Bentley Systems, a global infrastructure technology and software company, routinely sends about 20% of its nearly 3,500 employees to client sites around the world as consultants or solution implementation partners. Its users include many of the world’s power plants, water treatment and sewage plants, oil and gas companies, mining companies, and other companies that use microstation software to help design, build, and maintain bridges, roads, tunnels, and dams.
With frequent travel by sales and professional services teams, accurate travel and expense (T&E) management is important to Bentley’s bottom line, especially since many of a traveler’s on-site expenses are billed back to the client. T&E costs represent the second highest controllable annual expense for Bentley, surpassed only by salary and benefits.
In 2010, Bentley transitioned to its first automated system, SAP Travel Management, delivering the first structured workflow with integration to its existing SAP ERP Human Capital Management (SAP ERP HCM) solution. This eliminated many of the traditionally manual T&E processes that often began with employees stuffing receipts into a wallet or briefcase and provided Bentley with significant improvements — among them, a simplified approval process, more accurate entry of cost objects, billable expense tracking, and spend analysis. With automated integration into its SAP environment, Bentley for the first time had an end-to-end document trail; as part of the approval process, accounts payable (AP) could convert an expense report into an accounting document that showed every transaction touching the report.
Empowering the Business Traveler
Despite these significant improvements — including a more than 50% reduction in the time AP spent processing an expense report — in 2013 Bentley began to explore an even more robust T&E solution to eliminate some functional gaps. These gaps included a six-step manual process for AP clerks to process and post an expense report and, perhaps most importantly, the ability for travelers to self-book a trip.
“Many of our frequent travelers wanted a self-booking option. We were receptive to this feedback for the sake of travelers, and as a way to reduce cost by not having to be at the mercy of the travel management companies for preferred flights and potential fare increases,” says Ram Kantamaneni, Bentley Systems’s Senior Business Analyst for Finance. “Other features we wanted were mobile capabilities and the ability to maintain our own travel policy rules and discount codes.”
Another requirement for a new solution, according to Kantamaneni, was multi-level approval workflow functionality that Bentley could configure according to its stringent approval policies. “As a process-oriented, privately held company, there are rules and regulations we have adopted to make ourselves accountable,” he says. “Our approval hierarchy isn’t a typical two-step workflow; it often goes to five or six levels for approval, and a lot of tools in the market weren’t able to handle this requirement.”
A search for a new solution that met these requirements led Bentley to Concur, which had yet to be acquired by SAP when Bentley purchased a license for the software-as-a-service (SaaS) application in 2013. (The acquisition was later announced in December 2014.) “That acquisition was certainly a huge surprise and bonus for us in that Concur is now the default platform for travel enhancements in the SAP system,” Kantamaneni says.
At the time, however, integrating Concur with SAP ERP HCM data was not as seamless as it is today, which created a few challenges during the roughly three-month implementation. Bentley first went live for its US and Canada locations.
When you make things easier for travelers where they don’t have to worry about what’s happening with a flight booking or an expense approval, their main focus is speaking with our software users to understand their needs and create loyal partners.
— Ram Kantamaneni, Senior Business Analyst for Finance, Bentley Systems
According to Kantamaneni, a lot of the implementation effort involved setting up the company’s posting process; T&E data coming from Concur into SAP ERP had to be posted against specific general ledger accounts according to multiple posting logics for scenarios such as billable versus non-billable expenses.
While Concur at the time had a financials connector to mitigate the SAP integration effort, Bentley instead opted to take a different route. “Because the connector didn’t cover all of our scenarios, we built an in-house solution, which we put a lot of effort into, to do a lot of the validations, cross-checks, confirmations, and testing. Posting data from Concur into our financial system was the biggest and most critical piece as far as the implementation was concerned, and there was no room for error,” he says.
To optimize its Concur deployment, Bentley devoted time and resources ahead of the go-live to devising more of a global standard for many of its travel and expense policies. The thinking behind this strategy was that a global T&E solution deserved global policies to help drive cost-savings on the front end by making everyone follow the same restrictions despite working with different travel management companies. It would also help streamline approvals and audits.
“While we had good policies in place, there wasn’t much synchronization among the different regions,” says Kantamaneni. “The goal was to build rules that treat everyone the same, especially with more international travel.”
Getting to Simple
Another implementation challenge arose when Bentley’s professional services group, accustomed to dual travel and expense management workflow through the company’s previous system, discovered that Concur did not support similar workflow functionality. “This was a unique aspect to the implementation because professional services had a certain way that they felt T&E needed to be done,” says Jim Frick, Bentley Systems’s IT Manager for Finance.
To allay potential concerns over the lack of a dual workflow — which had been configured that way to more easily bill T&E back to clients — Kantamaneni and Frick made sure to include professional services in implementation strategy sessions. Doing this helped those individuals realize that whatever functionality they would lose would be more than offset by the capabilities they would gain with Concur. One functionality improvement included cleaning up an inefficient tax issue in Canada that caused some cash flow delays as users refused to pay invoices with an incorrect tax posting. And, by configuring the solution to the unique needs of professional services, the team was still able to bill T&E back to clients, just in a different way from how it was accustomed to doing so.
“Getting the consultants, the finance people, and the tax people together was a big win to get this squared away,” says Frick. “On one hand, you have multiple groups at Bentley talking to one another where they hadn’t communicated much before, and on the other hand, you have the direct benefit of improved cash flow because now more accurate cost information goes to our clients, who are the ones who pay the bills.”
Getting the consultants, the finance people, and the tax people together was a big win to get this squared away. Multiple groups at Bentley are now talking to one another where they hadn’t communicated much before, and more accurate cost information goes to our clients.
— Jim Frick, IT Manager for Finance, Bentley Systems
Policy simplification aligned with some of the process simplification driven by the Concur implementation. In addition to multi-level approval workflow capabilities, mobile-enabled functionality, and self-booking, Concur also delivered new e-receipt and tax reclamation functionality that Bentley was eager to use.
The company had, for the most part, not maximized tax reclamations for value-added tax (VAT), goods and services tax (GST), and other consumption tax reimbursements from the countries where its employees booked travel. In Concur, consumption tax reclamation is calculated automatically. And with automated e-receipt functionality, travelers now booking flights or reserving rental cars from many of the major carriers receive an electronic receipt through Concur that generates its own expense entry automatically.
For most of Bentley’s travelers, these and other receipts are captured and sent on mobile devices. Line items are created while a business trip is ongoing. In many cases, an expense report is submitted for approval the moment a business traveler steps out of a taxi or hired car.
“When you make things easier for travelers where they don’t have to worry about what’s happening with a flight booking or an expense approval, their main focus is speaking with our software users to understand their needs and create loyal partners for Bentley,” says Kantamaneni. “And it’s not just for Concur; this is our mindset for all of our solutions, like SAP Hybris Cloud for Sales. Our solutions need to provide a lot of options, features, and flexibility to our colleagues who face the outside world.”