes.
A good goal and ultimately measure of improvement is to first focus on refining the effectiveness of the business process. What is the potential for improvement and is it enough to warrant a change to the activities folks perform? Disrupting people’s work activities needs to be worth it – and they should understand why it’s happening. Explain why they are being asked to change. Sharing this bit of insight can greatly increase the improvements you’ll realize. Folks who are in the loop are much more likely to be champions of the new process because they can affect the outcome. They have ownership.
Really dig deep to assess the potential benefits and likewise disadvantages of making the change. Don’t simply buy in to the general benefits of a new system.
It is worth it?
That’s your call based on what the change will it really mean to your company.
Rock. Paper. Scissors.
Billing Expenses Back is No Game.
If you bill back project-related expenses to your clients then you know a thing or two about profitability. Profitability starts after you bill back the costs of doing business. Travel, meals, materials. Every cent.
Wait. That’s not true.
Profitability starts after you receive payment for the costs of doing business. And a lot can happen along the way to impact profitability.
The Paper Game
Finding 100 percent of project expenses is imperative. Many companies dedicate staff who manually and painstakingly review expense reports along with receipts and assemble documents for each client to ensure they are accurately billed for project-related costs. Splitting an expense across more than one client or project? More paper please!
Grab the Scissors. And Start the Copier.
Let’s face it. The original expense report and receipt is not enough to go around. Copies are required even if the file is stored electronically. We’ve heard this referred to as an ‘arts and crafts’ project. What a mess. Not to mention the paper cuts.
Double check if you’re not sure how your team accomplishes invoicing clients for expenses. Manual steps delay the time between spend and payment and increase the error rate.
Get In the Game!
Submitting expenses and billing back expenses are two workflows, often not connected to each other. Streamlining just one is not enough to ensure profitability. Look to improve the overall process with automation and integration from spend to client billing and everything in between.
Want to Win?
Your Competitive Advantage.
Don’t add automation for the sake of it. Use it first where it best serves your company strategy then expand from there.
Consider a strategic approach to automation rather than simply providing technical improvements over the past methods and processes. First look at the end results you want to improve.
Faster time to market? Improved customer loyalty? Reduce certain operation costs?
With you goals clearly isolated, work backward to find specific areas in the company that – if improved – could deliver the results you want. Look here for ways to apply automation to streamline processes, improve the customer experience, and shorten turnaround times.
With automation applied strategically, staff resources spend time on higher value activities, business is conducted faster, and you’ll have real-time visibility into processes to foster strategic decisions.
Our webinars help to pinpoint where automation can make the biggest impact in your organization.
Need More Science and Less Art
for Project Expense Billing?
You’re Not Alone.
Especially in the services industries.
Professional services of all types count this as one of their most critical business processes.
billing back most – if not all – project expenses to clients.
It’s a matter of profitability. The money is spent, billing for expenses is part of the contract,
and the client expects to see the expenses as part of their invoice. Getting that backup documentation, aka the billing statement, out to the client quickly with the complete
details required is all too often a manual process – for everyone.
Cue the Artists.
It starts with collecting individual expense reports along with the original receipts, often followed by calls to the spender to double check on client names, projects, and allocations. The information for each client is assembled manually along with copies of receipts. One last review and approval is almost always in order because the data collection and verification is manual. The most state-of-the-art tool for both spenders and finance is often only a spreadsheet. Weeks can elapse before the client sees their billing statement. Months can go by before you see that money (again).
A Scientist On the Other Hand …
Looks for opportunities to automate the workflow and eliminate errors.
Here are their findings. Begin where the money is spent.
The teams that spend while out in the field capturing transactions on expense reports and the accounting group for project-related purchases done via an invoice payment request. These folks know without a doubt who the client is, what project to assign the expense to, and how much to allocate in each case. Provide them with applications that collect information on-the-fly including active client and project lists.
Did you know a picture of an expense receipt can auto-fill an expense report? Try that with a spreadsheet!
Science vs Art. Profit vs Loss.
The billing process always happens. Period. It’s a matter of how long it takes and the accuracy of the result. Check out our webinar series to learn the science behind best practices.
Are Your Clients Paying 100%
of Project Expenses?
Are You Sure?
Professional services organizations of all kinds bill back most – if not all – project-related expense to their clients. The project ends and the client receives an invoice with services hours and fees plus the billable expenses with the required backup documentation.
The goal is that project-related expenses are a wash. The money gets spent in advance and during the project then everything settles-up at the end. Right?
Surprise. Surprise. Clients Often Owe 15% to 35% More.
It’s not their fault. Clients are happy to pay for their project expenses so long as the backup
documentation is accurate and thorough.
- Project name? Check.
- Project allocation amount? Check.
- Receipt images? Check.
- Employee name? Check.
From the client’s perspective, the backup documentation represents the total billable expenses for that project. It’s essentially their source of truth for the project.
- Missing expenses? Not their problem.
- No receipt images? Might be a deal breaker for reimbursement.
- Missing employee names? Listing ‘who spent what’ may be non-negotiable.
No Surprise? The Time and Effort to Recoup Expenses.
Services organization go to great lengths to get this money back. Every dollar spent and not reimbursed erodes the profitability of the project and ultimately the business.
- Extract project names from multiple expense reports. Ouch.
- Collect receipts and fire up the copier. Yikes.
- Manually assemble all of the above. No thanks.
- Manager-level review and audit. Pricey!
It’s an expensive and time-consuming process to get it right. Missing expenses go easily undiscovered in a manual process. And on that note, how can you be sure the data you have is correct?
Now – About That 100% Again. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.
For services companies, it’s well worth it to consider automation from spend reporting through
to client billing. The ideal start for the source of truth is the expense report or payment request.
The guarantee of 100% bill back is connecting to that data, automating the process, and sending
the bill electronically.
Remember. Your Clients are Happy to Pay 100% of the Bill.
All you need to do is send it.
3 Signs You’re Ready
Project Expense Management.
1 Hindsight for Project Spend Visibility isn’t Cutting It.
Some project expenses are billable to clients while others are not. You may be leaving money on the table if you’re managing these allocations after expense reports are filed, approved, and paid. Manually allocating at the end of the process can result in missed expenses that should be billed to your clients. Likewise, overspending on non-billable project expenses hits your bottom line just as hard. Accurate project expense tracking – billable or not – is critical.
2 Processing Expenses within Policy Takes Just as Long as Exceptions.
Is your approval cycle for expenses within policy identical to the few that color outside the lines? This occurs when both processes are manual and automation speeds the process (by a lot!) while at the same time ensuring spend is within company guidelines. It might seem scary to let in-policy expenses flow through without review but a good expense management system lets you set spending rules as tightly as you need and can dynamically handle different spending scenarios.
3 Multiple People Perform Tasks Multiple Times Using Multiple Tools.
Again, manual processes are to blame. Companies often add several levels to double- and
triple-check accuracy and find mistakes. Ironically, each time a task is repeated it
increases the risk of an error.
Automation optimizes the overall workflow because it’s applied from an abstract perspective. It ignores what traditionally has been’ where and when’ a process is completed in favor of when it’s most efficiently done. Look to automate as many processes as possible and centralize business rules from spend policies to approval routing; much of the rest will take care of itself.
Re-engineering a Process?
Put Your Customers First.
Whether looking to improve discrete processes or optimize entire workflows, it’s natural to focus internally. Of course, that’s a critical part of the analysis but consider switching up your starting point and look first at improving your customers’ experience. How can you make their lives better? Ultimately this leads you back into business applications that support accounting, communications, data management, and others.
Don’t do their thinking for them.
Ask customers. Review support, comments, and history information. Model the new customer experience then work your way back and design how new or modified internal systems can
provide what they’re asking for.
Don’t be afraid of customer input.
For the most part, customers who take the time to post comments and suggestions want to use your products and services. Listen to them. They usually speak for the larger silent audience.
Do design the ideal system.
Throw away the approach of leveraging current systems which backs you into a corner and provides the excuse for status quo. This is only a concept. Go for it.
Shop with your customer in mind.
Vendors line up at the door when you’re in the market to invest. Throw down the same challenge for them. Automation is a common pitch. Ask how the vendor applies that to customer-facing processes. SaaS? Same question.
Their benefits are your benefits.
Your customers are your bottom line. Improving their experience builds satisfaction and loyalty. This approach ultimately improves internal systems by way of providing a solid road map back into the company defining precisely where to make changes.
Build vs Buy.
Core Competency vs Not.
Most organizations have dedicated IT groups these days and it’s tempting to want to leverage their skills to develop applications that the organization needs for standard business processes. Think expense and project management, marketing automation, and customer relationship management (CRM) to name a few.
It’s all just data connected to business rules and presented over the web – right?
It’s not if your team is qualified to do the work. They are. It’s an issue of whether that is the best use of their time and talent regarding your business.
Here are a few questions to ask when you’re considering who should develop that application:
What is your company’s core competency?
What is your company’s product or service?
What will make you money rather than save you money?
If you’re considering a home-grown version of an otherwise commercially available product in response to the vendor’s pricing, that’s a red flag.
And as for purchasing software from others. Those vendors will continue to improve and enhance the software continuing to build more value for you and their other customers. That’s often where building your own falls short. The homegrown versions cannot mature at the same rate as the commercially available applications.
Think of your company’s core competency as it relates strategically to your business and apply your team’s talents to where they can make the most impact.
The Evolution of Project Expense Cost Control and True Profitability
Managing spend related to client projects and travel expenses has many moving parts
and controlling costs is key to profitability.
The first line of defense is an expense policy but how and when it’s enforced has a big impact.
Ideally the path to cost management is checks and balances throughout the process at points
where they have the best chance of improving the bottom line. However, many organizations administer policies at a single point in the workflow. This can result in administrative costs and time which negatively affects profitability.
The Forgiveness and Permission approaches to spend control are examples of the
single point enforcement model.
Surprise, surprise – it’s not always the fault of the employee.
The more manual the process, the more apt you are to be dealing with this type of spending. Spreadsheets of course can be very sophisticated with formulas to control data entry but oftentimes spenders are not fully aware of the policy related to a specific expense type. Fast forward to expense report time and they already spent the cash.
Do you ever reimburse employees who over-spend because they were not aware of a policy?
If you invoice clients for project expenses, you may have to absorb a portion of that meal,
flight, or car rental.
In this approach spenders learn policies as they go and it’s a hard lesson for both the employee and the company. Spreadsheets and the like cannot integrate with other business applications forcing manual processes onto the entire workflow:
- Exceptions become the rule and require an excessive amount of time to process
- Staying current on spend policies is the responsibility of the employee
- Approvals require detailed transaction checking which is prone to error and time consuming
If a lengthy process in front of the trip sounds familiar, then you are here.
Some companies opt to control expenses as much as possible prior to the spend. A dedicated group to pre-approve airfare before ticketing or hotels prior to booking?
Do your employees ever complain that they can get better airfare or hotel rates on their own?
Or, that the lengthy approval process means they can’t be as responsive as they’d like to book meetings with clients or prospects? Enforcing compliance in this manner can cause:
- Missed opportunities when employees can’t fully leverage their trip to a specific city
- All spending must be approved including expenses that comply with policy
- Cost to administer outweighs the spending control and savings
Both human and technical.
Collaboration for project expense management goes outside the scope of an isolated task such as the expense reporting process and integrates people and technology for maximum benefits.
This type of collaboration connects processes such as travel planning, expense reporting, and approvals – enforcing spend policies in real time throughout the workflow. And most importantly, automates as many of the processes as possible.
Do you have a combination of disparate processes that represent the larger workflow of project expense management? Some benefits of connecting the workflow:
- ‘In policy’ booking
Routing out-of-policy airfare quotes for approval in real time prior to ticketing
- Centralize policy updates
Spending rules are always current and applied at all phases of the workflow
- Eliminate expense entry errors
Links to company credit cards means transactions are accurate; OCR technology converts paper receipts to data
- Share spend data across applications
Financial applications, invoicing for project expense billing, and management reporting
for spend visibility
Policy enforcement can take many shapes and a collaborative and automated workflow ensures organizations have every opportunity to control costs, stay within budget, and do so with as little administrative overhead as possible.
Mobile Apps Increase Productivity. Really.
It’s no surprise that we prefer using our smart devices whenever possible. The apps designed for shopping, banking, and social media are easy-to-learn, intuitive, and update while we’re sleeping.
But you may be surprised that mobile apps are fast becoming the most productive method to manage business processes as well. They are – and for all the same reasons that our ‘go to’ for just about everything is the smart phone.
Mobile apps need to get the job done with 80 percent less real estate than its’ web application counterpart. Smaller screens leave precious space to present information and the attention span of the user is diminishing every day. Apps by necessity have to present a context sensitive experience. For business, this means a user interface that adapts as tasks are completed, is smart enough to know what should happen next, and guides the user to accomplish the task. Web applications on the other hand often give the user several options to complete an activity while mobile apps – good ones – march users along efficiently. Work is accomplished faster with fewer mistakes.
When shopping for new business software – even large scale applications – look into the mobile experience they offer. It’s likely your teams will gravitate toward using the mobile app and a good experience for them is good for the company.
Expense Reporting vs
The improvements of automation over manual paper-based methods can be significant but to get the most benefit, you must look for the fine print. Where is that? It’s the point where tasks are connected together into groups representing a process – all rolled up into a workflow.
Connecting and automating discrete tasks together has far reaching benefits and for business travel and spending, it’s the difference between expense reporting and expense management.
The former results in a data silo of sorts while the latter shares information across the financial ecosystem aiding in decision-making both long and short-term.
On the surface, it seems logical to automate a single task or application. Make it faster and the results more reliable. That is an improvement. But expense data, like data resulting from many other tasks, is used throughout the organization, regardless of how it’s collected.
Automating just the expense report can short-change the potential overall benefits. Just like automating the CRM system for the purpose of only collecting contact information isolates the data which is enormously valuable to other systems. Need a combination of client names and their projects to bill back expenses? That’s only one example of the power behind automating and connecting processes. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s easy to make a case that all tasks should be connected in some way to maximize their value but of course that’s not a practical starting point.
Follow your expense report data to reveal a roadmap indicating other processes in the organization
where automation can bring efficiency, improvement, and positively impact the bottom line.
Check out these webinars for more insight on the subject.
Automation Should Not Eliminate
Manual Steps. Yes, You Heard Right.
There is no doubt that automation speeds things up – and improves the quality of the overall outcome.
Depending on what you read, automation can improve workflows by as much as 60 and even 90 percent by eliminating manual steps and integrating disparate processes.
But automation does not eliminate all the manual procedures – it can’t. Rather it aligns the need for human intervention at the time it’s really required.
Without automation, companies often find they are spending an inordinate amount of time and resources to find errors. And in the big scheme, these errors – once found – represent a small percentage of the overall process. Automation aligns the effort required to fix the problem with, well the problem!
Automation can identify exceptions, then apply logic on how they should be handled essentially delivering them for resolution to the right person at the right time. Instead of someone discovering problems using manual steps, automation does the work and sends an alert so they can step in and get things back on track.
Good automation does not eliminate 100 percent of the manual processes, but it does identify 100 percent of the problems, revealing when manual steps are required.
Interested in that 90 percent number? This Aberdeen Group study reveals how automated solutions like Concur Invoice are cutting costs by that much and more.
Don’t Stop at Fair.
Shoot for Generous.
Ever find yourself thinking what you’ve done is “enough”? Checked (only) the required boxes for that customer support issue; sent the file (just) in time for the meeting; answered (only) the questions asked; ended the meeting because the (allotted) time was over.
You will miss opportunities to distinguish yourself if you only look to what’s literally agreed to rather than what might be helpful to the other person.
Don’t follow protocol for the sake of it. Go the extra mile if you possibly can. Professionally, give your employees the latitude to go beyond what is needed to check off the box. You will be repaid with loyal customers and employees who know they can get creative in solving problems.
Less Than Perfect Cash Flow?
One Adjustment. Big Results.
Here is one change that could improve cash flow by weeks if not months.
Organizations that bill back expenses to clients can have large amounts of out-of-pocket cash sitting in limbo waiting for reimbursement.
The reason why?
Because of the many moving parts required to properly report the billable expenses including spend capture, project assignment, management approvals, and data assembly.
Billing back project expenses is a science, not an art. It requires absolute accuracy and businesses invest in guaranteeing that precision.
Just how much is the investment?
Cardno reported an excess of 500 hours per month to generate billing statements for their clients.
Cardno is an international company listed on the Australian Securities Exchange providing professional infrastructure and environmental services serving Environmental, Defence, Energy and Resources, and Transportation markets – just to name a few.
Missed expenses directly impact Cardno’s profitability and errors can result in billing disputes that add even more time onto the cycle between spend and reimbursement.
Cardno has since streamlined this mission-critical part of their company, saving over 500 hours each month.
What was the one change?
Cardo eliminated all their manual steps in favor of fully automating the process to create billing statements for their clients with a combination of SaaS-based expense reporting and client bill back.
That 500 hours has been converted to pure profit.
Say hello to Cardno!
Upside Down on Legacy Systems?
Think Overall ROI.
Many companies have some type of older application that performs a mission-critical function.
You know the one.
- Customized over time to serve particular needs
- Nightmare when it’s time to connect to other systems
- And, an expensive bottleneck as new systems and processes are brought online
If you’re on the fence about replacing an older application, consider the incremental benefits of the update combined with your other modern systems. It might give you the justification you need.
Newer applications are designed to integrate with – well – other newer technologies. That is a large part of their value. Any time you force them to connect with older systems their value is reduced and so for that matter is the value of the legacy application.
So much so, that you could be upside down on your overall ROI.
Today a much wider number of systems are working together across the organization and their value in part is based on aggregation.
Think about CRMs. For a long time, their function was tightly tied to the sales process and thus the measurement for ROI.
Today, CRMs are an integral part of the company, often serving as a central application for almost all business data and information. What started essentially as a customer database and prospecting tool has expanded to a platform that directly and indirectly impacts most of the company’s day-to-day business. CRMs are just one example.
A significant benefit to newer application models such as SaaS is frequent upgrades. They happen often, sometimes without advance notice, and deliver new features literally overnight. The overall benefit of a SaaS application (in this case) is diluted by the work needed elsewhere if other systems take time to integrate.
Think about the big picture and overall ROI. The math might surprise you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fix It.
Companies that bill-back expenses to their customers often have processes in place that have adapted over time. The longer the processes have been around, the more difficult it is to implement a change – both culturally and technically.
Is it worth it?
Considering that older processes are typically manual and often rely on proprietary systems that cannot integrate with modern applications, it’s worth looking into.
Here are some considerations to help you decide:
What is the End Game Today?
The entire point of any billable project is profitability – right? Start at the end of the workflow in accounting. Their goal is to get money owed back into the company in as short a time as possible. What does it take today to get all the project-related pieces together and assembled into a package for the customer?
What To Watch Out For: The process may not be the same for all customers. Many have specific formatting requirements for how they want this data arranged on their statement. Also, be afraid of spreadsheets. Be very afraid.
Follow the Data Upstream
What are the steps required of the rest of the employees to feed accounting the information they need? You will end up at the expense report every single time. And although accounting can show you this process, I recommend you have a talk with someone who actually has to complete expense reports as a result of working on the customer project. Their angle on the process is worth understanding.
What To Watch Out For: Special reporting steps required for projects with billable expenses such as separate expense reports for each project with no other expenses included. Think about multiple projects going on at the same time. Also watch out for the look on their face.
Show Instead of Tell
Have folks actually do the work in front of you to accurately illustrate the time and attention it takes. As employees show each step, ask why it’s done that way. When you interview the accounting group I suggest bringing walking shoes because the copier, scanner, printer, and computer that stores the spreadsheets are not usually in the same room.
What To Watch Out For: Workarounds that exist to bridge gaps. You’ll hear “We do this because the other system can’t… ” or “This extra step is needed to double-check accuracy because…” and “I really need a new pair of walking shoes …” – that kind of thing.
After all that, does your current solution and process equally support the business requirements and the productivity of both your front office spenders and travelers, and back office accounts team? If not, it’s worth looking into something new for everyone involved. Change is good!
DEO. It’s a Thing.
Bill Back for Project Expenses.
When it comes to cash flow, tracking Days Sales Outstanding and Days Payables Outstanding are well known calculations. The shorter the better.
Companies that bill back expenses to their clients have another important measurement.
Days Expenses Outstanding.
This clock starts ticking when the first billable project expense is purchased. Keep in mind many transactions are made well in advance of when the actual project work is done, and can be large purchases such as airfare, hardware, software, and supplies – especially those purchased in bulk and billed back to various clients and projects.
Do the math.
Pay for upfront expenses – airline tickets and supplies.
Pay for expenses during the project – meals, hotel, entertainment – paid on the corporate card or reimburse employees as they submit expense reports.
Project completes. Assemble the receipts, invoices, and other backup documents to bill back the project-related expenses. Send the bill in August if you’re lucky.
Many of our clients report 90 days and even 120 before they receive payment from their customers.
There are several areas in the process that can reduce your DEO.
Start with how you’re managing the spending side. How well does your expense management process track billable expenses for your particular needs? Proper tracking here reduces the work needed on the back-end to determine who to bill and how much. Take a look across systems too. Expense reporting is an obvious one but look at your invoice process as well.
Future blogs will address other areas.
Did I say …
I meant …
SaaS Expands CRM Value …
CRM plays an important role in a company’s overall financial ecosystem. Activities tracked here are critical to measure the overall spend picture. SaaS for Expense Reporting and Invoice Management are just a couple of areas to consider during your analysis when choosing a new CRM system. SaaS applications (working together) can provide great visibility into the company by sharing and leveraging the data and information captured during these activities.
Some checks and balances as you research:
- Does the CRM integrate out of the box with other types of applications your company needs?
Look for partner programs that offer validated applications. This means the two have been through a certification process. Tested, re-tested, and most importantly — have a formal process for resolving issues.
- Can you make configuration changes to the CRM without the help of the vendor?
This is the mark of a modern SaaS solution. Ideally you can and the vendor offers assistance for complex configuration adjustments. Ask that question of the other applications as well.
- Are pricing models complementary?
Often times SaaS offerings fall apart here and use a legacy pricing model. Do some serious legwork in this area and line up the pricing models for all SaaS applications together.
Still make business sense? Then it’s a ‘go’!
The Tail Wagging the Dog
Billing back project expenses to clients often feels a bit like this.
Missed expenses are a direct hit to profitability so companies go to great lengths to track every dollar spent, often retrofitting processes that take place earlier in the workflow to serve the master. Sorry.
A common practice is to require a separate expense report for each project but that has its’ challenges.
- More work for the spender
- Still no guarantee that 100% of the billable expenses are captured
- Splitting expenses across multiple projects is a manual process
This adds a considerable amount of work for the spender both in time and number of expense reports needed. Plus, it still requires manual steps on the back end to sort through reports and receipts.
It could be a wash or worse, you could be upside down if it actually costs more to track the expense than the actual item’s value.
You can’t spend it twice. Or maybe you can.
In any case, you certainly don’t have to.
Pivot Payables and Concur have a better way to bird dog (sorry, last one) client billable expenses.