Data analytics can optimize corporate travel budgets

Business travel throws up a high volume of data and travel, and is the second most controllable spend after salaries. Photo: iStock

Business travel throws up a high volume of data and travel, and is the second most controllable spend after salaries. Photo: iStock

In the era of digital communication—video calls and instant messaging—conventional wisdom had it that physical distance would cease to matter and business travel would be one of the biggest casualties of virtual communication.

Such is clearly not the case, with the uptick in corporate travel that is inevitable in today’s world. No wonder, then, that corporate ticketing, hospitality and associated spends form a considerable portion of an organization’s budget. While this expense is necessary, firms are grappling with how to make the best use of their travel budgets. Is there data and intelligence that can help them make smarter decisions?

First, let us understand what business travellers need. The expectation that tops the list is the need for a stress-free travel experience. This calls for a digital user-experience that provides travel information on fares, flight delays and bookings on-the-go.

This user experience should not be cost-intensive. Companies are looking to streamline processes and cut costs.

This is where data analytics comes into play.

Business travel throws up a high volume of data and travel, and is the second most controllable spend after salaries.

This travel data, when consolidated, is a gold mine of critical information and insight. Businesses can improve employee travel safety and experience without incurring extra costs while curbing unnecessary expenditure.

However, the challenge here is harvesting the right data from disparate systems, including human resource (HR) information, travel desk, and expense accounts.

Also, understanding how this data is juxtaposed with data related to tax, refunds and reconciliations allows companies to get their employees to travel in comfort and also forecast travel expenses. From a governance perspective, this helps identify patterns of policy violation.

With an intuitive and visual approach to data analysis, organizations have the ability to investigate and interpret data without having to spend precious man-hours in report generation. This real-time access is an enabler to make decisions on the move, which in itself is a dramatic shift from when companies had to wait until the end of the month to compile the necessary information.

In contrast, real time-access to past expenditures and upcoming spends and projections will allow the management to take informed decisions. Potential deviations from budgeted expenditure can thus be spotted early on for suitable course correction.

Integrating large volume of data—both structured and unstructured—from all parts of the business, allows them to connect the dots and view the larger picture across different units.

Technology now enables this data to be served on a Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) platform. BPaaS is a form of business process outsourcing (BPO) that employs a cloud-computing service model. Whereas the aim of traditional BPO is to reduce labour costs, BPaaS reduces the need for manpower through increased automation, thereby cutting costs.

Leveraging such platforms enables better reporting and data visibility through real-time dashboards that provide comprehensive spend visibility.

With BPaaS applications, companies can focus on their core travel and expense (T&E) data to improve expense management across functions.

Insights can lead to benefits for both employees and the organization. When your data works in unison, it empowers you to understand where your money is going and keep better control of it. It allows a great deal of optimization by focusing on all aspects of a procurement.

For example, if data shows that a majority of employees prefer a particular eatery close to office or the airport during their travel, the company could negotiate a long-term deal with the establishment with additional benefits thrown in for the employees.

For most enterprises, travel and hospitality is a great place to kick off the adoption of analytics and data-driven processes.

There is the obvious benefit of freedom from painstaking manual processes, reduced costs and the agility to course-correct in real-time. Equally important, it makes a meaningful difference to employees’ ease of doing work.

Nagendra Bandaru is senior vice-president and global head of business process services at Wipro Ltd.

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