CFOtech New Zealand - Technology news for CFOs & financial decision-makers
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Opportunities to improve travel and expense processes for enhanced business operations
Wed, 28th Feb 2024

Companies with operations in Australian and New Zealand currently face a complex array of challenges that necessitate a re-evaluation of their travel and expense (T&E) processes. These challenges include fluctuating economic conditions, evolving workplace practices, and heightened expectations around corporate responsibility, sustainability, and equity, compounded by technological advancements.

Navigating the current landscape requires executive leaders to rethink traditional practices and embrace innovative solutions that align with contemporary business needs and values. Leaders who recognise and act on these opportunities are positioning their organisations for resilience, competitiveness, and long-term success. Failing to do so risks inefficiencies, lost business opportunities, increased costs, and an inability to meet both employee expectations and regulatory requirements. Smarter T&E management is one area that will afford companies the opportunity to drive greater efficiencies.

Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI)-powered automation and analytics, offer a significant opportunity to enhance T&E management. Using these tools, business leaders can gain deeper insights, automate routine tasks, and make data-driven decisions. AI systems can sift through vast amounts of data at unprecedented speeds, identifying spending patterns, anomalies, and cost saving opportunities that might elude even the most meticulous human analysis. AI can suggest optimised itineraries and booking options by analysing staff travel patterns and preferences, ultimately improving employee satisfaction and compliance with travel policies.

This personalisation extends to expense management, where AI can offer tailored advice on expense claims, ensuring workers are aware of entitlements and policy constraints while fostering a culture of transparency and trust. Such insight also lets leaders make more informed decisions while tailoring travel policies to actual usage and trends, rather than relying on broad assumptions or outdated information.

AI-driven automation also plays a pivotal role. Routine processes which traditionally consume considerable time and are prone to human error can be automated, including expense report generation, approval workflows, and compliance checks. Automation accelerates the process and enhances accuracy, ensuring adherence to organisational policies and regulatory requirements. Managers can also use predictive analytics to forecast spending trends based on historical data, and more strategically allocate resources to avoid unexpected expenditures.

Another critical area of opportunity is in addressing the tension between cost management and equitable access to safe business travel opportunities. Nearly one-third (31 per cent) of Australian and New Zealand business travellers report that their company requires travellers to stay in lower quality accommodations and/or less safe areas due to economic changes, while 27 per cent emphasise lower airfares, even if it means layovers, indirect routes, or using alternative airports. Cautious budgeting demands a balance of fiscal responsibility with fairness, safety, and inclusion. This requires thoughtful policies and transparent decision-making processes that intersect with duty of care to ensure all staff members have equal opportunities for safe travel, regardless of their background or identity. Organisations must develop robust emergency response plans and maintain effective communication channels. This holistic approach to travel management ensures that, while financial and operational efficiencies are pursued, they are not achieved at the expense of employee welfare and equity.

At the same time, sustainability and the adoption of new distribution capabilities (NDC) in travel programs present a transformative opportunity for companies. They empower organisations to align travel activities with broader corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability goals. Almost half (42 per cent) of Australian and New Zealand business travellers with corporate travel policies expect the flexibility to book more sustainable travel options, while the majority (89 per cent) will take extra steps over the next 12 months to reduce the environmental impact of their business travel.

Adopting eco-friendly travel policies, such as selecting airlines with lower carbon footprints or opting for greener accommodation options, lets companies more directly integrate sustainability into their T&E management. T&E management systems can also be configured to favour sustainable options, ensuring that workers’ travel choices align with the organisation’s CSR objectives. The integration of NDC also provides a more tailored and efficient booking experience by delivering access to a wider range of content, including sustainable travel options. This modernisation of the booking process directly influences T&E management by offering more nuanced control over travel spend and policy compliance. By leveraging NDC, companies can better manage their travel expenses while also aligning their travel activities with the latest industry standards and sustainability practices.

The complexities of modern business travel demand an agile approach that delivers cost-effectiveness, compliance, fairness, safety, and sustainability. By integrating the latest technologies into workflows and viewing T&E management through the lens of innovation, organisations can remain resilient, competitive, and socially responsible in a rapidly changing global environment.