A few months ago I was in Concur’s office in Maidenhead, UK, as part of Bluefin’s qualification for Concur’s Customer Success Programme. Being a Fiori/UI5 consultant, having a greater understanding of Concur’s offering provided me the insight to highlight some differences between the two recommended solutions for expense management if you’re running SAP: Fiori and Concur.
As Peter Asigbetse discussed in Travel and Expense Management: Know your options, there are essentially four standard solutions for expense management in the SAP space. Some of them, however, are no longer recommended and are being phased out in favour of the others. As an example, SAP Cloud for Travel and Expense. In 2016, if you’re looking for an SAP-based solution for expense management you should seriously consider one of two options: implement a set of Fiori applications specifically designed for expense management, or go with Concur software as a service (SaaS).
Fiori? What exactly is this?
Fiori is an SAP brand for a reimagined user experience (UX) when interacting with SAP systems. It provides a personalised, responsive and simple user experience for common use cases. Based on web technologies and open standards, it allows for improved productivity, increased adoption and decreased training costs. These applications run responsively on any desktop, tablet or mobile device that supports a modern web browser.
As part of the Fiori suite of applications, two were designed with expense management in mind:
- My Travel and Expenses;
- Approve Travel and Expenses.
My Travel and Expenses
Approve Travel Expenses
My Travel and Expenses allows employees to enter their travel and non-travel expenses. Some of its features include:
- Create, change, and submit expense reports
- Simplify expense report creation by copying trips
- Manage attachments on expense report level as well as on receipt level
- Capture receipts using a device camera
- Access all types of expenses, including per-diem and mileage
- Itemise receipts
- Assign attendees to expenses
- Split costs among several cost objects.
On the approval side, the companion application Approve Travel Expenses allows other employees (typically managers) to approve or reject expense claims. Some of its features include:
- Browse all approval requests in a personalised worklist
- Display details for a trip (cost assignment, settlement summary, individual receipts per trip)
- Display details for individual receipts (payment details, notes from requester)
- Identify travel policy violations with automatic alerts
- Approve or reject travel expenses (with note to requester)
- Forward the approval request to another employee.
To implement these applications on your SAP ECC system, you need to have the SAP back-end solution for expense management fully installed and configured. In addition to this, you require a set of Fiori-specific components, namely an SAP Netweaver Gateway component, which manages all communication between the application executing on the user’s browser and the back-end system.
Great. What about Concur?
The Concur Technologies story goes way back to 1993 when it created a desktop program for expense reporting. Fortunately, it was able to survive the .com bubble, its subsequent crash and keep up with the times. Eventually going public and being acquired by SAP, its software is now delivered exclusively as a Service (SaaS). This means that when you sign up for Concur, it handles the hosting, system setup and maintenance.
Focusing on its expense management product, its main features are:
- Import of expenses from corporate credit card programs
- Automatic creation of expenses from invoices photos (taken with a mobile device)
- Automatic creation of expenses from electronic receipts from airline, hotels and ground transportation companies
- Detailed reporting, dashboards and analytics on expense data
- Simple to use user interface
- Ability to create, change, and submit expense reports
- Ability to manage attachments on expense reports
- Itemization of receipts
- Tight integration with other Concur products such as Travel and Invoice.
Concur expenses view. Concur trial.
A Concur implementation project can be in one of three different service levels: Standard, Professional and Premium. These vary in scope, functionality, implementation time and cost, from the Standard which is the most limited and wizard-based self-guided approach, to the Premium which might involve an on-site Concur implementation team.
For many customers, especially those not familiar with SaaS, the hardest part to assimilate about a Concur system (or any other SaaS system) is that, since it runs in the cloud, you need to think of it as a 'black box'. You can control and configure some aspects of it but not change all of its code. Your company will need to set up both inbound and outbound interfaces with your SAP system. This is usually the hardest part of such an implementation as it requires custom coding on the ABAP side and the effort depends mainly on how bespoke your ECC solution is. However, with the recent SAP acquisition, an out-of-the-box integration package is due for release this year which, fingers crossed, should greatly simplify integration.
Comparing and contrasting Fiori and Concur
Here are the most important differentiating aspects between the two products.
SAP integration effort
In regards to this, the Fiori applications are ahead of the game. They were developed targeting the existing back-end architecture and are therefore much more tightly coupled. For a Concur system to be integrated with an SAP back-end, the SAP system needs to have a set of interfaces implemented. These interfaces have the task of parsing all the files (with everyone’s expense data) and extracting that information into SAP. Depending on how complex your back-end solution is, even the Concur system might need bespoke extractors.
SAP has been working on a standard integration package which is expected to be released to the general public on Q3. Such an extractor will most probably reduce the implementation effort but it is unlikely that it will make it simple for all cases as clients usually have some very specific requirements, as Peter Asigbetse discusses in his insight Official Concur integration is on its way for SAP ERP.
Concur, like most SaaS offerings, does not support custom coding. The screens and their fields are flexible but you cannot radically change its appearance, user experience or source code. You can, however, request a custom data extractor to be developed.
In contrast, the Fiori apps having an SAPUI5 foundation and having its code accessible means they can be adapted and enhanced. As an example, we recently delivered a “My Travel and Expenses”-based application with developments to support delegations, i.e. allowing an employee to create expense claims on behalf of others, as this functionality wasn’t available in the standard solution.
In the back-end, both offerings would require a similar effort to modify. The data coming out of a Concur system is a set of Comma Separated Values files that can be parsed as your company sees fit and the Fiori apps call standard ABAP on the ECC, which can be enhanced.
A point to note is that with the upcoming Concur/ERP integration package, as mentioned previously, the need for developments to parse these files becomes dependent on the specificity of your system. In other words, if your expenses process follows the SAP standard, these should be totally transparent.
When it comes to the approval processes, the Fiori-based applications implement these with standard SAP Workflow which can be fully modified. Concur, on the other hand, has a proprietary workflow engine that is very malleable but doesn’t allow changes at the source-code level.
In the standard and professional service levels, Concur presents an interesting pay-per-use cost structure. There is a small setup cost and a per-transaction fee. A transaction is, for instance, an employee submitting an expense claim. Depending on your company expense policies and the nature of your employees’ average expense claims, this could be very cost effective. Generally, the higher the volume of expected transactions through the system, the lower their unit cost. However, due to the low setup cost, contracts tend to have a minimum duration.
The Fiori applications, on the other hand, do not require special licensing from SAP, i.e. although you should expect a cost to install and configure them, SAP does not require additional setup or transaction fees.
So which one should you choose?
At the end of the day, both are great solutions for managing your expenses; they are competitive with any other expense management products, including those outside the SAP space. However, each of them has its pros and cons that need to be carefully considered depending on your needs and current SAP landscape, as there isn’t a clear winner. Do you prefer the higher flexibility of Fiori, or the peace of mind of a pre-built complete solution?