I enjoy traveling on business to meet with people, which is fortunate considering that a sizable chunk of my life is spent doing it. My passport pages are filling up, and I can give you lots of tips about navigating airlines, airports, cities, hotels, and more – whether it’s LHR, SFO, LAX, IAH, GRU, CGH, EZE, BOG, SYD, or numerous ports of call in between.
And I’m not alone: Travel is increasing in general, including business travel. In 2017, companies spent US$1.33 trillion on travel, according to the Global Business Travel Association, which expects that to rise to $1.7 trillion by 2022.
Anyone who travels on business knows that companies need to find better ways to manage travel practices and expenses. And travelers need tools that help them submit expenses and be reimbursed more efficiently.
That’s where intelligent technologies, applications, processes, and a digital platform can help. For example, by using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic process automation, companies can reimagine these expense processes to the benefit of both organizations and travelers.
Where companies can benefit
In a recent Webcast on travel and expense technology, part of SAP’s intelligent enterprise series, we polled participants about areas they most want to improve. The results were interesting: 66% cited process and productivity efficiencies, 47% said user experience, 42% identified cost savings, and 47% wanted greater transparency to manage compliance risk.
Some estimates show that employee travel accounts for as much as 65% of an organization’s controllable spend. Yet many finance leaders find it difficult to gain visibility into what they are spending.
By bringing information closer to each decision point, intelligent technologies can support faster and better-informed decision-making. Solutions that connect departmental travel and expense budgets to corporate budgets, for example, can help managers see how many trips have been approved, understand how much budget remains available, and potentially suggest new guidelines to generate savings.
Using machine learning, companies can recognize expense information earlier in the reporting process. Instead of collecting travel receipts and submitting them at the end of the trip, an employee can take a photo of each receipt with a mobile app. The machine learning technology extracts the data and shares it with corporate systems, giving the finance department instant visibility into spend and reducing the traveler’s manual reporting effort. By linking travel booking systems, data processes and controls protect individuals who might unwittingly be at risk of noncompliance.
Where both companies and employees can benefit: duty of care
The rules around tax compliance and international borders have never been so complex. Technologies that handle pattern-matching, automate labor-intensive processes, and perform checks against changing national rules can shield people and company assets. Timothy Dalton of EY, who serves as SAP Concur practice leader and people advisory services partner, was one of the experts on the Webcast panel. He said introducing innovative robotic process automation technology saved his company $1.6 billion per year alone in travel expenses.
Protecting employees and helping companies meet their duty-of-care requirements is critical. Last year, I was in Mexico when the 7.0 Oaxaca earthquake hit. Our corporate travel systems notified an SAP rep that I was in the area, who called me to see if I was safe and/or needed help finding the next available flight out. Had I needed to send my exact location to our traveler safety team, I could have done so by simply tapping “get help” in our mobile app. In this case, technology enhanced not just spend visibility, but also my personal safety. Had I been in trouble, it would have been much easier to locate me and could ultimately have been life-saving.
The importance of the user interface
A better traveler experience is doubtless a priority for your employees, who simply want to book an efficient trip (with their supplier of choice), expedite reporting, and get reimbursed faster. Yet traditional software often demands time-consuming manual expense capture and reconciliation processes.
Applications that incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning can help streamline the reporting process while still providing the requisite data for finance to negotiate supplier contracts, accrue expenses, and minimize costs. Using existing travel data or input, such as digitized receipts, some applications offer guided workflows, simplifying the process while freeing employees to do more valuable work.
We estimate that mobile travel and expense apps can help users save approximately four hours per month completing expense receipts (not to mention a lot of frustration). Using a base rate of $50 per hour, an organization could save about $225 per month per employee. Multiplied by just 1,000 employees, that totals $225,000 per month alone in productivity gains.
Intelligent technologies offer impressive savings and new visibility that benefit companies while prioritizing traveler needs. Using them to modernize travel processes seems like a great way to start a new year of travel.
To learn more about how intelligent technologies can help enterprises reimagine their travel and expense processes, and more, listen to the Webcast.
For more on this topic, read “Two Business Trends Driving Change in Spend.”