Anyone Who Goes Travelling Has Stories to Tell (Part 1)

This old German quote is true not only for tourists, but also for business travelers. While some enjoy the anticipation of booking destinations and hotels, others see it as a cumbersome task. In addition, business travelers need to collect a large number of receipts, allocate them to the correct expenses and wait for reimbursement.

For many companies, travel represents a very big portion of their costs. However, it can be extremely difficult to manage. As in many secondary processes, the areas of travel expense management and new ways of working have seen significant changes in the IT support available for companies and travelers.

IT can help improve approval, booking and payment of expenses, as well as increase transparency and profitability of the entire process.

In some cases, the usual call to the travel agency is replaced by a website search for transport and hotels in the same way as with private travel. With business travel, though, the results can be based on a framework that takes into account the company travel policy. The travel plan can then go through a company-defined approval workflow. The approved budget is supported and will not change, thus avoiding unpleasant surprises after completion of a trip.

In this process, the employee can choose different transport options, and the company gets increased transparency of planned travel and travel budgets, as well as the knowledge that travel policy is upheld. The company also gets comprehensive reporting – with detailed information on the hotels, car rentals, etc., used – which can have a positive impact on the travel budget for the next year.

Many tools offer additional services over and above the travel booking. They may offer integrated expense payment, replacing the glue stick for paper receipts by a photo of a receipt uploaded to the cloud. They can automatically display the invoices for items from the trip booking. Interfaces, apps and common smartphones provide additional receipt input for items such as taxi or meal receipts. As these travel expenses are entered dynamically, the static ERP restrictions are replaced by flexibility provided by apps on smartphones or tablets. They allow employees to enter the expense items during the trip and thus do away with the additional effort and difficulty of entering these after-the-fact on the following day or at end of the month. Even in this environment, support is available for workflows, reporting and approvals by managers or travel accountants.

Improvements are also possible for long-suffering IT managers of multinational companies. Previously, they had to integrate complex legal requirements, perhaps with the aid of custom development and complicated configuration work on ERP systems. More tools offer country templates for quick implementation and integration. Project timelines and integration efforts are reduced substantially. As such, a smart travel expense solution is not hampered anymore by considerable implementation costs.

In recent years, many classic software vendors are changing to full-service providers, selling software and cloud hosting as well as expense-payment and tax-reimbursement services that are billed as a service. For the IT and business departments within a company, it is important to understand not only the basic functionality, but also the additional services offered when selecting a tool.

Learn more about Travel Management in the next blogpost (Part 2) – coming soon.


Robert Betz is Practice Partner CEE for “New Ways of Working,” which includes consulting services for Real Estate, Human Capital Management and IT Workplace solutions. Additionally, he is heading the SAP practice in Austria.

Comments

  1. I guess you knew there’s no way keeping me from commenting on this topic. While I do agree there are a great number of sophisticated tools that ease (business) travel, there’s still a real lot to be done – although technically possible.

    As a quite frequent traveler, I really can’t wait for some service providers living up to their promise of door-to-door experience, including traffic alerts, automatically switching flights & hotels according to situations nobody can influence and taking company & personal preferences into account. I’d be even more happy if credit / debit card providers (especially for company credit cards) would allow – while punching in my PIN – to flag if private or company account to be charged, thus eliminating the need for receipts capturing. Most travel reimbursements are done during working time, so making this process more easy saves another fortune for the company.

    But also on the organizational side a lot of companies (not taking ours out of the equation) have quite some potential to at least save costs. While travel approval routines are absolutely a must, there are quite some means to save costs. One of my favorite examples: In most countries (outside US) there’s legally the possibility to purchase a flight and then change passenger; as we all know, booking earlier is way cheaper at most times. So – for routes the company takes quite often – go ahead, calculate the average number of flights for that route per week, pre-book up to 6 months (maybe not the full average number, but let’s say minus 25%), save 50-80% per trip and allocate the passenger after travel approval, latest within the legal timeframe.

    Other means of making it easy (and thus more attractive to spend weekend time on plane for the company instead of being home with family) would include a direct web link to company’s travel agency instead of going to phone calls in waiting line, explaining where and when you intend to go to etc. Have the travel agency invoke the workflow for the traveling employee, i.e. link travel approval workflow with the booking page. Make sure the company has global arrangements with a few large hotel chains and carriers. Make sure you have an agreement with hotels around the company’s larger sites – including larger customer sites as the chances staff will go there is higher than somewhere else. Leverage data mining to automatically find out how many employees will travel to the same or near location company wide in the same timeframe to better utilize agreements with carriers and hotel chains to reduce rates. Automatically inform telecommunication department on upcoming trips so they can automatically book the right package from your cell provider for the duration of the trip to save roaming fees. Provide a trip satisfaction survey to your company travelers after a journey to e.g. automatically take hotels of the list if most travelers state they’d rather not stay there again.

    Just my thoughts at the end of a day not traveling.

    /Chris

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