|By Concur, an NAEP Director Sponsor at the 2016 Annual Meeting
Across the country, universities are tightening their collective belts; combating shrinking endowments and stagnant state funding by accomplishing more with less. Although higher education procurement pros are successfully containing costs in multiple areas, many still struggle with Travel & Expense (T&E) spend.
Oftentimes, the expense process is paper-based, or divided among disparate systems, making it impossible to extract the data needed to negotiate rates with preferred suppliers. Yet, there’s resistance to change.
“I think there’s a misconception that travel is a very personal thing, particularly in a non-mandated culture. No one wants to tell faculty and staff what to do; so, most do nothing,” said Sandy Hicks, associate vice president and chief procurement officer for the University of Colorado. “We’ve found that if you offer good systems and make doing the right thing the easy thing to do, you’ll get adoption.”
Hicks knows what she’s talking about. By implementing Concur Travel and Expense, engaging her travelers and using the collected data for rate negation, she’s already saved the university hundreds of thousands of dollars—and no one’s complaining.
Start with the Right System.
Before the University of Colorado started using Concur Travel & Expense, its processes were paper-based, manual and very disjointed. Now, everything is streamlined.
Airfare is booked through the Concur online travel tool, or a designated TMC agent. Instead of collecting paper receipts, the faculty submits everything electronically. Traveler reimbursement that used to take an average of three weeks is now handled in just one day. Most importantly, Hicks has access to meaningful spend data.
“The first step to managing T&E spend is getting a system that not only makes things easier on your travelers, but gives you visibility into where the dollars are going,“ Hicks said. “It’s amazing how many vendors will talk when you have a corporate control mechanism in place, and can prove your value as a buyer.”
But, how do you get travelers to actually use the system—and those preferred providers?
Make It Easier to Use the System than to Go Rogue.
“We’ve never told our travelers that they have to use Concur. However, if they don’t use our travel system, they have to prove that they paid less for their flights. And, they’re not reimbursed until after the trip,” Hicks said. “So, we’re not saying, ‘You can’t,’ but we’re giving our travelers good reasons to use our designated process. “
This strategy is working well. At the time of this writing, the University of Colorado has 93 percent compliance on airfare. The negotiated rates, and the increased use of preferred airlines, saved nearly $229k in FY2015.
That same type of strategy enhanced the use of the University’s corporate travel card, introduced a few years back, as a companion to the separate procurement card. Expenses from both of these cards flow directly into the appropriate accounting categories in Concur. Card rebates totaled $278k in 2015, with incremental increases each year.
Get Continual User Feedback to Fine-Tune the Process.
T&E management is a continuum. To keep adoption, and satisfaction high, Hicks solicits feedback through regular user surveys.
“One of the questions we asked was ‘How often do you travel?’” Hicks said. “Not only did we learn that 66 percent of our travelers were infrequent travelers, but that these individuals were less satisfied than our more frequent travelers. We knew something had to change.”
Hicks and team developed a just-in-time, infrequent traveler training—a quick hit of information, delivered through Concur, when it’s needed most.
“When a user books an airline ticket, the system identifies if that person has traveled that year. If not, he or she gets an email asking: do you have a travel card, have you downloaded the Concur mobile app and TripIt app—all the things they need to get started,” Hicks explained.
Five days before the trip, travelers receive an email providing tips for their trip. On the last day of travel, they receive an email with information on how to process their expenses.
This approach has been a big hit with those infrequent travelers. Forty-three percent of recipients actually view the information, get a quick refresher and have a better user experience.
The Intangible, But, Most Important Benefit: Keeping Faculty and Staff Safe Beyond cost reduction, there’s one, far more priceless benefit to putting a comprehensive travel system in place. Knowing where every traveler is, at any moment, is critical to Duty of Care.
Unfortunately, no place or country is immune to crisis—be it an act of terror or an earthquake, a lone gunman or an Ebola outbreak. It’s critical to have a single access point for all traveler information—as well as contact information and home address. If an incident occurs, University leaders can get in touch with travelers quickly, assess the situation and determine next steps to get them back safely. In those situations, every minute counts.
In this case, investing in a comprehensive T&E solution not only saves costs, but could potentially save lives. That’s a value proposition that’s hard to ignore.