Rob Harrison, Managing Direct of UK and Ireland at SAP Concur, discusses the future of expense management in the public sector
Local councils handle an array of services – from managing libraries and schools to maintaining roads and organising waste disposal in their area. But decades of funding cuts mean that local councils are increasingly having to do more with less, it’s estimated the cuts to core funding totalled over the last decade add up to nearly £16 billion. This puts councils in a tough situation – they have to aim to be consistent with the delivery of their services while finding a way to do it with less money.
With the additional challenges that COVID-19 has presented this year, technology is key to helping local governments function in the most challenging of times. Historically the public sector has been cautious with investing in technology due to potential disruptions in the short-term during implementation, and the need to demonstrate any investment is worth the cost. But with the undeniable need for society, governments and business to evolve and adapt to this more digital world, it’s clear that the public sector can no longer afford to wait.
The need for digital transformation
Adopting digital technology is now crucial for helping 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.
And the pandemic has only accelerated this. Many councils had to enable workforces of thousands to transform working processes overnight. Some councils will have been better set up for this from the outset, those that had taken steps towards digitising processes will certainly have faired the shift better than those that had not.
This is why it is increasingly important for the public sector to identify areas to address, now that will have immediate impact.
Driving visibility, compliance and productivity
For many organisations, not just within the public sector, expense management is an outdated paper-based process that saps employee productivity and ultimately impacts cashflow. Systems are often slow, unwieldy and provide no clear visibility of expense detail. But in the public sector to maintain transparency, it’s especially critical to know where every penny is going and ensure policies are being adhered to.
The outdated and often paper-based systems used by some councils can increase the probability of accidental expense claims. If such claims occur they can lead to inaccuracies and make council spend hard to track. The right digital tools and automation can help overcome this, ensuring that incorrect claims are spotted. This increased compliance is a real benefit of automating expense management.
Manual and paper-based processes also restrict the flexibility of mobility of staff, especially those with roles than involve being out the office and working within communities. Having to return to the office in order to submit expense claims, adds time and inconvenience and ultimately seems unnecessary in the current climate. Digitising these processes helps support a better work-life balance and support more modern ways of working – which is critical in the more digital world we find ourselves in.
A new type of council
Before the emergence of COVID-19 we worked with Barnsley Council to digitise its expense management systems, and the impact this had on the organisation’s ability to adapt to a more digital world has been far reaching.
The project was part of Barnsley Council’s commitment to the Digital First programme to help improve the lives of residents and businesses and create a more flexible, dynamic workplace culture, where its staff can work effectively from anywhere. By implementing SAP Concur, the council was 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.
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 these are fulfilled within days, thus helping to ensure employees are not out of pocket when doing their role.
Most importantly, Barnsley Council has been able to continue offering services at a time when they’ve been most needed with minimal disruption. This has provided a great example of digital working and has prompted appetite from employees for more digital initiatives.
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