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Monday, November 14, 2011

A dangerous combination

Do you like irony?

It turns out that the University of Michigan, like many other organizations, has decided to use the cloud for keeping track of its "Travel and Expense" software and reporting, and has therefore adopted Concur.

I think that the University has made a good decision to put this in the cloud, and to look to use a hosted solution (Software as a Service (SaaS)).  Using an existing service makes much more sense than building our own software.  How could the U-M build a better application than a company that makes its living doing exactly this sort of thing?

Now, this isn't to say that I am a huge fan of Concur (or at least how it has been implemented at U-M).  I don't find the workflow or interface to be all that intuitive, and there are a couple of things that really trip me up all the time.  For example, when entering the name of someone, sometimes I am supposed to enter their LAST name and sometimes I am supposed to enter their FIRST name, and I can never remember which to enter.  (Cue sad music.)

But the really challenging part about using this cloud service is when I use it to pay for cloud services.  (Cue ironic music.)

Each month I get a bill from Amazon.  And DuraCloud.  And another one from DuraCloud (because we use more space than our membership allows.)  And another one from Amazon.  (Two different projects with different credit cards and different pools of machines.)  And Salesforce.  And....

So each month I print the invoice to PDF.  And I fetch the receipt from my university credit card, and PDF that too.  And then I bundle them together in an expense report in Concur.  And that's when the trouble starts:  How do I classify the expense?

This is almost certainly not the fault of the Concur software, of course.  The problem is in the controlled vocabulary of "expense types" that the U-M has plugged into the system.  Not one is a good fit for paying cloud providers.  And so I pick one from the choices I do have.

Computer maintenance?

Computer rental?

Memberships (especially for the DuraSpace one, which is indeed a membership)?

Other?

My expense report is reviewed by at least four different people (two within ICPSR, at least one within our parent organization, the Institute for Social Research, at at least one at the U-M central Business and Finance unit).  If any one of them believes that I have selected the wrong expense type, the report returns to me, and I then must resubmit it.  The good news is that I don't have to reload the invoice or receipt, and so the process is relatively simple.

But for those of you about to implement Concur or another expense and travel reporting system, please add a new expense category for your IT managers:  Cloud computing services.

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