Going from Excellent to Astounding in Higher Education Tech: An SAP Concur Podcast Conversation with Huron about Penn State University

Innovation is often the sum of many parts that occurs after years of measured improvement and thoughtful collaboration. Since Penn State University has been at the forefront of expense management technology since the 1980s, and is one the earliest SAP Concur higher education customers, collaborating with Huron on a new project created an explosive acceleration to innovation. Their invention of a new way to use Concur Request to manage corporate and P-Card spend is a far-reaching benefit for all users now, and the fact that they came together through the SAP Concur higher education community is a testament to the power of bringing everyone together in these forums.  

You can listen to this episode on Apple | Amazon | Spotify | Listen Notes | Acast | Google or read the transcript.


Community for the win

The higher education community is tight-knit, and they rely upon each other’s local knowledge to inform their own strategic decision-making:

“So, on an annual basis, [SAP] Concur has a higher education group. So, we have what we call our Concur higher education Leadership Forum, where we get all 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,” shared Bunnell. “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 [SAP] Concur. 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,” shared Bunnell.  

Once Penn State University and Huron were re-acquainted, they were able to identify how they could continue to grow and improve in a new way. Before Penn State University decided to collaborate with Huron, they had the validation from their colleagues in the higher education field. Now, as they have found success, Penn State University and Huron continue to share this local wisdom with their higher education community, so that others can also benefit from their innovations.


Approving card spend before It happens

Penn State University has always been cutting edge - they were digitizing expenses back in the 1980's! So, having a fully automated system that connected with their procurement and banking program was an old hat for them. Yet, they were still hungry for something better and more streamlined, so they added Concur Request to expand the ability to reconciliate expenses to their automation streams, which allowed for P-Card approvals before the expenses were incurred. And there was even more magic – things like expense reimbursements and vendor payments seamlessly and automatically cleared through their reviews and slipped right into the payment queues. Getting all the charges into one system, inside SAP Concur solutions, allowed for a more secure and timely processing of all P-Card spend-rather than just travel. A bonus: clearer and near real-time visibility on spend trends, behaviors, and cash-flow. What makes this innovative? Well, Concur Request is typically used to manage pre-approval for travel. However, Huron recommended that PSU use it to do pre-approval of P-Card and corporate credit card purchases. “It's interesting to me,” shared Bunnell, “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. 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 want to say promoting it; it's a great tool.”


Hey, that looks familiar

Since Penn State already had a robust, digitized expense program, literally dating back to the 1980’s, adding management of other processes was easier to adopt. In fact, Penn State was able to cancel trainings on new tools, since so many internal stakeholders were already familiar with the look and feel of the SAP Concur platform. Less staff training on a new tool means more time focused on their core work functions! Since knowledge of how to use the tool was widespread, the training narrowed in on individuals who hadn’t yet had experience with the programs. Guidance was therefore more focused and personalized to those unique groups.


The great migration (to a new ERP solution)

If you had over 500 expense GL accounts to choose from when submitting a report, you might find that to be too many options to choose from. Huron helped Penn State identify which areas of granularity were necessary for expense types and then helped them to reduce that number to under 200. This was one of many areas where Huron helped do some deep cleaning of Penn State’s programs before helping them migrate over to a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution:

“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 [SAP] 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.”


The perfect partner

Deciding to share information as well as invest time and resources - and trust - in a new partner is a big commitment. In the case of Penn State University, they were able to rely on their higher education community to help them make the decision to collaborate with Huron for its innovation of SAP Concur solutions. SAP Concur is honored to be able to enable this level of trust inside a partner ecosystem, so that they are deeply familiar and comfortable collaborating with them, rather than being forced into an awkward or strained partnership. “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…It's strength in numbers, almost, 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,” shared Bunnell.

As from the partner side, this cultivated partnership removes barriers between onboarding and implementation, so that they can hit the ground running. “I love working with [SAP] Concur. I do want to just make one more plug about the community, and [SAP] 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 [SAP] 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,” shared Raber.

Sheer joy and hunger for iterative innovation exudes from anyone that has touched this Penn State University success story with Huron. Since this level of enthusiasm is contagious, take a listen to their podcast, review their case study and consider how you can leverage their win for your institution today.

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