Complex Made Simple

Four areas Middle East companies should look to restart, reinvent and renew

Now is the time for forward-thinking businesses to implement processes that allow them to be better equipped to tackle what comes next

The role of automation and AI in the workplace will continue to grow Travel managers are now planning on implementing mandatory personal health screenings for travelers (41%) With many pandemic challenges facing employees, simplifying everyday admin can be a great way to support them

By Emma Shakespeare, Regional Director – MENA, SAP Concur 

It’s clear that we will continue to feel the long-lasting impact of the pandemic on global economics for the majority of 2021, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Instead, it is a great time to restart and reinvent our ways of working. Now is the time for forward-thinking businesses to implement processes that allow them to be better equipped to tackle what comes next.

Middle East businesses need to become more agile and transparent, increase employee satisfaction and make the duty of care a strategic priority. Here are four key areas companies should look to restart, smart:

1- Money Matters – Improve Compliance and Cost Control

2020 has shown how quickly circumstances can change. For finance leaders, this has resulted in a host of new challenges, from enabling employees to submit expense claims and invoices remotely, to adjusting to new VAT rules and keeping a close eye on their company’s finances. At a time when financial stability is critical for businesses of all sizes, the finance team needs to see and assess all costs easily to ensure they are compliant with the corporate and government policies in place. This leads to improved compliance and cost control, alongside better management and faster processing. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t see.

As businesses maintain hybrid remote-working models and plan for other potential disruptions in 2021 and beyond, the role of automation and AI in the workplace will continue to grow. AI will gather costs and insights in real-time to help financial leaders make accurate decisions faster and respond to their changing business needs in a more agile manner. This includes managing spend in near real-time to improve budget management and liquidity, increasing compliance and eliminating errors, as well as using automation to take on mandatory tasks and maximizing profitability. With most companies keeping a close eye on their finances and revenue, the role of financial leaders will become more critical than ever. By relying on AI to process basic tasks, finance leaders will be able to focus on their role as strategic advisors within their company.

Unauthorized and out of policy spend can create massive costs and compliance issues at any time. Therefore, businesses need to implement solutions to gather better insights and make strategic decisions. For instance, automated solutions using AI and machine learning to automatically identify VAT-eligible expenses, validate receipts, and optimize reclaim potential help businesses navigate complex tax regulations faster and more accurately. This increases compliance and gives business leaders more control over their spending. Digital financial tools can also provide business and finance leaders with an overview of all expenses in real-time, which improves spending decisions, increases compliance, and provides the C-suite and finance leaders with greater control of their business spend.

2- Safety First

No one can predict which scenarios 2021 will have in store for business travel management. However, companies today need to reassure their staff that their safety is a business priority. This will increase employee satisfaction and engagement and ensures that business travelers are fully prepared once they resume travel.

In fact, according to the SAP Concur Global Travel Survey, the safety of the traveler has become the most important factor when assessing organizations (airlines, hotels, car rentals, etc.) and services (apps, websites, tools, etc.) to approve for use by the organization. For instance, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, travel managers are now planning on implementing mandatory personal health screenings for travelers (41%)while 32% also plan to give easier access to personal protective equipment like gloves or masks to business travelers to support their health while on the move.

Thanks to state-of-the-art technologies and user-friendly tools, businesses can help employees with their daily tasks. This includes solutions that allow for pre-trip approvals as part of broader efforts to safeguard employees or providing business travelers with a travel organizing app that provides relevant safety information in addition to more basic information like the travel itinerary.

3- Improve sustainability

Business travel has too often been associated with big carbon footprints, the use of single-use plastics which end up in landfill sites, and weary workers. The past few months have put these issues in the spotlight and forced the industry to rethink its relationship to sustainability.

Change is often driven from the bottom up, and we’re seeing a clear impetus for sustainable travel among business travelers themselves. In our Sustainable Corporate Business Travel Index 2020, a survey of 2,450 corporate travel decision-makers and 2,000 business travelers in 12 European markets, 58% of business travelers admitted that they would disregard travel policy and budgets for a ‘greener’ travel option, and 55% would do so in order to book more environmentally friendly accommodation, such as an Airbnb, over a hotel. Better still, 97% of business travelers are willing to add additional time onto their journeys if it improves its sustainability. Being greener is not just a long-term goal the industry should aspire to. It’s a real revenue driver today and neglecting it is likely to drive business away.

To deliver on this demand from their employees, businesses need to implement tools that give them access to real-time information about the sustainability credentials of their transport and accommodation partners. This will enable traveling employees to see and make a positive impact on their own carbon footprint. This will show environmentally minded employees that the business is committed to sustainability and help less knowledgeable employees to learn about the impact of their choices on the planet. Combined with robust cost information and reporting and analysis options for the travel managers or finance departments, these tools also enable business leaders to drive positive change within their organization to make sustainability a corporate priority. 

4- Team Spirit

In times like these, the success of a company depends on the commitment of its employees. With the many pandemic challenges employees have to face, simplifying everyday admin and work tasks can be a great way to support them. Tools that digitalize and streamline manual processes like expense management tasks, allow employees to simply take a picture of their receipts and submit their expense reports electronically — speeding up the process and freeing their time. Furthermore, finance departments can be relieved by outsourcing time-consuming audit tasks for example, in the view of business travel.

2021 is a crossroad for Middle East businesses of all sizes. Those that are willing to embrace change and adapt will set the standard for business best practice now, and in the future. What we need is the right tools and services to enable our businesses to make strategic decisions and restart smart – starting with a tighter and transparent grip on finances.

To learn more about how SAP Concur solutions can help lead the digital transformation of your organization’s financial processes, visit www.concur.ae