Entering New Travel Expense Management Space

Entering New Travel Expense Management Space

By Abraham Saxionis, Head of Expense & Efficiency Management, Keolis Commuter Services

Abraham Saxionis, Head of Expense & Efficiency Management, Keolis Commuter Services

1. What are the current market trends you see shaping the travel expense management Space?

As the global economy continues to grow, the surge in new business opportunities as well as a tightening supply of personnel and key skills is driving business travel to new heights. The balancing force and one that can contain certain types of travel, is the continuous advancement of internet and mobile-based communication technologies which have made it easier than ever to conduct meetings remotely and in a very effective manner. Similarly, in the transportation and hospitality industries, disruptors such as Uber, Lift and Airbnb, are changing the competitive landscape, exerting significant pressure on traditional modes of transportation while providing travelers with low cost alternatives. While these trends present business travelers with an increasing number of choices, for companies the challenge is in their ability to efficiently collect, analyze, and manage business travel data from all sources to ensure compliance and maximum return on their investment.

"Business travel should be carefully managed and controlled, and not be allowed to become a negative force in the business environment"

2. Despite the rapid adoption of expense management software, spreadsheets are still being used in a large number of organizations for expense reporting. Your views on this development.

The number of alternative travel expense management software solutions and price points that exist in the market today provide no real economic reason for companies to continue to use spreadsheets in this process. As companies expand their footprint and ranks, spreadsheet-based T&E processes tend to create chaos as collection and processing of data becomes increasingly unmanageable and inefficient. While loss in employee and manager productivity is the most obvious effect, the manual nature of such processes also minimizes the ability of companies to control and to manage an ever-increasing expense picture which leads to even more waste of valuable resources.

3. Please elaborate on the challenges that the organizations will need to address related to travel expense management space.

Business travel should be carefully managed and controlled, and not be allowed to become a negative force in the business environment. To prevent this from happening, the travel expense management business process itself must be reviewed and updated to ensure that it serves its intended purpose efficiently and effectively. Firstly, the company travel expense policies should be reviewed and simplified to ensure they are easily understood and accessible. Meaningful and reasonable cut-off levels should be established for all travel related expenses to minimize paper collection and bureaucracy, and a streamlined travel expense approval process should be adopted to eliminate unnecessary delays.

Once the travel expense business process has been redefined, the company should seriously consider replacing its spreadsheets with a 21st century technology solution. Many of the cloud-based software solutions available today can serve the business needs and price points of large and small companies alike. These can be add-ons to existing ERP systems or independent stand-alone software solutions which can be easily integrated and scaled to the existing infrastructure of any company regardless of size or budget. The features and functionalities include workflow management, approval process control, invoice management, receipt upload and management, reimbursement management and spend control, just to name a few. Almost all popular software solutions allow capturing the image of a receipt automatically with no further action by the employee or through mobile devices, drastically improving traceability and controls. The ability of the accounting department to detect and investigate exceptions in an efficient manner and to ensure timely processing and turnaround of employee reimbursements can also be improved. Finally, the ability to provide insightful transparency both to end users and to management can be made available to ensure a continuous monitoring and improvement cycle.

4. What are the major tasks for organizational CIOs at this point in time? Is there any unmet need in terms of travel expense management space that is yet to be leveraged from the vendors?

As I mentioned earlier, the population of available software solutions for travel expense management is crowded and it is getting even more so as time goes by. I think the main challenge for CIOs is to ensure that they select the software that is most suitable for their company both from a technology integration viewpoint and from a budget perspective. The investment in a travel expense management software solution must take into consideration the contribution of business travel to the strategic objectives of the company and its significance as a percent of total expense. The answer to these questions should determine the sophistication and capabilities of the software solution to be adopted.

Regarding unmet needs by vendors, I think a gap currently exists in reporting where most companies find using data visualization tools more useful for analyzing travel expense than the built-in capabilities of travel expense software, but I am certain that this issue is going to quickly narrow as time goes by.

5. With fierce competition arising in the entire business world, it will be an imperative for businesses of all sizes to cut down costs and operate efficiently—and this is where expense analytics comes into the picture. What can organizations do to stay abreast of this trend?

In my view, the ability to capture, analyze and manage expenses quickly and without extensive reliance on IT is a critical capability for all companies regardless of industry or size. This requires taking a disciplined and organized approach to establishing a process that manages the full cost picture of a company and exposes it to key managers and staff to influence behavior and to compel the adoption of best practices across all major business processes of a company. I have found that a continuous, well defined cost and efficiency management process, coupled with the right data visualization tools, can help companies achieve and maintain a competitive status in the marketplace.

6. What is your advice for budding technologists in the travel expense management space? How do you see the evolution few years from now with regards to disruptions and transformations within travel expense management space?

The rapid pace of advancement in technology makes it difficult for anyone to predict its impact on a specific business process like travel expense management, but the possibilities are immense. Advances in technology are not only affecting the expense management side of travel but travel itself. The rapid advances in transportation products and services are helping to lower the cost of travel and making passenger transaction information much more accessible to companies. The transportation market is becoming multi-modal providing travelers with many options not previously available. At the same time, advances in video conferencing and other means of communication are countering the anticipated surge in business travel, restraining its growth. Lastly, mobile ticketing systems are becoming commonplace providing further integration opportunities and richer data. These trends will make it imperative for providers of travel expense management software to bring to their customers solutions that go far beyond a simple accounting of an employee’s travel expenses, to new end-to-end intelligent solutions that provide recommendations matched to predefined client needs.

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