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Coupa launches unified travel-and-expense suite to expand its business spend management (BSM) coverage

02/15/2022 By

Coupa on Tuesday announced the launch of a travel-focused expansion to its solution for business spend management (BSM), adding capabilities like trip planning and booking, 24/7 traveler support services and category-specific community intelligence.

The product launch completes an expansion for Coupa from an expense reimbursement-focused solution to a full travel-and-expense management suite that helps companies maximize capture of travel spend to be more efficient and more sustainable.

Coupa said in a briefing with Spend Matters that it assembled the components of the new T&E solution, called Coupa Travel and Expense, from underlying elements in its suite, as well as its acquired and rapidly integrated assets, including the companies Yapta (for automated air/hotel price monitoring and rebooking) and Pana (the foundation for Coupa’s new travel booking capability).

Most notably, Coupa’s move into the “T” of T&E marks a smart bet on procurement’s ability to influence corporate travel spend as the category undergoes fundamental shifts caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As business travel climbs closer to pre-pandemic levels and the shift to remote operations changes the types of trips and expenses that employees take, procurement has a unique opportunity to reshape demand and processes for the category, as well as take new perspectives on travel’s role in strategic ESG initiatives like Scope 3 emissions reduction.

But seizing this opportunity first requires procurement to effectively capture this spend upfront. By integrating aspects of travel booking, trip planning and trip support services into other aspects of the source-to-pay process (e.g., payments and employee expense reimbursements contract management, strategic sourcing and spend analysis), Coupa is aiming to fix the front-end obstacles that prevent procurement from influencing T&E spend, thus giving organizations a much better chance of driving improved savings, stakeholder travel and ESG outcomes.

Coupa’s Raja Hammoud, EVP of Products, said in a news release that the T&E suite is something new for the market.

“We’ve built Coupa Travel and Expense with our customers from the ground up with empathy and understanding of the traveler and the back office,” Hammoud said. “By understanding the end-to-end corporate travel journey, we’re eliminating the pain for companies’ reliance on a patchwork of siloed legacy tools. When we add the power of insights driven by our global community, we deliver a radically different solution that transforms corporate travel to be simpler, smarter and more sustainable.”

Now let’s look at the T&E problems that Coupa tackled, how its solution has grown and how the market could react to this development.

Context: The travel problem for procurement

Global corporate travel spend is a growing industry, and more businesses are investing in tools and measures to increase their travel savings.

After declining by 53% in 2020, global business travel spending rebounded in 2021, increasing by 14% for a total of $754 billion, according to a report by the Global Business Travel Association. That number is expected to surge in 2022, with a forecast of fully recovering by 2024. In the interim, corporations are taking notice of ways to reduce their business spend on travel as it becomes more and more essential to intercompany relationships in a globalized and post-pandemic economy.

Many factors of the pandemic have affected business travel, including vaccination requirements, global entry bans and increased remote video communications. As travel rebounds and the nature of employee expenses change — more remote work reimbursement expenses, traveling by remote workers for in-person meetings, travel coming back more for certain groups like sales vs. all employees — procurement has a major opportunity to reshape how spending is done for this category.

It also helps link procurement with an executive-level initiative: Because businesses and their CEOs are expecting less spend on expenses, like office space and supplies, as reported in a 2021 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey, and are preparing for remote hires, businesses are expecting to target T&E in the coming years as a critical lever for cost optimization.

The challenge, however, is that travel spend has historically eluded the direct scope of procurement. Traditionally, travel has its own fragmented ecosystem of technology and services providers, which has led to a difficult user experience and thus prevented procurement from seeing travel spend until after an invoice has been received.

Coupa T&E: Before and after

With the launch of Coupa’s expanded T&E solution, the business spend management suite provider is working to overcome just these challenges. In the process, it is creating not just an expanded module but a category-specific link into multiple other S2P processes.

Prior to today’s launch, Coupa’s BSM platform handled travel spend through various mechanisms:

  • In the Coupa platform, users can access travel supplier sourcing & contracts, rate loading & auditing, and pre-negotiated travel rates via Coupa Advantage. The sourcing process includes an automated and highly configurable event-request setup that can be used for travel requests.
  • Expense management. Coupa’s expense management solution can be used for reimbursement of travel spend and provides a consumerized experience for automatic trip expensing, budget-based auto-approvals and spend guidance via community-driven intelligence. Users can input expenses into the application and monitor/make approval via any device, including through Microsoft Teams and Slack interfaces.
  • Pay. Coupa Pay is a solution offering a payment hub and a supplier early payment discount solution. One portion of the solution offers auto-generated virtual cards, which is an electronic card number that is generated per transaction, and allows efficient reconciliation control. Employees can use these virtual cards to pay for pre-approved expenses and avoid paying out of pocket.
  • Expense payments/reimbursements. Through Coupa Pay, customers are able to eliminate dependency on payroll cycles by making direct employee expense reimbursements. Coupa also offers and manages early pay discounts, which let suppliers offer discounts before invoice approval.

Over the last several years, however, Coupa has been strategically building up its capabilities in the T&E space. In conversations with Spend Matters, Donna Wilczek, Coupa SVP Product Strategy and Innovation, explained that Coupa has not decreased research-and-development spending for the T&E area over the past two years despite Covid disruptions to the category.

“It was the perfect time to rethink stale approaches to travel-and-expense management and create something the market has not seen before,” Wilczek said. “This is about delivering significantly more value to companies while also delighting the actual travelers. Why should businesses settle for a terrible, clunky expense-report process designed in the ’90s that doesn’t optimize any process?”

And alongside internal development, Coupa also made targeted acquisitions to bolster the solution available today:

  • Yapta, a travel solution that specialized in monitoring and re-booking air and hotel reservations in order to maximize savings, in addition to providing spend analytics and intelligence. Yapta’s technology now powers Coupa’s Travel Saver price assurance solution, which automatically re-books travel reservations when prices decrease.
  • Pana, a travel booking provider that curated personalized suggestions for bookings and travel insights including hotel, flight and transportation. It now forms the foundation of Coupa’s own travel booking solution.

That brings us to today’s launch, which although it is only a first step into the travel booking space proper, includes an impressive number of available capabilities. Highlights include:

  • Booking (air/travel/hotel). Coupa has introduced a native travel booking solution that offers a consumerized interface that will be familiar to anyone who books travel using tools like Expedia, Kayak or Google Flights. The tool also provides Smart Itineraries, which personalizes travel experiences by suggesting trip itineraries. This feature also incorporates intelligence that considers company priorities, as well as traveler behavior and preferences. Dynamic messages are used to send travelers any notifications regarding health and safety.
  • Expense report creation and pre-filling. The application pre-fills expense reports with line items and has one-click expense reporting and approval capabilities. Additionally, virtual cards can be linked to reports for automatic matching of purchases. Coupa’s mobile app can be used to track expenses and mileage during business trips.
  • Price monitoring + auto re-book (Coupa Travel Saver). The Coupa Travel Saver feature monitors price arbitrage opportunities for airfare and hotels, and automatically re-books reservations when prices drop. It also provides insights on potential savings and conversion rates.
  • Spend guidance for the traveler. Coupa Spend Coach functionality, which highlights savings opportunities to the employee (such as by utilizing negotiated or contracted rates).
  • Expense approvals. Coupa’s travel and expense solution incorporates one-click expense reporting and approvals, and it includes insights on an average approval time.
  • Direct employee reimbursement. For instance when employees need to be reimbursed, companies can use Coupa to manage and make direct employee reimbursements without any dependency on payroll cycles.
  • Community insights (category prescriptions and KPIs). Coupa’s newly branded capability, which analyzes $3 trillion+ in customer-contributed spend, provides insights on travel and booking rates, benchmark expense KPIs against the performance of the Coupa community, and prescriptive recommendations (e.g., identification of vendor consolidation opportunities) that can be used for future savings.
  • Travel support services. Coupa provides 24/7 live agent support, 365 days a year. This is at no additional cost and includes multi-device support access, cancellation/refund assistance and airline schedule-change management.
  • Carbon offset program. Businesses using Coupa Instant Advantage travel rates are able to receive carbon offset credits based on travel booking decisions.
  • Spend Guard expense monitoring. The Coupa T&E suite uses AI/ML to stop fraud before expenses are charged. This feature is further distinguished from other fraud detection approaches by both being delivered natively in the Coupa solution and by flagging fraudulent activity before expenses are paid out, reducing business needs to recover money incorrectly paid to employees.

Foundation for expansion

Given the contextual opportunity for procurement to reshape the future of the travel category, Coupa is unsurprisingly not sitting still with its expanded T&E module. Coupa shared a confidential look at the company’s travel-and-expense vision that centers on further capture of travel dollars, synergistic processes across the platform and expansion of its program to further deliver on ESG, savings and efficiency goals. Given Coupa’s historical success at hitting its stated roadmap goals/timelines, we expect the T&E suite will contain significant additional enhancements even a year out from launch.

Of course, we expect that other vendors — most notably the T&E specialist SAP Concur — will announce that they will be moving in similar directions in light of the news. But the aggressive expansion of Coupa into the travel space injects a jolt of energy into the category, one we are curious to explore further as business travel continues to return and adapt to a post-pandemic world.