Art of decluttering travel

SAP Concur’s new senior vice president & general manager for Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China is all for KonMari-ing the corporate travel process so that it is enjoyable and usable for both the CFO and the traveller.

You wrote an interesting opinion piece on how one can KonMari – declutter – the business travel process. What parts of the process do you think are outdated and should be disposed of?
I am traditionally a CFO (chief financial officer), so I understand the needs of a CFO when it comes to managing expenses, travel, and invoicing. But as a traveller myself now and having to deal with those processes, I’m also seeing this from another angle.

Once upon a time I had to go through the process of describing where I wanted to go, getting the answers I didn’t like, giving it back and trying again, finally making my trip and then collecting all my receipts and glueing them on a nice piece of A4 paper.

As a CFO, I need a process that my employees can use and enjoy while allowing me to drive policy and make changes to preferred suppliers, for instance, easily. I also need to take the pain out of the journey.

You want to know you are driving a reliable process, without necessarily making it a painful one. Perhaps the key to decluttering the business travel process is automation.

Would bringing in automation means having to use more apps and software?
From an SAP Concur perspective, we go beyond writing code for an automated process. We look at the whole experience. We are hiring a lot of millennials and Gen Z, and they barely need pen and paper to write. We need to make sure the travel process is something that they are used to.

We partner with over 200 companies, from transportation services and credit card companies to accommodation and airlines, to bring the whole experience onto one platform that handles travel, expenses, invoicing, etc.

It isn’t just a piece of code.

So it is one single app to do it all?
Your entry point is the SAP Concur platform. You get an invoice, take a photo, and because of the intelligence we’ve built in, the system can recognise the various text fields to extract information. When I set up a sales dinner meeting, for example, I would have keyed in the names of all the attendees in my meeting request. These names will be added to the expense claim later on so I won’t have to struggle to remember who my guests were.

As a traveller, I use TripIt, a beautiful little travel application which is also by SAP Concur. I would go in and see all my past and upcoming trips, and each will list all my flight connections, notice for gate changes, etc.

Do you think companies are decluttering their travel process fast enough?
There is great growth in the market. As we simplify the process and build up the (partner) eco-system, more customers are coming onboard.

But we are just touching the tip of the iceberg. We are seeing some markets with tremendous growth potential here in Asia, and some markets like China and India with huge travel appetite.

SAP Concur is in the position to drive these markets, as we are the only solution that gives end-to-end coverage across the travel, expense and invoice processes.

There are other areas that come into play. I spoke about the need to declutter, to take away the manual processes of travel management, to make it a pleasurable experience. But there are other growing needs in travel management.

We see a lot more women travelling for work, and so the need for duty of care for employees becomes even more important. We can work partner hotels with women-only floors into the policy.

Furthermore, there are many incidents in our region today – like in Hong Kong. We have to make sure our travellers know what they are going into and we need accuracy in destination updates.

What drives market adoption in Asia?
In my region here, there are homegrown solutions that address certain needs, like the need to manage expenses. However, the whole global travel business – the duty of care, the experience we bring from 200 partners – that’s all very much new.

So that, together with the growing economies of Asia and therefore companies’ need for easier travel management solutions, drives market adoption here.

Does tech culture play a role in speed of adoption?
Absolutely! We’ve seen it in Japan where a whole need for electronic invoice enabled our growth in the market. China is another one. In some places, you cannot even pay in cash anymore and only electronic payment is allowed. In Singapore, the workforce is becoming very mobile. One hardly needs to come into office anymore. This means a bigger reliance on mobile first.

This is a message I had to bring home to the company myself. If a company needs to develop mobile solutions, it has to come to Asia and have a look.

So, we are doing more and more to enable the right user experience that matches the needs of this generation while providing the solutions the CFO is looking for.

How does General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) impact the way companies collect and use travellers’ data for better business travel management?
SAP is the largest application software on the planet, and we take all these data requirements very seriously. We have a massive presence in Germany. Guess where GDPR was born?

If I look at what we have invested in our software development over the years, a lot goes into security, data privacy protection, architecture and functionality, cloud solutions, etc.

Data security is always a theme that comes up in our conversations with clients, and I love it when it does. I am very proud to be backed by a company that has invested in top data centres. In fact, when the first sniffings of GDPR came out, SAP was part of the discussions. It is our strong point.

Lastly, how do you utilise tech yourself in your travel planning and purchases?
I’m fully on board the Concur platform and I use TripIt to look into my itinerary. I’m the sort of traveller who leaves Singapore with one agenda, but it very often changes. I may have to get on a different flight, book into a different city, change my route back, etc.

The solutions give me the flexibility to do that. The days of waiting for a travel agent to make the changes for me are over. And no longer do I need to turn up at the airport early and beg for an earlier flight out.

Corporate travellers tend to worry about compliance, whether they are booking to policy, and then how they are going to file that claim and when they will get their money back. The Concur platform takes that worry away from me. Whatever I book and buy, I know I’m doing it right because this is a verified process.

When I am on the road, the moment I’m out of the taxi, I know that with one click my expense claim is pretty much done. When I check out of my hotel, I don’t even need an invoice because all expenses are captured electronically and my assistant already has all the information she needs for my claims.

Our studies have shown that our system reduces effort in the booking process by about 40 per cent, and in the expense claim process by about 65 per cent.

We got business cases from our customers that make me think we should have charged them a bit more for the software at the start. (Laughs) The returns they get are immense.

With Celcom, for instance, they saved almost US$900,000 in their first year (of using SAP Concur). With Dimension Data (part of the NTT Group), they saved about 30 per cent on their travel expenses by implementing our software.

My family relies on TripIt. My wife is signed up as a TripIt Pro user. I have all my work and personal trips on TripIt, so my wife knows just by checking the app and can plan our social events around them.

My family’s trips are in the app too. They are now in Europe and I can see that the hotel and car rental have been booked. Delays are flashed up, so I know. I’ll be informed when and where they land, so I know to make my way to Terminal 4 and not Terminal 2. A weather alert also goes out before the trip, so we are prepared. This is just fabulous.

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