Business travel just isn’t what it used to be, with employees eager to take on more control of their travel arrangements through self-service tools. But how can companies balance trusting employees with handling policy compliance? PYMNTS sat down with Donna Wilczek, Vice President of Strategy and Product Marketing at Coupa, to discuss the staying power of open bookings and how businesses can use data to enhance corporate travel management.
PYMNTS: You recently announced the acquisition of TripScanner, which offers open booking services for business users. How can open booking, when an employee manages his or her own travel booking and itinerary, impact corporate travel? And is this a strong enough concept to turn into a trend?
DW: Open bookings are already impacting corporate travel. If you look at last year in the U.S. alone, over 25 percent of all online bookings were estimated for business. This amounted to over $36 billion in spending. What this should tell us is that open bookings are more than a trend already, and companies that are not recognizing spend is happening out of their control are effectively burying their head in the sand.
Generation Y will soon be the most common employees in the workplace and these modern travelers are doing more and more open bookings. They are expecting, and often demanding, control over their travel bookings. It is certainly bigger than a trend already.
The key to a successful travel program in 2015 and beyond is something that we look at as a hybrid travel program — one that unifies managed travel with open bookings data to deliver the spending visibility and control businesses need. This is the reason why Coupa acquired TripScanner, because these open bookings are not going away and they will absolutely be a key part of business. By using TripScanner to scan and collect the open bookings travel data, we can do a lot of great things by pulling it into our managed travel programs.
PYMNTS: If businesses travelers can use their own personal preferences when booking their trips, won’t travel expenses likely increase?
DW: That is an interesting question. I think first, to answer it, we should look at personal travel. Ten years ago, travel agents were used to book personal travel and help get the best prices. But today, that world is radically different. The vast majority of people booking personal travel do so on their own using the tools they prefer, such as Kayak or Priceline, or simply going to United.com or Starwood Hotels chain. Now there are entire generations of people who have been trained to use self-service tools to find the lowest travel prices in their personal life, so why can’t we assume that this will happen in the business world as well?
With a hybrid travel program, such as with Coupa, we actually allow companies to trust that their employees are doing the right thing but then verify what they have booked and identify savings. Companies can start to take advantage of the natural behavior of employees to book anywhere while also being able to automatically review those itineraries against travel policies and existing contracts to determine variances. If a company is really progressive, they can begin recognizing employees for good performance or being frugal in their travel, and even give part of those savings back. This incentivizes employees and staff to do better and look for deals. Thinking about the social world we live in, with Facebook likes and Twitter retweets, all of these things are powerful incentives for people to do the right thing. Companies can now have all employees become part of savings initiatives by using employee behavior and the technology smartly in order to get the results (the savings) they are after.
PYMNTS: Speaking of expenses, how are these managed?
DW: The No. 1 thing to remember about business travelers is that they often do not remember company travel policies. Which is why it’s important to use the technology smartly to remind them about policy throughout their natural business day. Coupa’s SmarterTrip tool, which we announced last month, allows the traveler to turn on a virtual assistant that works with them throughout their travel day.
For example, their driving is recorded and as soon as they stop, a message appears stating, “you just drove 57.2 miles with this route, do you want to create an expense report line?” In one click from an Apple Watch or the mobile app, an expense line for that trip will be created. Throughout the course of the day, the virtual assistant is working with the traveler to record what they are doing and effectively present a line item that can be expensed with one click. By using this model that works with the traveler as they go throughout their day, a company can also present tips to them, such as “it’s lunch time, do you want to see what your company policy is for lunch?,” or better yet, “here are some restaurants that are within your company’s policy.” These are they types of features employees are expecting in order to manage expenses easily with one click as well as changing behaviors to become more in line with company policy.
PYMNTS: How do you expect travel and expense management technology to evolve and what role will Coupa play in this evolution?
DW: This industry is evolving so quickly to support the modern traveler. Look at what is happening with Uber in taxi and car services or Airbnb for hotel stays. There is so much happening in the travel space and Coupa is playing a big part in this evolution because what we are doing is recognizing these trends and bringing to the market real innovation with travel and expense.
We are not content to just simply help a traveler create an expense report. What we want is for the traveler to become a part of the savings initiatives for the company. We want the employee to be doing the right thing. By using our modern application of technology like machine learning, we can better predict what the employee is going to do in their travel day, which allows us to present them with opportunities to make the right choices.
Not only do we want the employee to be a part of the savings initiatives, but we want that employee to have a seamless experience regardless of how they are spending the company’s money. Whether it is real-time travel, pre-approved spend, post-approved spend or unapproved spend, throughout the day that employee is spending company money in various ways. What Coupa is doing is delivering one unified user experience, allowing them to capture their travel and expenses, while also working on things like purchase orders and invoices. For us, that is the magic of innovation, how we can give the user one experience to capture and influence how they spend the company’s money. That is what is success to Coupa.