By: Clive Longbottom, Head of Research, Quocirca
Published: 11th February 2010
Copyright Quocirca © 2010
Up front, I apologise. I am about to write a couple of words that are likely to make the general readers eyes glaze over. Bear with me and I hope that the end result is a bit more interesting than the topic itself may at first appear.
Im talking about travel and expense claims. Please wake up—I know that you always leave them to the last moment, struggle to find that receipt for the £100 meal you had with those special customers, find that one receipt is completely unreadable and then can't remember whether the VAT rate on that meal in Dubai is 15% or 5%, and whether its reclaimable at all. Your Excel skills mean that the submitted return doesn't bear much resemblance to anything, really. You probably worry that the Inland Revenue may come to carry out an audit, and that your expenses are in such a state that you don't feel that you can support what you've submitted as either an individual or a company.
Yes, travel and expenses is a right royal pain in the proverbial and many organisations are still using good old spreadsheets as the main means of trying to deal with them.
I've just come back from a trip to Concurs user event in the US. Big in the US, with a reasonable foothold in the UK and somewhat fledgling elsewhere, Concur provides a software as a service (SaaS) approach to expenses: you get a front end on your PC, BlackBerry or iPhone, as well as support for future Android devices—and you put your expenses into the system as you go along. It deals with all the tax issues, it reconciles credit card bills, it ensures that no corporate or government rules are broken. It deals with multiple currencies and multiple VAT rates—all pretty slick and good for all concerned.
Concur does a lot of other things as well: it can act as the front end for individuals booking travel, ensuring again that rules are followed and any exceptions dealt with in the most optimal manner when it comes to workflow—and that the travel expense is dealt with without the users having to do anything. But, for many, it's the working expenses side that can add real value to the organisation.
So far, so good—but it's still based on dealing with a paper-based system, right? Heres where things are changing in the US. There is an increase in the use of e-receipts, where the individual sees no paper. The expense is recognised and reconciled directly with Concur electronically: no more lost receipts. Have to have a paper receipt? OK—use your mobile to take a photo of it and have it attached to your expense claim automatically.
Concur's issue to date has been that it has really been aimed at the high end—the global distribution service (GDS) companies and the travel management companies (TMCs) as partners and distributors, and from there to the large and upper midsized organisation.
And, with its corporate focus being mainly on the US, it has not, as yet, been a massive force as an expenses solution in Europe. A couple of announcements may change all of that.
Last year, Concur took over a French company, E-Tap On-line. E-Tap had strong relationships with many French companies, and was already looking to how it could expand in to the rest of Europe. Concur has also signed with Amadeus, the largest European GDS player. This will provide massive acceleration for its attempts to bring the travel side of its business in to Europe, and behind this will ride the complete travel and expense system.
Again, at first only to the larger organisations. Concur knows that it has to drive down further into the smaller end of the market: the high end is too easy to saturate, and there's always the risk of a large industry software player doing just enough to be a disruptive competitor. At the lower end, you have literally millions of completely unserved customers with a lot of pain. Concur will address this market: it has indicated that it will make a move in this market later on this year showing how it will provide the simplicity of use and function that such markets demand.
Across the board, there are additional functional futures that
Concur is looking at as well. One is opening up the APIs to allow
others to use the Concur capabilities. For example, imagine that
you have just landed in a city. There are no taxis to be seen.
Open up your phone, tap a button, see that there are 4 taxis in a
2 mile radius of where you are in real time on Google Maps. Tap
another button to get one of those to redirect to you as soon as
possible. After the taxi ride, tap another button, and the taxi
driver automatically gets a funds transfer of his fare (plus tip,
if he's deserved it), and the receipt is automatically applied to
the individual's expense account. No money, no credit cards, no
bits of paper, and no fraud by pushing the taxi receipt up by a
few pounds as the cab driver hands it over to you
This is not something that is difficult—and you won't see such complete solutions coming directly from Concur. It will provide the back end services through open, cloud-based APIs, and others in the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and PC development communities can do the mashups and the front end smarts. Indeed, the main part of the example above is already available— TaxiMagic provides the booking and tracking capabilities for taxis across many US cities via iPhone.
Concur has set its sights on Europe: it wants to penetrate the
large, mid-sized and SMB markets. Its major competition is not
another vendor in the travel and expenses market: it is lack of
awareness. Spreadsheet use and inertia is where the problem lies.
If Concur can get businesses to realise just how much time is
wasted in the expense processes, both by the individual trying to
pull everything together, in errors in transcribing from the
paper receipts to the spreadsheet, in lack of real knowledge of
the legal position of the expenses and in lack of adherence to
corporate policies, then it will start to gain real penetration.
If, in twelve months time, the name "Concur" is still not much
better known in the market, then it will have failed.
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