The advent of personal computers in the 1990s led to early work-from-home experiments and the motto “work is something you do, not somewhere you go”. No experiment was quite as successful as the mass shift to remote working that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2022, hybrid work has since become the norm. By adopting cloud software-as-a-service offerings with embedded intelligent automation that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), government agencies can better enable hybrid work, adapt to changing travel norms, and ensure money is spent in accordance with policy.

Mark Wilfred, Head of Solutions Consulting (SEA), SAP Concur shares how organisations can adapt their spend management systems to meet the requirements of a post-pandemic world.

Hybrid work and expenses

As Covid-19 begins to recede, hybrid work looks like it is here to stay in Singapore. For most employers as well as the public service, hybrid work seems to be a norm that will outlast Covid-19, wrote The Straits Times.

Agencies will need to evaluate their current processes and determine what changes are required to support hybrid work. One area to look at is how a civil servant submits his/her expense claims today.

If the process is digital with minimal automation and only accessible via their secured laptop, it will be difficult for an employee who works away from the office to be able to submit an expense claim easily. This could result in delays in submitting claims, and further delays in reimbursing employees.

The potential disadvantages are clear – inefficiencies, a lack of visibility and control, potential non-compliance, etc. Any manual processes involving paper receipts are made even less tenable with remote work, since the different teams involved may not be in the office together.

Using intelligent automation is imperative. The impending resumption of business travel will only increase the pressure of all involved if a modern and agile system is not in place.

Choosing a cloud-based expense management solution can help agencies transition to a new way of managing and automating [travel and] expenses, which certainly fits a hybrid work environment and self-service model.

A cloud-based expense management solution allows for process resiliency and provides flexibility for staff to manage their expenses on the go at any time.

SAP Concur’s expense management solution and app leverages AI technology that can scan paper receipts, pick out the relevant data and pre-populate expense forms automatically. This flexibility and convenience can help to significantly cut down the time it takes to file an expense report, capture receipts with data in a more granular fashion for more efficient auditing, and significantly improve their experience with this often-viewed mundane task, Wilfred explained.

Travel and expense policies can be built into the solution, making it easier for employees and managers to be alerted to inadvertent errors and potential policy violations, and they are able to take corrective steps immediately.

Adapt to changing travel norms

As of 2022, the Singapore government has simplified testing protocols for travel. Agencies and businesses have resumed work travel once more, and so it is critical that agencies have systems in place to manage travel and travel-related spending.

Automation can help simplify the travel booking process as the world adjusts to a post- pandemic way of life. Travel management app like TripIt Pro from SAP Concur, can also provide critical information for traveling such as Covid-19 guidance and itinerary alerts depending on the traveller’s personal risk level.

For employees visiting a new country, the platform can also provide information like neighbourhood safety scores, which advise employees which districts tend to be less safe than others, he shares.

In the event of natural disasters or conflict, the connected travel data will allow organisations to identify the affected travellers and support them accordingly. This could be through duty of care providers that these agencies are partnered with for medical, security or transportation support. At a foundational level, agencies can update the expense system to allow employees to log non-traditional expenses, he notes. If an employee must go to the grocery for essential needs, they can simply take a photo of the receipt and log it into the app. The company then can directly reimburse them.

Concur Travel can also track the carbon emissions from an agency’s air travel, which represents 90 percent of business travel emissions. Through Thrust Carbon (our app centre partner), we can track the emissions for the remaining segments (hotel and ground transportation) of travel in a business trip.

This will make it easy for managers to understand the carbon footprint of their department for business travel, he explains. It enables managers to ensure employees’ behaviour aligns with the organisation’s sustainability objectives, Wilfred notes.

For example, if an agency wants to prioritise sustainability, they can update the system to encourage employees to book direct flights, take part in vehicle pooling or consider public transport options. This can help governments as they take on efforts to reduce their carbon emissions footprint.

Ensuring money is spent responsibly

Expense management software can support agencies’ objectives to ensure money is spent responsibly through transparency and more direct communication.

On a day-to-day basis, it can ensure employees are spending money within pre-approved limits. As an employee approaches the spending limit on per diem or meal allowances, an audit rule notification will alert them, he explains.

As such, there is no need for employees to wait until the auditor provides feedback on their non-compliant spending. This also means employees no longer need to constantly check what the allowance or threshold limits for various expense types are: the system simply prompts them, easing their concerns.

This is particularly useful for agencies with a limited budget. Since employees will record all spending data within the system, managers can directly see where money is being spent. This way, they can ensure that employees are spending on event-catering rather than internal meals, he gives as an example.

 As we enter the post-pandemic landscape, agencies need to navigate increase budgetary pressures, limited resources and heightened fraud risks. With cloud software and intelligent automation, they can navigate these challenges with confidence.