BTN's annual answer book for business travel managers.
Travelers often use consumer apps for business travel, even without company approval. However, the expense management sector upped its game in 2015, prompting some to wish they could carry some corporate travel technology to their personal lives.
For instance, mobile receipt capture, optical character recognition and mobile app functionality—as opposed to accessing services through mobile devices' Web browsers—wowed users as recently as two years ago but simply are requisites now.
This year, expense tool suppliers flaunted innovation and insight to meet both travelers’ practical needs and buyers’ due diligence requirements. Traveldoo added a
featurecombining geocoding, voice recognition and digital receipts that captures expenses without users keying in details. SutiSoft announced
integration with Google Maps to automatically populate mileage expenses.
ReceiptKeep, which scans a user’s Gmail account for e-receipts and then sends PDFs to Trippeo. Concur enhanced
ExpenseItso users can add personal credit cards to accounts and swipe items purchased with that card to include in expense reports. Even
Uberenabled users to toggle between business and personal profiles.
Certify's strong annual revenue growth rate, projected to exceed 70 percent this year, allowed the expense management provider to reinvest in the business and release several features in 2015. CEO Bob Neveu told BTN. In the third quarter, it processed more than 8.5 million receipts and expenses. “We have plenty more
customers, more revenue and a lot more cash, so we’re saying ‘Let’s build more, do more and continue to invest in new talent and new ideas,’” he said. “That’s critical because we’re investing for the future.”
Certify lumps product development into three categories, according to Neveu: leadership, which determines new and unique products; competitive response, meaning products and features similar to competitors' offerings; and client input, which encompasses about 70 percent of Certify’s
features. “While those kinds of [features] are really important, they’re not headline grabbers,” he admitted. “[But] when we went back to the thought leadership category, we had a lot of ideas.”
Most recently, in November, the company announced Mobile Tip Assist, which gives users three different ways to add gratuity amounts to expenses photographed through Certify’s mobile app: by percentage, by specific dollar amount or by clicking an up arrow to change tip amounts in dollar
increments. Then the tool automatically calculates the tip. The system also deciphers expense categories that don’t require tip prompts, such as hotels.
A large percentage of receipts are meal based, while optical character recognition technology doesn’t accurately capture handwritten amounts, and that means customers often have to alter amounts in the system, Neveu said. “This was one of those aha moments when you ask, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if it
did this?’” Neveu explained. “No one is doing OCR on handwriting.”
And in October, the company launched
Certify Mobile Instant Policy Check to notify travelers in real time when an expense falls out of policy. The inspiration for this feature, Neveu said, was the realization that travel managers were investigating compliance only after a report was submitted. “Why would you want to wait? Why not get that in front of
the user up-front?” asked Neveu. “Our concept was: Let’s get that information to users immediately and give them the opportunity to interact and modify that expense to bring it back within policy compliance.” Consider its use with open booking: If a traveler were to book a noncompliant flight and the tool notified
him or her immediately, the traveler would have time to change the flight, considering most airlines allow changes without a penalty within 24 hours.
Also, in June, Certify became one of the few providers that automatically calculates the
U.S. General Service Administration per-diem rates that represent maximum allowances for federal employees and contractors. The rates are particularly complicated because they’re based on a combination of factors including dates, destinations, meal combinations and geographies.
Other Certify announcements and upgrades included integration with global distribution system
Amadeusand automatic mobile
translationsthrough Google Translate. That feature also allows companies to override the language for their own use to account for dialect or other factors. And Certify is not stopping there. “We have plenty of great functionalities coming in January,” Neveu said.
Now that Concur is more integrated into SAP, including SAP's procurement management firm, Ariba, and services procurement firm, Fieldglass, Neveu said, expense firms need to expand their product set. “Is it OK to just do expense reports anymore? Probably not. You probably have to have a broader
reach to be successful in the marketplace.”
His thinking echoes that of companies like Deem and Coupa. Deem told BTN it wanted to be the
Amazon of travel, offering more than 11 million products, connections to 100,000 merchants and car services. Coupa, which also has been described as having an Amazon-like shopping experience, launched in the procurement sector in 2006 and added expense management in 2009. In July, it acquired travel technology
TripScannerand plans to incorporate the firm into its expense management offering.
While Neveu is happy with Certify’s current position in the travel industry, a natural progression toward invoicing and procurement lies ahead, he said. “Don’t think about it as expense reporting. Think about what else can be put into that engine. … What if you have an invoice, time off, anything
that needs manager approval and needs to be put into the accounting system? Arguably, we’ve created a workflow, a process to manage, a way to audit, to control and contain it. … Certify [and others] will try to optimize that and make something out of that, more than just an expense reporting tool.”
Still, Neveu doesn’t want potential customers to make decisions based on what Certify could launch in the future. “Yes, we will continue to evolve as has been proven by the past eight years, but we want the message to be very clear: Here’s what we have today and it meets your needs.”
Despite consolidation in the expense industry, Neveu said Certify is not ready to exit the market. Rather, he sees a “very big opportunity,” especially as the company gains international customers. It’s also unlikely that Certify will acquire other companies. “We wouldn’t say no to
acquisitions, but it’s less likely than us building it ourselves,” he said.
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