To travel is better than to depart

By : |March 20, 2013 0

MUMBAI, INDIA: Traveling to India, Christopher Juneau unpacks more stuff than you might guess for a business trip. Insights, assumptions, cross-pollinated hypotheses between global and Indian markets and more.

Like any prudent and seasoned traveler, he would rather not spend a lot of time on baggage belts if he can invest it into the future. Probably a reason that he has taken recession’s ripples and all its snowballed directions for the industry into stride. As Senior Director — Marketing for Concur, a provider of integrated travel and expense management solutions, there’s no way he is not penciling in the CFO in his radar as much as he would focus on a CIO.

His not-so-monosyllabic answer to the cost-control side of travel-related spends is an interesting ‘yes’. “It is definitely on the mind of everyone I meet here. In fact, there is not one Indian company that has not focused on this part of the question. Today, there is a heightened sense of focus.”

He is optimistic about the mindset as he sifts some survey bits from last year and mentions how 80 per cent of Indian companies require pre-approval process with most of them in a two-tier approval bracket. Citing a Nielsen India research “Understanding the Corporate Travel Expense Management Practices in India”, he remarks how over 80 per cent of the employees seek approval prior to travel, which takes up to 6 days on an average and three out of four requests require multiple approvals. Taking the observation further he reminds, “If it takes about six days for a travel trip to be approved may be we need to look at our cost angle with a shift.

Paper-based processes turn out more costly if we notice. That’s why there is so much interest in automating the process.” He is hence on an upbeat note even with a cautious market and tells that Concur has enhanced its solution for the Indian market. Does it render him in a spot where the company has to first anchor the idea of paper-based systems replaced per se instead of elbowing out any competition? It really depends on the size of the company, he informs. “Large companies have their own approval systems set about five to seven years back. That’s where we bring a cloud-based and time-aligned solution to meet their new requirements.”

So, another intriguing element of confidence that can be spotted here is the company’s decision to do away with license-model; something that got its cue when the first Cloud form was attempted in 1999 as an ASP then.

That is notable at a time when big suites are re-orienting to these segments with a Cloud take. Like how SAP has brought a CRM (customer relationship management) application called Sales OnDemand, and has also offered a product called Travel OnDemand, for travel expense reporting. “In 2003, we ceased licensed software product and entirely focused on Cloud for R&D. Our view to abandoning the idea is the new direction where organizations would be reluctant to spend too much upfront as well as shoulder a lot of implementation chunks. Cloud makes it all easier.” He explains.

With some three-to-eight week of deployment windows, Concur is ambitious on the track it has taken and hopes to make deeper inroads into the market with the 15 to 25 per cent clip it has maintained since 2008. “As we continue to penetrate India, this mode will suit mid-sized companies very well.” The market is apparently undergoing a conducive shift from a ‘do not travel’ drift to a ‘how can technology make it a competitive advantage’

Incidentally, some findings from Aberdeen Group, Expense Management: for a New Decade, 2011 offer a nod here as they point out how best-in-class companies have 83 per cent lower expense report processing costs than their peers and 43 per cent higher compliance with T&E policies. Also 41 per cent of organizations perceive expense management as a function that is just as critical as other internal departments, while another 39 per cent saw the function rise in prominence over the last year.

The report underlined the area stating that automation of expense management processes enables a wide variety of operation and cost benefits to the larger organization. “This is including the elimination of manual and paper-based processes associated with expense report creation, submission, review, approval and reimbursement” as per Aberdeen Group, State of T&E Expense Management, Feb. 2010 Christopher is not the one to miss the tide it seems.

“Organizations are spending more with focus on getting greater control on expense and travel management with the intent of driving efficiency.”

He is also ready to take the big turbulence in Indian aviation market into his strategy’s fold.

Pockets of Air

 

“Now with the demise of Kingfisher and with other Low-Cost-Carriers (LCC) that were previously not in consideration list, a lot is changing. We as a provider, are hence, all set to include these changes and cater to Indian clients in the changed weather. I have seen some pretty good acceleration in India and the enterprises are opening up to Cloud-based solutions.”

There is a rapid embrace and willingness here for companies like us, as he stresses. Concur has in fact, announced the availability of low cost carrier content and non-GDS hotel content for its corporate clients in India. Now it says, Concur clients will not only have full access to the content of carriers like Indigo, Spicejet and GoAir but will also have access to non-GDS hotel content of over 8,000Indian hotelssaid, “With less content now available through traditional travel distribution channels, companies in India are looking for innovative solutions to help them and their travelers satisfy their requirements for intra-India travel.

Cloud-based online booking tools like Concur just make good business sense. He further added that “Concur now delivers access to LCC content along with thousands of additional hotel options — all of which are not available through traditional channels.”

Simultaneously, the company is also busy checking-in new dynamics like BYOD with full fury and as he lets on, there are some announcements coming out for mobility side very soon. BYOD, if anything, is making life easier for Concur. “Most companies still do not have a mobile policy. We had got ready with mobile apps as early as four years back, to ensure that no matter what an employee wields- BlackBerry or iPhone, we can take care of multiple platforms etc.” As he augurs, in about two years, the scene will change starkly difficult when there would be two devices with an average employee.

The travel bookings or expense or claims could be there on his personal device too, so it’s time to be ready for all those changes. “Our Web-based and mobile solutions help companies and their employees control costs and save time. Concur Connect is the platform that enables the entire travel and expense ecosystem of customers, suppliers, and developers to access and extend Concur’s T&E cloud. Concur’s systems adapt to individual employee preferences and scale to meet the needs of companies from small to large.”

Mobility has been highlighted as something at the forefront of CIO’s minds, with 46 per cent of the total respondents expressing a plan to make changes in their business processes, workflow and employee roles to better incorporate mobility during the next year, according to the Mobility Survey 2013 report by Accenture. Ask him about current gaps, and he points out the parts of navigating fragmented HR systems which makes it critical for APIs to seamlessly gather, connect and unify the whole process between travel approvals to claim disbursements. Nielsen research numbers come into picture again.

Window seat?

 

“Half claimed that less than 76 per cent of their employees adhere to the guidelines for travel claims. Some 70 per cent of the organizations find travel expense automation which seamlessly manages travel approvals, with cash advance requests and expense claim approval relevant to their travel expense collating and processing needs.” Would the market be as hospitable as he expects it to be? Going by the latest guide by Aberdeen group for 2013, the typical company will spend 10 per cent (or more) of its total annual budget on expenses related to business travel in 2013.

This is a factor that could drive many procurement, financial and operations executives to reevaluate their existing strategies for travel and expense management, overcome key challenges, and structure a robust program that balances both core competencies and modern technology enablers.

Will that spell out a lot of work and rainbow pots for Christopher on his next visit for India? There’s no way to find out unless it is travelled well and wide.

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