Coupa Heads for the Clouds — eProcurement, T&E and Beyond (Part 3)

In this post, I'll continue my analysis of Coupa's T&E capabilities by walking through a typical submission and approval process (read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series here). I know this sounds like a deathly boring subject for many, but trust me, it's not as dry as it might seem, thanks to a few nifty features Coupa has incorporated into the process. Moreover, the intuitiveness of Coupa's T&E system makes up for current limitations (e.g., a lack of an integrated travel booking tool and more powerful reporting analytics based on drilling into different levels of p-cards and other information). So read on, even if you think this subject is about as interesting as geriatric senators conducting procedural maneuvers for their own devices -- or passing healthcare reform for that matter. In fact, at least in my view, T&E is quite fascinating. And it's an area that procurement should take a greater interest in stepping up to the plate and owing alongside indirect and other spending areas.

How does Coupa T&E work? Having logged into the Coupa T&E environment and selected an item for submission from a list of recent transactions (or entering one in a free-form manner), the user then selects an expense category and an amount. At that point, the system may flag the expense--and in fact an actual flag-like graphic really does show up immediately--as pre-approved (or not). Coupa may also flag fields such as receipts for additional documentation. The labeling metaphor of flag or on-screen post-it may seem whimsical at first, but it's a far less painful way to provide information or ask a user for additional details. There's no reason in today's T&E age that users should need to wait to click a button to learn that additional fields or information is required.

Perhaps more useful, what's really at work behind the scenes here is a system designed not just around flagging information at the end of a T&E process to create additional work-streams for either users or managers, but to highlight potential non-compliance or discrepancies at all stages of the process, driving real-time transparency. To highlight this approach, during a demonstration of an expense submittal, Coupa walked me through an expense report that included a PC consumable, a LinkedIn job posting, and a taxi to the airport. The system automatically flagged the PC consumable, a battery, as a pre-approved expense based on a requisition and approval process within the Coupa eProcurement application. But it also raised a flag--a yellow post-it, in fact--showing that the $50 taxi expense to the airport in the same expense submission "seemed a little high."

According to Coupa, the system calculates a mean for different categories and expense types, giving out two standard deviations to create these types of calculations and flags. This shows employees that it's not just their manager watching them--it's the system as well. The calculation goes into the audit score as well. But before that process begins, the system also visually rewards users who are thrifty as well. If the user who submits the expensive taxi, for example, then changes his submission to a local shuttle or van service for $15 instead of $50, a green post-it appears, thanking the user for "being frugal." If that's not an effective "Big Spend Brother," I’m not sure what is--even if it is a bit creepy.

After the expense submittal is complete, it automatically calculates an audit score on a scale of 1-100 and provides this information to an approval manager. The manager interface provides a drillable dashboard to look and sort expense approval requests based on the audit score, the user, submission date, flags, etc. But because of the previous interactions and flags, there should be little left to chance for employees except in cases of more advanced fraud types that the audit score may calculate (which the system may not have provided previous "visual guilt" feedback on).

All in all, Coupa's T&E makes a strong case for integrating T&E capabilities into a broader set of eProcurement tools. The real power of the integration, however, comes from an integrated budgeting and forecasting capability that, like ExpenseWatch, shows forecasting and actual numbers for both areas in an intuitive manner. For smaller companies that do not have a BI or reporting system in place that monitors their transactional and procurement systems to pull and report on this type of information, Coupa's combination of an integrated indirect transactional, T&E, and spend reporting platform could prove to be quite a popular draw.

Jason Busch

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