Digitalisation is giving the British Council – and other public sector organisations – new opportunities to transform, helping streamline processes and policies that lead to an improved infrastructure, working environment and ultimately, the services provided to all citizens.
Digitalising the travel and expenses process has helped the British Council – one of the UK’s most wide-reaching and complex public sector bodies – reduce and better manage complexity, drive employee enablement, and improve compliance and reporting.
That was the key message delivered during a recent breakout session entitled ‘How digitalisation is transforming the public sector’, part of the SAP Concur Fusion 2021 event.
The British Council works on the ground in more than 100 countries and, in the 12 months prior to the COVID pandemic, connected with nearly 800 million people worldwide.
The event heard that deploying a digital solution within such a complex organisation has allowed it to gain oversight of expense claims across the organisation at all stages of the workflow; support risk managers in assessing compliance; and provided invaluable market intelligence to procurement.
How the British Council has digitalised T&E
The British Council is currently around one-third of the way through its global roll-out of SAP Concur’s T&E solution in geographical terms – but now has two-thirds of all employees onboarded due to prioritising the bigger countries in its network.
Katie Grimes, the organisation’s Global Process Owner, Travel & Expenses, told delegates how this phased approach, with a completion target of late 2022, meant the organisation could begin capitalising on the benefits immediately – with others onboarding later.
In key locations, and for a large proportion of the organisation’s staff, the British Council has been able to move to a single solution for cash and corporate credit card spend, with simplified and automated approval replacing a system whereby physical receipts often had to be posted from city to city or even country to country – which could potentially cause delays.
Delegates heard how SAP Concur’s system is intuitive, with a mobile app that enables users to submit and approve while on the go – which in turn speeds up people getting their money back.
“In addition,” Grimes added, “the electronic storage of receipts really supports the British Council in going green, really supporting going paperless where we can.”
SAP Concur’s system has also allowed the British Council to tailor its expense types – a move Grimes said was important “given we operate in many settings”.
If, for example, the organisation is purchasing classroom equipment for one of its teaching centres – it now has the ability to tailor the expense type to ensure compliance but also provide an accurate account of where it is spending that money – something other organisations don’t have.
Grimes also explained how the British Council is taking advantage of the Concur Audit Service as part of its deployment of the T&E solution.
“The Content Audit Service has been a great asset to us and something we continue to champion,” she said. “We have worked closely with the Concur Audit Service to make sure our polices, including our global T&E policies, are accurately reflected as questions in our audit scripts. The expenses are interrogated on a line-by-line basis against this audit script. That ensures only compliant claims progress to the next stage of the workflow.”
Any that do not comply are automatically returned with clear and concise commentary and questions – so they can be rectified quickly and moved seamlessly along, Grimes explained, adding: “The audit script itself is also unbiased so, whether you are an administrative person or the CEO, the questions you receive will be the same.”
Clear and tangible benefits
In addition to these process improvements, the British Council’s deployment of SAP Concur has delivered a number of tangible benefits and outcomes.
In terms of employee enablement – Grimes told delegates the implementation has been “an all-round time-saver for users and approvers”, adding that the system is intuitive and automated, feeding in card transactions automatically and recognising vendors and expense types.
From a complexity perspective, she said simple system changes and tailored activities along the way have had a huge impact – with moves such as changing some optional fields to mandatory helping with compliance but also ensuring fewer expense claims are returned.
“In terms of compliance and reporting, the system also easily provides evidence to report on trends locally, regionally and globally” she added.
Being such a global organisation, with such a big footprint, Grimes said this type of trends analysis and insight is valuable and allows the British Council to better plan and budget for the future – as well as “delivering an accurate and real-time picture of current finances.”
Powering public sector organisations across the board
Also speaking at the event, Dips Dhillon, Business Development Leader, Central Government, SAP Concur, said many other public sector bodies are also reaping the organisational benefits of digitalising their T&E processes – and agreed the outcomes for departments and end-users alike can be dramatic.
“A digital solution such as that provided by SAP Concur offers a variety of organisational benefits, all ultimately leading to positive outcomes and improvements for the end-user,” he said.
Looking at digitalisation and how it is helping departments govern, Dillon added “we are seeing departments achieve enhanced employee satisfaction as a result and clients are able to create a positive employee experience by aligning processes for managing travel booking, expenses reimbursement, purchasing card reconciliation, and invoice payment – which in turn can reduce staff turnover.”
He also spoke of “knock-on” benefits that digitalised T&E can deliver across government organisations.
“The efficiency and effectiveness of the accounts payable process can affect the organisation’s cash position, credit rating, relationships with its suppliers and accuracy or corporate financial reports. By encouraging more corporate card usage with the correct card feed, you will have better controls and visibility around one of the top financial line items.”
As the British Council continues its phased roll-out of SAP Concur’s T&E solution, the organisation is focused on further cost and time savings and driving an even more automated and seamless process.
“We are currently working on developing our Compliance Framework in line with the British Council global roll-out of Concur,” Grimes told delegates. “For this we are using Reporting Intelligence in addition to Consultative Intelligence, where the British Council has the ability to create bespoke reports to meet our requirements – perhaps a requirement in Brazil might not be a requirement in India, for example, so we can amend that to ensure our colleagues on the ground have oversight and are able to report”, adding to that “the next step of continuous improvement is to reflect country-specific requirements in our script”.
Starting your own journey
Responding to delegates’ questions in response to the breakout presentation, Dhillon stressed that any organisation looking to begin its digitalised T&E journey can do so quickly and expand it out in incremental stages if they do not yet have a clear roadmap of where they eventually want to get to.
“In an ideal world, departments will want a roadmap for digitalisation – but not having one doesn’t need to hamper getting going or indeed progressing your journey.
“Engaging a supplier or a consultant early on will enable you to identify some tactical quick wins that will deliver fast and tangible results – while you explore where else you want to take your digitalisation. While some organisations might be interested in a two-year overall ERP programme, instead starting early with just T&E can enable you to save money that you might miss out on if you wait for the complete implementation.”
Dhillon also added that, at a time when public sector organisations are under huge budgetary constraints – as they manage the huge costs and losses of revenue streams from COVID – the level of investment required to get going doesn’t need to be considerable.
“Of course, it’s important with any tech or digital investment to create a business case, so we recommend departments do that and is something we can help with, given we have huge knowledge of the financial returns and indeed data on what previous customers have achieved,” he explained.
When asked about implementation roll-out he added that it can be rapid, with an average roll-out as quick as 12 weeks, depending on the complexity of the organisation adding “and they can scale from there, so while we will always make sure we tailor the solution to the need – it’s clear that there is a great opportunity for other departments to begin seeing the benefits that the British Council is seeing, both quickly and cost-effectively.”