As part of our Modern Finance series, we asked Sandy Hicks, Associate VP and Chief Procurement Officer at the University of Colorado (CU), to talk about winning strategies in procurement. CU’s 60,000+ students study at campuses in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, and the Anschutz Medical Campus. The CU Procurement Service Center, which Hicks runs, manages all the travel, purchasing, payables, and contracting for goods and services for CU—and uses Concur Travel and Concur Expense for its 32,000 employees. Hicks began her career as an undergraduate at CU, selling football tickets for the Athletics Department. After graduating, she moved to Purchasing, where she eventually became Director of Purchasing. For the last nine years, she’s been the Chief Procurement Officer.
I love the fact that I’ve built my career where I earned my degree. It’s a privilege to be a part of this school’s history, and what’s more, it’s helped me build long-lasting, strong relationships with both people on campus and colleagues throughout Colorado. I’ll grant you, it’s not your typical career path—most people don’t get to stay at the same organization for so many years. My experiences here have taught me that
The secret to success is building strong relationships, maintaining your integrity, and how important it is to always be improving things for your employees.
Set Your Employees Up For Success
I’d like to focus on that last idea. The fact is, if you want your program to be a success, you have to make it as easy as possible for your staff to be successful.
Here’s an example: a few years ago, CU switched from a manual expense process to Concur Expense, a digital solution that’s based in the cloud. For FY17, CU’s operating budget is $3.82 billion, with the Procurement Service Center overseeing about $1 billion of that total. We needed to make the change to streamline processes as we were still using paper receipts and approvals. Reimbursements could take close to a month because all receipts, reports, and approvals had to be mailed between four campuses and our procurement office. This created delays in processing.
Investing In Modern Expense Solutions: Short-Term Challenges for Long-Term Success
Moving to a digital solution was a huge change for us. It was a welcome change, but it came with a big learning curve. And as with any big change, it could have gone wrong, but it didn’t. Why? Because we made it as easy as possible for our employees to do the right thing.
For me, that goes right back to building strong relationships and maintaining integrity. I’ve known some of the CU staff for more than 20 years. I wanted to do the right thing by them, which meant making sure they were well informed and well trained before we made the switch. It also meant following up after the implementation to make sure everyone was settling in. We had a very successful migration, and now, employee reimbursements are generated within 24 hours of their expense reports being approved.
It was a success, and it remains a success because we work on the process every day. We’ll never stop trying to improve. We’re still training and communicating extensively, and that will be a continual process. Each month, we have at least 250 to 300 new employees who need to be trained in our expense procedures.
The Importance of Ongoing Training and Feedback
We also hold town hall meetings where we talk about our systems and policies, and we do annual surveys to check in with university faculty and staff on their experience with our systems. We’re getting good traction on that: last year, 84 percent of respondents said they like the enhancements that have occurred over the prior 12 months.
We also take pains to write policies that help people stay compliant—and we’ve configured our system to make sure they do. Take our mileage policy: when we were paper-based, anyone who submitted an expense report could change the amount per mile they were reimbursed. We had to have someone check every single expense report to make sure that didn’t happen. Now that we use Concur Expense, that mileage rate is built into the system, and no one but an administrator can change it—so the system is actually enforcing it for us. It makes it easier for our customers to do the right thing, and it frees my staff to do more important work.
Another policy makes it unattractive to stray from our Concur Travel solution. We have 93 percent compliance with booking travel using Concur Travel, and I’ll tell you why. When employees book outside Concur, they have to prove to us that their fare was cheaper than it would have been using Concur.
This doesn’t happen often because our negotiated airline contracts are loaded into the system and if employees do book outside Concur Travel, they don’t get reimbursed until after the trip is over.
The process we have in place is just another way to make it easy to do the right thing—and to make the noncompliant part hard.
At the end of the day, it’s all about doing your part to make your world a better place—in whatever form that takes. In Procurement, that means making it easy for people to succeed, and constantly trying to improve things for them.
We’re lucky that we have excellent support from leadership and my staff walks the walk and talks the talk—every day, always illustrating our integrity. We have a business plan and we stick to it. We have deadlines and we stick to those. And we’re always looking at ways to make our program better. That shows our employees that we care about them—and usually, that makes them want to do the right thing.