Efficient automation is of paramount importance in the Travel and Expense industry as it reduces the scope of error. It makes business travel easier and more insight-driven for both businesses and travellers. Taking into consideration how business travel has become an integral part of any organization, the need to optimize process would mean operational efficiency and cost-saving. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) analyze data from multiple sources within seconds and help streamline business travel services to give companies total visibility into their spend and employee safety. Companies are striving to augment operational efficiencies by teaming up with emerging technologies to offer their users an unprecedented travel and expense management experience. In its revolution of bringing about upraised changes, AI is enabling an ocean of contextual algorithms and helping create relevant solutions for businesses and travellers alike. As we move on to the second half of 2019, AI and ML remain some of the biggest forces to reckon with.
How does AI or ML plan to revolutionize the Travel and Expense industry?
Contrary to popular belief, business travel isn’t as easy as it seems. When an employee travels for work, it comes with a set of added challenges for the organization he is a part of. Whether it is health or environmental menace, domestic or international political disputes, or any unforeseen events – there are enough risks involved to jeopardize business travel. Despite all these factors, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has stated that spending on global business is expected to reach $1.6 trillion by 2020. So, how does an organization i) protect its employees in case of unforeseen events ii) save cost and efforts, and iii) make travelling convenient for its employees?
Today, it is imperative for organizations not only to see through their obligations for high-risk incidents such as terrorist attacks or natural calamities but also be ready with commonplace, user-related travel solutions. From reducing costs and offering a seamless travel experience to business travellers all around the globe to handling unforeseen calamities, the travel industry needs to be top-notch in execution and should be prepared to assist travellers whenever required. This is where AI and ML can help.
Companies use AI and ML to gain more insight into the industry through accurate algorithms to improve cost efficiencies and to better handle crises. AI and ML also have great potential in spotting fraudulent expenses submitted for reimbursements. AI and ML automatically turn photos of receipts into completed expense reports for end users and validate legitimate and accurate expenses from fraudulent ones by examining them against external data sources within the space of seconds. Through their accurate translations and advanced image detection capacity, they reduce the amount of error in receipt processing. Thereby saving costs and making the process of auditing smarter, and easier for employees.
Combined with predictive analytics, AI helps in foreseeing the future for the travel companies. Think about how AI can enable the automatic search and suggestions for booking options when a potential trip is simply mentioned in email, in line with company policy and understanding real issues such as connection times of an airport, baggage considerations and airline terms and conditions of a ticket. In addition, intelligent services can consider cost increases, real-time weather conditions, or co-worker’s shifting schedules to reshape the itinerary if needed and automatically book travel. Consider in-depth analysis of spending pattern and consumer behaviour in business travel. Predictive analytics is here to transform the travel spectrum by predicting travellers’ behaviour based on their past choices and recommending personalized suggestions for the travellers.
Not forgetting that user experience is the most integral part of any business today, and that business travellers are regular consumers too. Given the amount of ease and convenience technology has provided in their day-to-day life, travellers expect the same kind of intuitive and user-friendly experience in the travel context too.
AI and ML eliminate tedious work for both the business and the travellers in Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Here’s how:
- Reducing cost –Advanced automation tools reduce an organization’s expense report errors by a great margin. It drastically lowers the instances of error and fraud which occur during reimbursement submission of business travel, while ensuring compliance to corporate policies. It cuts down the manual audit time manifold and capture the detailed information through automated hotel and flight booking receipts extractions, precise translation and advanced language processing. It renders the ability to differentiate between deliberate misuse of claims from accidental ones.
- Offering seamless travel experience – To unlock new ways to provide unprecedented experience to their employees, businesses are opting for AI to help decode travellers’ behaviours and patterns. These advanced AI assisted tools give travellers a fine mobile experience by instantly synchronising emails from their travel booking and come up with hotel recommendations based on past reviews by users.
- Handling crisis and fulfilling duty of care - With the integration of advanced analytics, both AI and ML is well-equipped to handle disasters or calamities impacting the company or the traveller. Companies use ML to compile travel details with expense data to locate their travellers anywhere in the world in case of a natural disaster, political unrest and disruption, or any other emergency. It helps detect the precise location of the traveller for organisations to keep them safe during a crisis. AI integrates the credit card details, the traveller’s itinerary and other data sources to figure out the exact location of the traveller.
Companies are putting in massive efforts to stay ahead of their competitors in terms of offering relevant products and services to their customers. SMEs in the travel and expense industry are well-aware that travellers can now make well-informed decisions while booking their flights, hotels and holidays after comparing all their options on online portals within seconds. All this is done with just a click. In today’s digitally driven world, advanced technological innovations are the only ways to ensure smooth and convenient consumer experiences. The assimilation of AI & ML will increase conversion rates for SMEs along with reducing costs, predicting future purchase actions and offering travellers unmatched travel experiences.
Author: Andy Watson, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China, SAP Concur