Coupa Heads for the Clouds — eProcurement, T&E and Beyond (Part 2)

The most important functional announcement in Coupa's latest release (you can read the first post in this series here) is a new expense reporting capability designed to provide organizations with an integrated system to help capture, in Coupa's words, "all non-payroll spend." Spend Matters' research suggests that this claim is a bit of an exaggeration because Coupa has not yet targeted direct and services spend--nor do they offer spend analysis, sourcing, and contract management tools to manage the supplier/spend lifecycle. But from a basic execution, capture, and reporting standpoint, Coupa can now legitimately claim that their system supports the key requisitioning and T&E lifecycle elements for two key spending areas. As I demoed Coupa's latest release, what became clear is that they had thought through the key process flows from a T&E perspective and all of their key linkages into the procurement process.

For example, under an eProcurement system, just as an employee, in Coupa's words "submits a requisition and a manager approves or denies it" and an "employee shops and buys, files an expense report," and then it goes to a manager in a T&E system. The specific elements of the process and approval flows each bring their nuances and appear different onscreen to users, administrators, and managers, but both efforts end up really capturing two sides of the indirect spending coin.

Coupa makes a strong argument in saying that some of the challenges of expense management are actually quite similar to those with eProcurement. Considering that without the proper systems controls in place, many companies end up with an indirect procurement environment with low adoption and poor controls/compliances just as they end up with an expense management environment that is challenging to audit, cumbersome to use, and fraught with high levels of non-compliance (and even abuses and fraud, in certain cases). Moreover, most organizations, especially small and middle-market companies, have no basis with which to compare their eProcurement and T&E spending performance in relation to a market benchmark.

But with Coupa's latest release, a real-time benchmarking capability is included. While I've previously criticized the relevance of this approach as a catch-all benchmarking nirvana (because Coupa is comparing spend from highly varied organizations and not offering size or industry cuts), from a T&E perspective, some of the comparison details may still prove quite useful. For example, some of the benchmarks that Coupa now provides include expense reports per user, approved policy exceptions, average expense report value, approval cycle times, accounting cycle time, rejection rates, and average prices for airfare and hotels. Obviously, comparing numbers from companies in low-cost cities in the Midwest for typical local/regional travel expenses to those from the East Coast or the Bay Area may not provide an accurate basis for true benchmarking, but hey, it's a start. And it's free with a Coupa subscription. Moreover, many of these T&E benchmarks may be more useful to compare against different organizational types than eProcurement ones that Coupa offers, such as average PO value, number of active suppliers, PO revisions, orders processed per FTE, and overall savings/spend.

All of this sounds useful in theory, you might say, but how does it operate in practice? Coupa's latest release includes a dashboard interface capability that shows users upon logging in a consolidated snapshot view of their activities (e.g., "my budgets") and how individual areas are graphically tracking to forecast versus actual spending amounts. This login screen also provides other information to users including to-dos (e.g., expense report approvals, PO approvals, etc.), recent orders, and other information that may be useful based on role and function. Users can also schedule alerts to occur both inside and outside of the system based on how budgets or other areas are tracking (e.g., showing when budget actuals have hit 85% of the forecast).

From a T&E user experience perspective, Coupa provides a highly intuitive experience that I felt was designed to be as painless as possible. For example, T&E submission is directly incorporated with indirect procurement activities, and it's possible to select a recent p-card or credit card transaction for expense submittal if it's appropriate for a T&E environment, even if they were purchased outside of an actual catalog and through the Coupa system. Coupa pulls the information automatically and it shows up in the receipt area (along with the status of other recent expense reports showing approval status, other receipts, etc.). Stay tuned for further analysis of how users interact with Coupa T&E in practice in a subsequent post.

Jason Busch

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