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Analyst Eye on travel and expense management tool innovation since the coronavirus pandemic

07/18/2023 By and

Every week, Spend Matters analysts turn their eye toward the procurement tech trends they observe in the marketplace. This week, Meena Ibrahim discusses her specialist area of expense management and how it has evolved for the post-pandemic world.

According to an industry poll by Global Business Travel Association, business travel has jumped back to 63% of pre-pandemic travel levels and is expected to continue to grow. Remote work has also led to a new type of travel. As such, travel expenses are as relevant to the contingent workforce as it is to full-time employees, and absolutely shouldn’t be overlooked, even if a company has a hybrid or fully remote workforce.

“Small group travel requires the ability to book and report on travel as a group or department. Departments can book similar flights and accommodations and can collaborate,” said Meena.

“And to bring more nuance to post-pandemic travel, some organizations are now using non-hotel accommodation. While many companies do not have non-hotel private rentals as company policy, with the accessibility of Airbnb and other non-traditional accommodations on the rise, we may see more travel booking tools incorporate these into their accommodation selections.”

With the new travel initiatives, many companies have also increased their focus on ESG, requiring sustainability tracking functionality.

Many companies seek sustainability tracking capabilities that allow organizations to book travel based on the lowest emissions. This focus on sustainability is a trend seen post-pandemic, especially in 2023, as organizations want to be able to measure their carbon footprint and report on their travel spending to help reach ESG targets.

Tracking all of these expenses can be difficult, however Meena believes AI innovation may help. “In addition to OCR for expense report data capture, AI can be applied to several steps in the expense management process,” she said, “most notably in expense capture, coding and validation.”

AI can be used in more than just expense reporting though. Advanced features may even be able to help with suggestions on booking by leveraging community data and insights from multiple data sources. If developed more, they may even be able to track trends within companies and groups to suggest accommodations and airlines that are sustainable as well as comfortable for traveling parties. Imagine your company’s travel itinerary created by AI with several options to choose from, all falling within ESG initiatives as well as comfort for employees.

But travel hasn’t been the only category affected in the post-pandemic world. Changes in remote work and contingent workforces have steadily been taking place as well.

Remote work is not a new concept and has been around for quite a while. However, due to the lockdowns caused by the pandemic, remote work opportunities have been steadily on the rise. These join the ripple effect of everything left over from Covid-19’s effects on the workforce.

And to circle back, the number of people choosing the career path of a contingent worker or non-full-time employee has been rapidly growing as well. This rise has required businesses to consider expense reimbursement and reconciliation for a workforce that does not consist of only full-time employees and the challenges that come from such a shift.

“One of the shifts in workforce trends post-pandemic has been the rise of the contingent workforce. Especially with the ongoing uncertainty of macroeconomic conditions, companies see this as a cost-saving alternative to hiring for temporary needs or project-based work,” Meena said.

According to Meena, this trend should be reflected in expense management systems.

Now, companies should host their own expense reporting process where contingent workers can create their own accounts and navigate their own expense reporting. This would still require validation by a designated approver within the company, but this would take much of the pressure off expense management teams. Many advanced expense management systems should already have these capabilities for contingent workers available.

What next?

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Analyst Eye