David Robinson 02 October 2020

Digitising expense management to drive digital transformation

Over the past decade, local authorities have had to balance funding cuts with the growing need for services within the community. Adopting digital technology has taken on a crucial role how councils shape the way they function for the future, by providing the necessary scalability and efficiency to deal with the complexities that come with a local public service function.

At Barnsley Council we are committed to a Digital First programme, not only for improving the lives of our residents and businesses within Barnsley but also with the intention to create a more flexible, dynamic workplace culture, where staff are able to work effectively from anywhere.

Part of this programme included the digitisation of our expense management process, which was an outdated paper-based process and ripe for overhaul. This had the knock-on effect of taking up staff’s time, as well as creating difficulties with compliance to our policies. As a result we replaced the time-consuming manual processes with an SAP Concur solution, which has automated expense management, as part of the ongoing digital transformation priorities of the council.

Gaining visibility and promoting compliance

Before implementing SAP Concur, our expense management process was based on an outdated manual process. The system was slow, unwieldy and afforded no clear visibility of expense detail. As a public sector body, it’s critical for us to have an eye on every penny we are spending, as well as ensuring our expense policy is being adhered to.

In the past we had a problem with many illegitimate expense claims being approved. This wasn’t a result of employees acting nefariously, but policies become blurred and difficult to keep track of and comply with. Automation has minimised this, allowing staff to be alerted if an expense does not fit within the policy requirements. Making it easier to understand and apply the policy.

Promoting a healthy work-life balance

We believe it is important to encourage modern ways of working, as well as providing our workforce with the right work-life balance. This is vital in enabling us to attract and retain the right skills and talent, which is increasingly difficult in such a competitive world.

The fact that our processes were all manual meant that employees had to come into the office to process their expense claims. This restricted their flexibility and mobility, particularly for staff with a role that involved being out and about within the community. SAP Concur allows these employees to submit and process their expenses on-the-go, giving them time back to be more productive and deliver excellent service.

This has provided a great example of digital working and has prompted appetite from employees for more digital initiatives. As a council we’re determined to provide employees with the ability to work anywhere and remove barriers that may hinder this.

Increasing efficiencies

By implementing SAP Concur, we were able to remove any paper-based processes immediately. This completely streamlined back-office financial processes that were taking the finance team a lot of time to navigate. Now our accounts payable team

From an employee perspective, the increased efficiencies with the finance processes has meant that they get their expenses paid more quickly. Previously expenses took up to six weeks for employees to be reimbursed, and now with Concur we can ensure these are fulfilled within days. Helping to ensure employees are not out of pocket when doing their role.

Opportunity from catastrophe

COVID-19 has obviously had an unprecedented impact on the public sector, with working practices transforming overnight. At Barnsley Council, we worked to enable our workforce of 2,500 to work remotely overnight and although this task was challenging, it was made easier by our Digital First programme. Tools such as Concur, that are based in the cloud, mean that employees were able to file their expense claims without having to travel and come into the office.

Most importantly, we’ve been able to continue offering our services at a time when they’ve been needed most with minimal disruption. COVID-19 has provided a trying experience for many, but to take a positive – we have seen that we can provide the flexible working environment that many modern employees are looking for. have more time to focus on more value-added tasks within the organisation.

David Robinson is service director at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council

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