Community and Innovation in Higher Education Tech: An SAP Concur Podcast Conversation with Huron about Penn State University

Taking a spend management program from excellent to astounding is a specialty that Huron Group does for its SAP Concur partner customers daily. This certainly was the case for Penn State University, one of the longest-running higher education customers of SAP Concur solutions who was ready to optimize and modernize their spend management program and ERP system. Penn State University leveraged the SAP Concur Higher Education Leadership Forum (CHELF) to confirm with their industry colleagues that Huron was the right partner for them, and then transformed their program before and during the global pandemic. “How do we take the technologies that we have, and the expertise we have, and the needs of different organizations, and just get creative with the stuff to make it work?” asks Phil Bunnell, Senior Solutions Consultant for SAP Concur, in this compelling podcast conversation with Tonia Raber, Consulting Manager for Huron. Discover innovation and community at its finest as they walk us through this incredible transformation story for Penn State University.

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Transcript:

Phil Bunnell:

All right. Hi, welcome everyone to the SAP Concur podcast. Today, we're going to be speaking with Huron Consulting Group and discussing how they collaborate with SAP Concur and others, and really make differences in organizations that are looking to optimize their processes. My name is Phil Bunnell. I am a Principal Solutions consultant here at Concur, and really my role is to engage with our customers on a daily basis and look into their needs and ways to optimize their programs. But I'm also joined by Tonia Raber today from Huron. Tonia, would you mind giving an introduction to yourself and even maybe a little intro to Huron as well, for those that aren't familiar?

Tonia Raber:

Hi, Phil. Thank you. My name is Tonia Raber with Huron Consulting Group. I am a manager, and I've been with Huron for about three years. Huron is a consulting firm that specializes in higher ed and healthcare organizations, as well as beyond that, but those are our two main verticals that we deal with. More specifically, from a T&E (travel and expense) perspective, we are an SAP Concur customer success partner and certified implementation partner. We provide an extensive variety of services designed to support organizations' travel and expense automation initiatives.

Phil Bunnell:

Awesome. Thank you, Tonia. So glad to have you here today. And, as you hear Tonia explain some of what Huron does for different clients and customers, and how they work with Concur, we really want to focus today on Penn State University, which is one of the largest universities in the country, and from SAP Concur's perspective, one of our largest higher education customers. And, when we look at Penn State University, they've been a long-time client of Concur's, but a few years ago, they were really looking to optimize different processes. A lot of that included travel and expense. And they were even looking at a new ERP system and had a lot on their mind of different ways they were going to bring in new technologies, make things easier, and look at different processes.

So, on an annual basis, Concur has a higher education group. So, we have what we call our Concur Higher Education Leadership Forum, where we get all of our higher ed clients together to really feed off each other and talk to their peers on how they do things. But, through that, we also welcome our trusted partners like Huron. And, Penn State did have that relationship with Huron in other perspectives but got reconnected with them at this event a few years ago to really look into optimizing their travel and expense processes through Concur. And, through that, they were really looking for multiple aspects, but being able to bring those groups together and have this community really started this relationship, and then to help our now mutual client go down the path they wanted to go to.

And a big piece of that is multiple different aspects where we want Tonia to really kind of show where Huron came in and really helped these processes. I think we'll maybe take one of these at a time, but I know Penn State was really looking to optimize their overall P-Card program management, but then also looking to consolidate different workflows. And, then I mentioned that ERP that they were looking at, which ultimately became Concur's parent company, SAP, with the S/4HANA ERP. Tonia, can you comment? I mean, maybe if we take one of those at a time, or maybe start with their P-Card management, or wherever you want, but what they were looking to do and where Huron came in to help out.

Tonia Raber:

Absolutely. So, Penn State had a legacy system that was fully automated, where they were bringing in procurement related charges into that legacy system. And their providing bank was splitting the feed and sending travel-type charges over to their old Concur instance. What Huron did, is we helped automate the Concur Request Module to manage their P-Card expenses, and then get the automated feed to go 100% into Concur, so they could actually start reconciling their procurement charges in Concur as well.

Phil Bunnell:

Okay. And, then through that process, we see a lot of organizations that have moved that way to bring those P-Card transactions in and reconcile all that information. Did you help then, from that perspective, kind of guide them on some of the best practices when it came to bringing in those types of charges? Here's what we see other organizations do, and really kind of give those best practices around that?

Tonia Raber:

We did. We explored all the options with bringing those charges in and how to reconcile them. So, SAP Concur has their Company Bill Statement module, or you can bring them into a separate quote-unquote, "Concur Policy," for a non-travel expense report type that allows you to segregate travel from non-travel purchases. And that was the road that Penn State decided to go down, was that non-travel expense reimbursement policy in Concur. From a request perspective, getting those things through the system and automated back out to their providing bank for processing of their P-Card Program, in general, was a bit more challenging, but very exciting in how we figured that out.

Phil Bunnell:

Yeah. So, I'd be curious to hear a little more about that. When you say Request, you're talking about Concur Request. For those that don't know, a lot of organizations use it for a kind of pre-trip approval process, if I plan to travel somewhere. So, I'd be curious how you utilize that tool from a banking perspective, credit card perspective.

Tonia Raber:

Absolutely. So, Request is a really amazing tool, the Request Module. You can actually, from a travel perspective, have that incorporate into an expense report. But you also have the option to say this particular Request will never be assigned to an expense report, which opens up the door of possibilities. So, being the innovative thinkers that we are, brought this to the forefront and said, "Hey, why don't we try to use this for some P-Card maintenance or credit card program management?" And so that's what we did; we introduced it. I apologize, I don't remember the first client that we took that to, but we've exploded it since then. And we've taken it out to about 10 other clients since then, if not more, and have introduced it, or spoken about it, at both CHELF and CHEAB. And CHEAB is the Concur Higher Ed Advisory Board, which Penn State actually had a representative on for many years.

Phil Bunnell:

I mean, that's great. And so, I kind of prefaced that question like I didn't know where you were going to go with it. And I obviously know what you did for Penn State, and I know you've done it for quite a few other organizations too. And to be quite honest, this is where I want to highlight for a second. I work for Concur and we know our products, obviously. But, when we partner with groups like Huron, it's interesting to me where you really came up with that separate process for one of our tools. And, usually, that credit card requisition process is common throughout our client base. And, when we heard about that, I mean, we stole it a little bit, but we are now promoting that to our customers as well. And I don't

I came from a Concur customer quite a few years ago, and if I would've known about it then... We were finding different ways to... How do we automate this process a little bit, instead of people filling out paper forms saying, "Hey, I need a credit card." So, to hear that you can bring that right into Concur, where you're doing your expense reports for those credit card charges, and it's really the same teams managing those processes, I mean, that's just a very cool aspect of these partnerships where we have our knowledge, you have your knowledge, and we put that all together to expand this for different customers. So, it's great to see that process. I'd be curious too... We talk about bringing the P-Card transactions in, and then finding a way to manage the requisition of those cards. What about working that from a banking relationship? So, obviously, there was a bank involved. I guess, what was that like, trying to ensure that we have the right files coming in, the right files going out, and make sure that data is fairly seamless?

Tonia Raber:

Absolutely. So, Penn State's banking partner was phenomenal to work with. They went above and beyond. And we actually sat with them in a couple of different sessions and mirrored a Cognos report that mirrors their TSYS, or their system of record report for mass issuances, or mass changes to credit cards. So, when we gather that information out of the Request Module, we put it into that report format. It's electronically sent through SFTP, emailed out of Intelligence to the SFTP. It's picked up by Penn State's financial management team. That data is automatically interrogated and filled in with some other data that we do not house in Concur for PII purposes. We don't want to get into any data security or credit card security issues. So, they store that in-house. They input that information back into the report, and then they send it up to their providing bank, who reads it and processes it. And, then in turn, sends what they call a "daily dump file" back to Penn State, who then interrogates that data, strips out any PII, puts it back in a report, and sends it back up to Concur.

Phil Bunnell:

Interesting. It sounds like a lot of different steps, but realistically, if you're thinking about that from a credit card administrator within your organization, I mean, that's all happening behind the scenes. You're just getting the data that you need, and the cards are getting ordered. There's not all these steps of filling out the form, going into the bank, filling all that data in, submitting it, waiting for the card to come in the mail. All that is just happening automatically. That's a great story of just how we can optimize some of these manual processes that are out there. And kudos to Huron, to Penn State, for being able to do that. And, maybe not even on purpose, for Concur to be able to accommodate that, right? It's just a great way to see how creative ways we can do different things with the technologies that we have.

So, I know thinking about that as well, if we're using Concur from an expense reporting perspective, or in a book on travel, or even having some kind of pre-trip authorization... I don't know if you were involved in this aspect of it, but I got to imagine the rollout of that to say, "Hey, if you need a credit card, you go to Concur now." I got to imagine a piece of that is you don't have much training around that. I mean, obviously, people need to know where to go. But it's a familiar look and feel, right, for those end users?

Tonia Raber:

It is. They did have a little bit of a learning curve because the P-Card maintenance and P-Card reconciliation for purchasing-type charges was taken care of in their old legacy system. So, many of those people actually did not have exposure to Concur. So, what we did is we targeted those particular individuals as part of our UAT test group. So, it got them in on the ground floor, gave them exposure to how Concur actually works. And, then we did a completely separate UAT session on just credit card processing. And we were able to, I think, push through about 300 end users, that we highly encouraged become power users, and helped the rest of the campus with that. And, then of course, they had the larger change management initiative, where they incorporated hints and clues and information about the new Concur rollout as part of their broader change management plan for the S/4HANA project.

Phil Bunnell:

And so, let's dive into that in a minute here. But I think part of this too, though, with the P-Card charges now, and the travel charges, we're consolidating workflows, right? And, even realistically, with this credit card requisition now. And was there other... I thought there was other types of workflows that were out there too, that we helped consolidate both from a Concur perspective, and I believe in the new ERP that we helped out with too. I don't know if you could expand on that at all.

Tonia Raber:

Well, I don't necessarily know that we consolidated out the workflow, Phil. What we were able to do is specialize the workflow to where the same person could potentially be getting both purchasing and travel related expense charges on a report. And, if it was a 100% P-Card, non-travel, it went through one workflow. If it was out of pocket, it went through another workflow. Or, if it included out of pocket, it went through another workflow. So, we were able to accommodate special circumstances within a couple of different workflows based off travel and non-travel policy types.

Phil Bunnell:

Okay. Interesting. I mean that, yeah, consolidate, or whatever the word is. But, yeah, it's taking that and again, being creative with it, right? And I think that's kind of the theme I'm coming up with here is: How do we take the technologies that we have, and the expertise we have, and the needs of different organizations, and just get creative with the stuff to make it work? And I think that's a big piece of what I'm seeing here. So, if we do expand on that... I mean a long story short; Penn State was also looking at a new ERP system and ultimately chose Concur's parent company, SAP, with their S/4HANA ERP. And I know with that Penn State being such a longtime customer of Concur's, they had a lot of information in Concur that they had added on over years. And, it became for lack of a term, somewhat of a complicated site.

And now we have a new ERP that we have to make sure things are mapped to, and the data's flowing properly. So, they also went with a new instance of Concur as well, which maybe we should have started there too, because I think when we talk about the Request credit cards, and some of these workflows, that was really built into this new instance. But another part of that was now getting an ERP. And, if anybody listening that's ever been part of an ERP migration... I mean, this is not a small effort by any means; that's a big effort. And, to think of all the touch points, Concur being one of those, I know Huron made a big assist there with being able to help configure Concur to fit into the new ERP as well. So, could you maybe start from, maybe not from the beginning, but kind of just take... Tell the story there, if you will, of what it was they were trying to accomplish and what we did there.

Tonia Raber:

Absolutely. So, not only did we configure a new instance for Penn State, we optimized what they had. As you mentioned, longtime customers, and basically self-taught because they were so long term with Concur. And they did a great job within their previous instance, but there was a lot of workarounds there, a lot of manual back-office effort on their part to make sure that things flowed the way they needed them to. So, with the optimization, within the new instance, we started asking more questions about why is their workflow this way, or what can we add to the profile in order to make the workflow easier? So, it can just trigger off of a certain indicator in the profile versus listing out a whole bunch of individual employee IDs within a workflow audit role. So, we did that. We messed around with their chart of accounts.

They had very in-depth... they had over, I want to say 500 expense GL accounts that they wanted to utilize. They had the high level, and then they had some detail under that. Not everybody or not every department, financial operating unit, needed to go to the level of the minutia, but others wanted that option. And, therefore, Penn State wanted to accommodate it. As part of that, we started thinking about sub lists, or lists that can be used under the expense type. As most people with Concur know, your chart of accounts, or your accounting structure, almost always ends with the expense type. You select your expense type; you get your GL code from there. Well, we took it a step lower. So, you're choosing your expense type, but then you choose a sub list, and that sub list is actually what holds the GL account. So, that was fun to explore. We got their expense type lists down to less than 200.

Phil Bunnell:

Wow. That's very interesting. Again, I can't think of a better term. I said it for all these now, but it's being creative, right? How can we accommodate 500 or so GL accounts without making it look crazy for our end users, right? To have 500 expense types to choose from, and to be able to take that, you said about 200, so you're more than cutting that in half. And I'm sure that 200 is across multiple different units within the university. But then, this is just a creative way to think about that; let's take it down a level. Just because we've always done it this one way does not mean that's how it has to be done every time. I think from Concur's perspective, I mean, we're set up that way because it is fairly simple, but once you get to be that large, and there's a lot of more complex things going on, this is where we have to be creative.

And, this is really, to me, that benefit of the partnership that we have with Huron here. You guys are thinking so much more outside the box, to how do we accommodate this stuff? Let's make it work. And that's just great to hear. And, I can imagine from Penn State's perspective, what that means. I'm just thinking surely from the user's perspective, right? To now come into this new instance of Concur, that has the same look and feel, but now it's even easier than it was before. And, then the back office or the finance team, getting that information into their new ERP, is flowing seamlessly because you were able to bring that down that extra level to keep the broader set of GLs, but not make it so complicated.

Very interesting to hear. And, I think from that, I have to assume we're talking very much about Concur, but there was that new ERP through SAP. We have native integrations, but when we're talking about some of these more complex projects and some of the creativeness that we're building, I'm sure there was a lot of communication there. Can you talk about that relationship at all, on how getting that data back and forth to make that process simple as well?

Tonia Raber:

Absolutely. So, as you're aware, with the native integrations between the SAP ERP products and the SAP Concur product, that's one of the primary reasons Penn State had went with an SAP ERP product, at least is my understanding. So, that native integration was extremely important to them. There was one part of the native integration from the employee-feed perspective that was lacking. And that is the fact that the Request-user and Request-approver check boxes were not options on the native integration. So, they couldn't... I don't... How do I put this? I don't want to say they couldn't use it, because they did use it. But the partnership there with Concur is what I really want to speak to in that regard. So, Concur knew that that piece of the pie was missing, right?

And, so, what they did is they worked very closely with Penn State and their IT group and developed an API that came back daily and updated those Request-user and Request-approver check boxes. So, Penn State did not have to ultimately use the 3-0-5 record to import their employee profiles. And I know that that was a pretty heavy lift, I think all things considered, from the Concur side, which they're very pleased with that collaboration.

Phil Bunnell:

Again, it's the creative side of this. I just keep coming back to that word. It's just... We're finding ways to make things work and make things better. And, then thinking about that, what else I'm seeing through this whole conversation is Huron and Penn State had a relationship prior to all this in different forms and fashions. Penn State and Concur had this relationship for quite some time. But, bringing that community together with all the Concur higher education colleges and universities, et cetera, coming together to feed off each other, to also bring in our partners, like Huron, into that same venue, same event, to make those connections. But, then to think about it even further from there, working with the bank, working with SAP, working obviously with Penn State; they're obviously a huge piece of this as well.

If we think about how making those connections throughout made this process now for Penn State travelers, or anybody doing an expense report, or needing a credit card at Penn State, and their back-office teams, whether that's IT, Finance, et cetera, we're pulling this all together. And, that Huron is a significant piece in the creativeness that came out of that, and the support for Penn State to make this all work. But I think the community aspect of that is huge here, of bringing everybody together. Not a specific question, but I don't know if you want to comment on that anymore. That's kind of what I'm getting out of all this.

Tonia Raber:

Absolutely. So, it was definitely a collaboration across many different communities we had at the CHEAB. The higher ed community, in general, is highly collaborative within each other. And, then you give them a forum like Concur has, to specifically talk about their travel and expense opportunities, and areas for improvement, talking about being able to be innovative and bring some of those trusted partners in to bounce ideas off of. It's just a really great community that Concur has embraced. And the higher ed community has... I don't want to say taken advantage of, but they've really taken advantage of it. They've taken it to the next level, I think. And we love being a part of that community that Concur has opened up for the higher ed area. It brings in so many different aspects. And we are able to then build off of that as well, with other partners, with banking partners, with other consulting partners on the ERP side, like we did for Penn state; we had to work pretty closely with them.

I talked about the employee profile before. So, we had to work with them and their Accounts Payable team, and their HCM team, to make sure that we could get what we needed in and out of both SAP products in order to have them work cohesively together. So, a huge, huge community effort, and we really like being a part of that.

Phil Bunnell:

Yeah. And that's great. I mean, I think just bringing that story out and how we can bring everybody together... I'll be honest, just the partnership between Concur and Huron. When I work with a lot of our higher education customers, and plenty of other customers in other industries as well, and when I come in and they say, "Oh, we're working with Huron too," it just puts me at ease, because I know that you guys are going to handle them well, come up with different ways to do things, make sure that we're accomplishing what needs to get accomplished. And so having that partnership between Concur, Huron, the customer, obviously, and then anybody else that needs to be a part of that, just tying all that together, I think is what we need to emphasize here.

It's strength in numbers, almost, is bringing the level of expertise of all these well-educated and experienced people to come up with different ways to do things, to make things that much more efficient. Tonia, I can't thank you enough for all of this, and Huron as well, for all the help that they've given Concur and our clients. If there's anything else you'd like to add... Otherwise, I think we can wrap it up here, but this has been a pleasure for me.

Tonia Raber:

Absolutely. I appreciate you having me on. It's been great. I love working with Concur. I do want to just make one more plug about the community, and Concur in general, being able to be open to new ideas. It's a very robust product, and it's exciting to be challenged by the client to bring something new to the table with what might seem like an out-of-the-box product, but it's really not. It's so robust and can do so much more than I think the average person even thinks they can, and to be challenged, and to be able to bring that through to fruition, just with thought, leadership, innovative creativity, as you keep mentioning, Phil, and the support of Concur to be, "Yeah, hey, it looks like we can do that. Let's do it." And I really enjoy being a part of that.

Phil Bunnell:

Awesome. Yeah, I mean, this has been great. I really appreciate the time. Hope our listeners feel the same. I think we really got a lot out of this, and things to think about. So, appreciate the time and wish you the best. And I'm sure we'll cross paths again. And, like I said, that's one of the best parts of my job when I hear that Huron's involved. So, we look forward to that.

Tonia Raber:

Thanks, Phil. Appreciate it.

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