While people are making personal New Year’s resolutions, it’s a great time for travel managers to shake out the cobwebs from some of their business processes.
This article looks at the top five inefficiencies plaguing organisations – and how to address them.
1. Poor visibility making it hard to manage
A recent report from Aberdeen Group identified poor visibility into travel spend, compliance and suppliers as the major challenges faced by organisations. Travel managers are struggling to understand who is travelling, whether their trips are necessary, how much they are spending and if they are using preferred suppliers.
The challenge is especially pronounced when manual processes are used to approve, book and pay for travel.
If you can’t readily identify who is on the road, how much is budgeted for the trip and which deals are being accessed, you can’t really claim to be “managing” your category.
Fortunately, there is a wide range of technological solutions, from booking tools to expense management systems, which can provide the visibility that will allow you to truly measure your travel. And, as they say, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
2. Cumbersome requisition processes
Many organisations still use hard-copy requisition forms, completed manually and passed from traveller to approver for sign-off. This process is not only inefficient, but it is also hard to monitor and track.
The manual requisition process is time-consuming for the traveller and the organisation – and it’s also costly. There is plenty of debate about the real cost of a manual purchase order, but the consensus seems to run between $100 and $200 per transaction – regardless of the cost of the trip.
The use of a computer-based request and approval system ensures that all the vital information about the trip is captured, efficiently and effectively.
There are various approval modules associated with self-booking tools, expense management systems and enterprise systems, and it should be relatively easy to find one that integrates into your existing computer infrastructure and management system.
Approval tools which can be linked to booking tools and expense management systems will be the most efficient. For example, approval tools can be configured to automatically reject out-of-policy requests, saving time and money by assisting compliance.
3. A costly and inefficient booking system
Do your travellers still call consultants each time they need to make a booking or change it? Not only is this inefficient, but the fees add up each time the consultant picks up the phone or answers an email.
Self-booking tools/online booking tools (SBTs/OBTs) are now a cornerstone of most travel programs and shift the workload from the TMC to the travellers. By reducing the TMC involvement, these tools help reduce costs.
They are also able to increase flexibility by enabling travellers to book anywhere, any time.
These tools are most valuable for frequent travellers, but shifting the workload to the traveller can backfire for infrequent and inexperienced travellers who will spend valuable work time learning about travel. So, you need to ensure that you only deploy the technology where it makes a meaningful contribution.
Used properly, SBTs also help boost compliance by ensuring that bookings are made within policy and with your approved suppliers.
4. Getting on top of expenses
The challenges don’t end when the trip ends. Often, reconciling the expenses is a tedious and costly process. Doing it manually can cost anything from $43 to $87 per line item. And there’s also the risk of lost visibility: are you seeing all the charges and are you being billed your agreed rates?
Expense management systems (EMS) provide quick and relatively easy solutions which employ electronic feeds, rather than manual data input, and even cope with receipts scanned on travellers’ phones on the road.
These systems are available from a variety of sources including card providers, financial institutions and specialist EMS providers, and the latest tools are fully integrated into the booking process, from requisition to acquittal.
A good EMS reduces administrative effort and provides robust reporting that allows you to monitor your performance and quickly make changes – even at the booking stage, before the expense is incurred.
An automated system is also generally easier for your travellers to use, and reducing their admin burden will make them more likely to comply with the process, especially if it means they get reimbursed quicker.
Finally, a robust EMS will ensure that your suppliers are paid accurately and on time, keeping them onside and enhancing your relationship.
5. Managing travel on the move
The SmartPhone has extended productivity for employees and employers alike, and travellers are increasingly using their mobile devices for bookings, to familiarise themselves with their destination and to enhance their stays.
Tedious processes like changing flights mid-trip can be simplified with the latest generation of travel apps, and technology can assist travellers with a range of requirements on the road, from booking airport shuttles to hotel check-ins.
According to a recent Forrester survey, most business decision-makers are still frustrated by the lack of access to information via mobile devices. And with SmartPhones tipped to account for 79% of all phones this year, it’s important to ensure that your travel processes are accessible on the road and that your – and your TMC’s - systems can operate on the growing mobile platforms.
… But tools are only part of the answer
Technology can certainly improve efficiency, facilitate savings, mitigate risk and enhance the travel experience, but only if it is integrated and works together with your existing enterprise system and IT infrastructure.
But, at the end of the day, any tools are only as good as their users.
Any technology you adopt has to fit with your organisation, your culture and your policy. And travellers need to be encouraged to use technology, especially when it is first introduced or when it is changed.
Without the other pillars of successful travel management – policy, process and compliance - technology won’t change anything. But when it’s applied to augment professional travel management, it can make a significant difference for all stakeholders.
To find out about appropriate technologies to add to your New Year’s ‘to do’ list, request a meeting.