The ability to predict the future is sadly not a skill that I possess. If it was, I’d be sitting on a beach somewhere drinking expensive cocktails, having won $200 million on the lottery last weekend.
Companies face similar challenges. While they certainly have insight into short-to-medium-term events, such as new product launches or strategically-planned acquisitions, this visibility disappears after a couple of years. There are also plenty of circumstances which can’t be so easily foreseen – economic downturns, products that are more or less successful than predicted, opportunistic acquisitions based on shifting trends in the marketplace. Regardless of how these changes come about, one constant is that they will have significant impacts on an organization’s business processes and personnel.
Why is this an issue for organizations when scoping out the requirements for purchasing and implementing sophisticated enterprise software solutions, such as expense management systems? The reason is that when these business process changes take place, the software solutions that are used to support them need to be able to accommodate these changes.
In the case of expense management software, if this simply means adding (or removing) staff, it can easily be done by the organization’s administrators. However, a corporate strategy shift or change of business processes can often have a significant impact on the way that expenses are handled, which requires business rule changes within the solution. For example, if a new controller or CFO mandated that the threshold for requiring receipts with expenses be lowered, or expenses over a certain amount be routed for further approval before being reimbursed, what would that mean for the expense management solution? A lengthy and expensive change management project, or a simple configuration change, handled as part of the monthly license fee?
Even something as straightforward as a minor export file change or a funding account for direct expense reimbursements could become a costly process if these changes require project scoping, additional fees and consultancy projects. Given that these changes are unlikely to be foreseen at the outset of the relationship, these additional costs could soon add up to a significant amount of the overall cost of the software subscription.
Of course, there are some modifications that occur during the course of a business change which can’t be made quite so simply. For example, a major acquisition or expansion takes place in a country whose language the expense solution doesn’t currently support. While all vendors have the capability to add new languages, there can be several differences in the way this is approached. Will you need to wait until the vendor decides to add that to their translation schedule, or alternatively will your team have to put up with a crude, machine-translated version of the system? Even more importantly, can the version of the expense management system that you are using even handle the new country, or will you need to be migrated up to a more expensive version of the solution in order to effectively support your team members in every market?
Ideally it would be none of the above. The best modern cloud-based expense management systems are designed to be agile, so that adding a new language or country doesn’t require a complex process, or great expense. In fact, new languages – translated by native speakers, not machines – should be able to be ready to go in just a handful of weeks, at a moderate cost. Of course, adding a language that is already in the solutions (and if there are already 31 languages offered, it’s a good chance that you will be covered), should never incur an additional fee.
Another issue to consider beyond the simple cost of these changes is when they will become available to your team? In particular, when a new language is added, if it’s not immediately available across all platforms – especially mobile – its benefit is limited. If new releases of the software are only made every couple of months (or even more infrequently), it could be some time before your team is able to benefit from any enhancements.
Similarly, if your users need to rely on an iOS or Android native app to submit their expenses while on the road, it could be months until any language addition – or any other functionality improvement – is available to them, once the new language has been coded into the app, tested, approved by Apple/Google and finally made available on their respective app store. However, if your organization accesses its expense solution via a web app, all functionality is available on a mobile device within a browser, and will be available to all users across all devices simultaneously.
All of these factors need to be considered when looking into a new expense management solution. “Yes, we can do that,” simply isn’t an acceptable answer. These seemingly minor projects could turn out to add significant consultation costs, and could also take a long time to put in place. You need to find out if the underlying architecture of the solution is agile enough to support ongoing changes without lengthy and expensive projects, and, most importantly, if your technology provider treats you as a partner, not a line on the balance sheet.
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