There were many questions following the close of SAP's deal to buy Concur for $8.2 billion, such as retaining independence, governance and overall integration with the mothership.
The travel and expense giant addressed many of those questions during its annual customer event Concur Fusion last week in San Francisco.
The annual gathering showed no signs of diminished vitality with a record number of attendees, logging 2,300 people this year.
The synergy to come from the SAP link-up seems to be focused on the parent company's positioning as the "world's biggest business network."
Essentially it wants to become the core of any business transaction, allowing different pieces of its network to talk together to create a fairly seamless experience for client businesses.
Concur CEO took to the stage first thing to share some of the now-familiar tropes surrounding the vision of the Perfect Trip and ensuring that each element of the trip is automatically inserted into the expense report in the vision for fully integration before, during and after the trip.
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Concur CEO Steve Singh on stage in San Francisco[/caption]
Singh explained that each of the three core networks — Concur, Ariba and Fieldglass — are individually connected and thus able to deliver a grand vision of automatic integration.
"What you’re seeing is that different apart of the ecosystems are driven into action by the business network - automatically. That’s where software needs to go - it solves your problems automatically.
"Networks should be connected, effortless, and transparent — and in real-time. It should be able to deliver an experience that says “I can solve that problem for you, I can make sure you get your discounts, that you’re within policy and make that report.
"Business networks should be able to use the information they have about me and do things on my behalf that are incredibly intelligent. Every single function that can be automated, will be automated. Every single business function will be totally automated vertically so it connects to the ecoystem of providers that provide value around that business process.
"The real, incredible power of this is when the networks talk to one another. When they drive value automatically on my behalf. That’s what software should do for all of us. That’s the future we see. That’s the future we are creating."
Chief product officer Barry Padgett told Tnooz that the company remains focused on the everyday wins that make for a more intelligent experience.
"There’s a balance between these huge boulders that we discuss, such as TripLink, the Perfect Trip and the Platform, and not losing the customer along the way."It’s about how we don’t lose focus on the day-to-day, like that person driving their car around for 6 hours a day making sales calls."They’ve got a small notepad and a pen and they write down every single trip and then punch it into an expense report. So not losing sight of those needs. When you find small little things that change someone’s life, there is true emotional impact. So we try to find things like that to focus on."
In a sit-down interview with Concur president, Elena Donio, Tnooz further explored how the multi-billion dollar purchase will impact the trajectory of Concur now that it is no longer independent while highlighting global distribution and new market access as two key benefits to the sale.
How have customers reacted to the SAP deal?
SAP clients are all in, and ready for one invoice. Non-SAP clients want to hear that we are still going to work on their integrations and not leave them. Our answer there has been extremely forceful: a resounding, absolute no. We are not leaving any integrations behind.
People have been fine and I haven’t heard much negative feedback.
There’s not much of a story here if you say nothing is changing [with the acquisition by SAP]. On stage you addressed issues relating to performance up-time and reliability. That’s not easy to do, as most people would just want to yell at you. What did you learn from that experience and how will SAP help the business scale with stability?
Transparency is really important to us, and to our culture. We definitely want to hold on to that and make sure that our clients know that we are listening and that they hear that and know we’re asking.
The scale that we are seeing today is unlike anything we have seen before. Over the last couple of years, our business has grown more than 20% year-over-year. Even in the down economy we were growing in the double digits.
And so we found ourselves in this spot where we have to invest in our core architecture, and there’s a little of technology debt, which is not uncommon for companies at this stage.
But it's coming fast and furious, so the investments we are making right now are in architecture and client experience. It’s not just bits and bytes, it’s not just features, it’s not just architecture. It’s also process, it’s communication, it’s implementation framework.
With SAP, it seems like you are sunsetting one cycle of architecture as you are now part of a larger company with its own architecture. That's risky because integrations could go wrong. Tell me about how you approach being a part of the much-larger SAP.
We’re actually not going to integrate the whole technology stack. We’re not going to integrate functionally our people into SAP.
Instead, what we’re doing is that there is a separate business unit, the business network that Steve spoke about, that is really going to be the driver for how we think about everything from technology to the value proposition to how we are organized.
We think the integration with SAP ahas more to do with how we think about the investment potential that we are bringing in and what we’re going to have the ability to create that we didn’t have the financial capacity to create 6 months ago.
And those investments are starting to come in already. Barry’s team is expanding its scope and staffing significantly; our support and operations team are doing the same.
You’ll see us take on parts of the technology within the SAP technology stack that we think provides scale, but we don’t plan on moving everything we are doing into the SAP technology stack or even into their data centers.
The great thing about how the integration is going so far is that they are allowing us to continue to do what we are great at, while giving us scaffolding to shore up the areas that we are really passionate about getting right. Some of that is on the client experience side and some of that is based on expansion.
SAP has done some great work in markets that we are just getting into, like China. So you’ll see us investing there as well.
So on one hand you have gaining access new markets - would you say that distribution is also a part of that or is that a different issue?
Absolutely. The first bit of funding that we injected into the business after the investment was for incremental distribution. When you think where SAP is really successful, it’s that they are global.
What was the biggest adjustment to the new SAP reality?
Remember, we were competing with SAP five minutes ago. Going into some of these big accounts that were using bespoke SAP technology for T&E has been this really cool opportunity for us and we’re building programs and incentives for those clients to convert over. We have the distribution and technology staff on our side to go prepare for it.
So is the goal to eliminate bespoke systems so you have consistency across the SAP product line?
The strategy is to move SAP’s Cloud for Travel and Expense clients onto Concur. And we’re working on that. We’re chipping away at it bit by bit.
Let’s talk customer experience. You showed a video alluding to a customer talking about Concur's web presence, saying, “1984 called and wants its website back.” As technology has become more consumer-focused, there is a ubiquitous simplicity emerging in design. Talk about the process of improving the customer experience and the impact of these new SAP resources.
[Joining SAP] gives us the ability to simply innovate faster. For customers that are on SAP, it’s a really nice opportunity to have a vendor profile and an ease of doing business.
For organizations that don’t use SAP today —which in our case is a pretty decent number because we sell all the way down to companies with only 10 to 15 employees — they should see it as an organization that is going to innovate faster, invest in experience, and scale and grow as clients scale and grow.
We believe that it’s extremely important for us to continue to invest in that organic growth part of our business. The Global 2000 is a finite universe and so, as you look at the SMB part of the world with organizations between 1 and 1,000 employees, that’s a huge part of our organic growth.
SAP has less penetration in that set of accounts and what those accounts want to see from us is that we’re investing in them, we’re not losing sight of servicing an account with 50 or 100 users, and that they get just as much of our attention as they have historically.
We’re investing more in that part of the business as well. A lot of it is related to what we are doing of the end user.
We’ve made a meaningful pivot to the end user, as we’ve traditionally sold to the travel manager or the CIO. Now you see more of our investment go toward the things that make the user’s life easier and are also at times discoverable by the end user. TripIt was step one, and now it’s part of our every day.
We always hear Concur CEO Steve Singh talk religously about the Perfect Trip. What’s missing? Are we ever going to reach the Perfect Trip?
What is perfection? Is anything ever really perfect? Or do we just find the next set of problems that we are not even thinking about today?
For example, monitoring the TSA Pre-Check line — you wouldn’t think that’s a solvable problem, but we actually put hardware in the ceiling at SeaTac to monitor. You wouldn’t have thought about that two years ago.
I don’t think the Perfect Trip is done — there’s always the next thing, such as opening hotel doors with smartphones. We have work to do and we're keeping at it.
It is true that as you go deeper into an approach, new problems emerge that you may not have even considered. You talk about continuing to innovate. Where do you see innovation coming from within the larger SAP group?
We have the license to continue doing what we’re doing with the Perfect Trip and creating expense reports that write themselves. Infrastructure offers some synergy opportunities, as does connectivity within the financial back office perspective and making everything appear to come from one company.
We also have to keep our eyes open to the fact that not everyone uses SAP. We need to make sure that we are meeting the companies and users we serve exactly where they are.
You’ll see us continue to innovate around all of that, as well as shoring up the ecosystem from the platform perspective by bringing in more suppliers and new developers.
When you get bought by a large company like SAP, does your comp set change? Are you now looking at a player like Infor as a primary competitor or does the comparison remain solely within the T&E space?
We’re just getting to a point where we are insanely relived that we aren’t competing with SAP anymore. Our marketing team requested dollars to go into all of our collateral to remove the lines about us competing with ERPs.
That’s been the biggest mind shift for our people as we have been so conditioned to sell against the ERP suite strategy.
Working through that and understanding that, we can still be best of breed while operating within the construct of an ERP provider. It’s doable and desirable.
We’re navigating that major change while also thinking about our niche competitors. We have competitors in the invoice and expense space, and that will keep happening.
You’ll see more cropping up internationally outside of the US in areas where Concur is not as strong — our business has grown quickly in the US but there’s a lot more room as we’re less penetrated abroad.
There’s more land to grab in those markets than there is left in the US, particularly at the larger companies.
We want to cover those flanks as soon as possible because that’s where we think the competition will be valuable. And that’s why we want to go faster in markets like China, which SAP helps immensely with.
NB: Global string image courtesy Shutterstock.
NB2: Author was a guest of Concur at the Concur Fusion event.