Now is the time for digital transformation of travel & expenses

13 October 2020 4 min. read

A new Forrester Consulting report has revealed that businesses are taking note of travel & expenses (T&E) mechanisms as crucial enablers of business efficiency – provided that they are digitalised.

Commissioned by travel company Amadeus, Forrester Consulting surveyed more than 500 business leaders – management or higher – working in the finance, procurement, travel management, HR and IT departments at large corporations across the globe. The goal was to identify the state of T&E in the business environment.

The results show that T&E has so far been neglected amid broader digital transformation efforts. T&E tasks including the retrieval of business reports, exporting accounting entries, data capture, bookings & cancellations and travel approval – among several others – all continue to be handled manually. At the same time, businesses are not oblivious to the need for change

State of automation in T&E systems

“Surveyed finance and IT managers said end-to-end T&E management processes at their firms burden employees, managers, and accounts payable teams with manual tasks that are repetitive and low value,” explained Asha Dinesh, Market Impact Consultant at Forrester Consulting. The dead weight of manual tasks ends up slowing down the entire business machinery, which can be critical in today’s market conditions.

The top three priorities for businesses across the globe over the next year is to build operational efficiency, accelerate digital transformation and improve employee experience. Born out of the realisation that technology, people and flexibility lie at the heart of success, these were already top business priorities in recent years but have become core driving forces since the Covid-19 crisis and all its repercussions.

According to the report, what businesses seem to have realised is that digitalising T&E tasks is a key step to realising all these objectives. In fact, nearly 75% of businesses acknowledged this correlation. At a time when travel has all but halted and every expense needs to be optimised, T&E has been thrown into the spotlight.

Priorities for T&E digitalisation

There are a handful of T&E reforms that have been placed as “critical” or “high priority” by two-thirds or more of all businesses, according to the researchers. Top goals now include improving the end-to-end experience of T&E processes, using data analytics to gain actionable insights that can boost T&E efficiency, automating repetitive tasks and improving mobile-enabled T&E management, among others.

One factor that has gained particular importance recently is the integration of T&E processes with other key business functions using digital tools. Experts have long emphasized that digital transformation is not an isolated function. Indeed, firms that are currently leading the digital landscape have used tech to integrate all aspects of their operations to align with a single business purpose.

T&E is a crucial link in this chain. According to Executive Vice President of Corporations at Amadeus Rudy Daniello, using tools to integrate T&E with the rest of the business has become a key objective going forth.

State of integration of T&E with other business functions

“Without integrated solutions, business travelers also miss out on added-value information or on-trip service, while expense processes take too long to submit and approve on their return. Those companies that have integrated tools are almost universally satisfied with overall T&E processes, with almost three quarters planning on expanding or upgrading their platforms further,” he explained.

For now, most T&E processes are integrated only with travel agency systems, or with the internal billings process. Many have also managed to integrate T&E with business analytics, credit card feeds or HR processes. On the other hand, less than half have integrated T&E with travel auditing tools, CRM systems, payment solutions, data visualisation tools or other enterprise operations.

So there’s a long way to go both in terms of T&E digitalisation and integration. The current lull in travel and broader restructuring efforts present a strong opportunity for businesses to make progress here – positioning them to drive forward once the economy of travelling starts to open up again. The good news, according to Forrester Consulting’s research, is that businesses are aware and working towards such a scenario.