The Trouble With Travel Spend: Unpacking A CFO’s Perennial Puzzle

Estelle Lagorce

There’s nothing like meeting with customers and business partners face to face. The opportunity to capture their attention, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration is unmatched when it comes to nurturing strong, lasting, and, in most cases, loyal relationships. Most importantly, a partnership of trust is built through a mutual understanding of what’s at stake and a sense of a shared mission.

Even after the biggest wins, the afterglow of accomplishment quickly fades away into the complexity of travel-spend documentation and reporting. Ultimately, business travelers want to save as much time as possible to make every trip productive, get reimbursed quickly, and give customers and partners the attention they deserve. But they cannot maintain such a high level of performance when dogged by stricter documentation and reporting requirements, tightening enforcement of government border and taxation policies, and limited access to information.

Part of the challenge of overcoming these risks is getting information to business travelers in an efficient manner without disturbing the overall user experience. According to Timothy Dalton of EY, where he serves as SAP Concur practice leader and people advisory services partner, “Data needs to be used and made available in an ecosystem in an efficient, intelligent, and automated fashion so companies can benefit from high levels of productivity. And if you can make the user experience easy, you can drive compliance.”

Why the travel spend experience matters to finance

Although the technology is available, a recent study from the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG) indicates that manual intervention still comprises the lion’s share of financial processes. When asked about the challenges in their day-to-day financial processes, 74% of survey participants cited the use of partial, heavy, or fully manual efforts, which were often time-consuming and moved data across too many systems.

Technologies that can remove manual effort in finance processes such as travel spend will increase operational accuracy and speed. “It’s important for CFOs and finance leaders to build up an agile finance function,” advises Tony Klimas, EY global performance improvement finance leader. “The organization should be responsive to changing market dynamics, regulations, and business needs. It should be insightful as it gives stakeholders accurate, timely, and actionable information. Furthermore, the function should be an efficient provider of quality service at a competitive cost and with the flexibility to address demand shifts.”

Such capabilities allow employees to focus on more fulfilling, valuable work, while organizational decision-makers use the data to further enrich business performance and strategic actions. But above all, it empowers CFOs and finance leaders to establish compliant, accountable spending habits companywide out of convenience and ease.

How to turn travel spend into an operational game-changer

When you think about the range of financial decisions that one traveler makes on a given trip, it’s essential to enhance that experience with technology-enabled capabilities – from automated destination information to mobile-supported expense reporting, itinerary management, safety tracking, and payment. This way, CFOs can reduce the risk of travel spend processes while turning it into a significant contributor to employee satisfaction and engagement.

Combining intelligent innovations – such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and chatbots – with cloud and mobile technologies enables the finance organization to achieve four fundamental capabilities for compliant and efficient travel spend:

  • Automate end-to-end finance processes by increasing efficiency and reducing costs
  • Detect and prevent noncompliant activities by processing and analyzing Big Data to pinpoint unusual spending patterns
  • Predict future spend scenarios accurately by deriving knowledge from historical information
  • Provide context-sensitive, proactive support by boosting the productivity of the finance organization with digital assistants

With the latest advancements in today’s technology, there’s no reason for business travelers to go without tools that keep them plugged in with the finance organization. These resources are critical for ensuring that needs are met with accountability and compliance while minimizing traveler hassle and providing transparency as early as possible.

But as Dalton warns, “not one technology over the other is going to dictate the future of travel spend management.” Instead, companies need to open up and share data by applying a variety of technologies across multiple places from various providers to get insights that make the travel experience easier for employees and transparent for finance.

For more insights about your future as an intelligent finance organization, watch the following Intelligent Enterprise Webcast Series replays featuring EY’s Timothy Dalton, SAP Concur practice leader and people advisory services partner, and Tony Klimas, EY global performance improvement finance leader:

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About Estelle Lagorce

Estelle Lagorce is Senior Director, Global Partner Marketing, at SAP. She leads the global planning, successful implementation and business impact of integrated marketing programs with top global Strategic Partner across priority regions and countries (demand generation, thought leadership).