Tomorrow’s Technology: Interview with SAP Concur’s Ralph Colunga

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(March, 2020)

[Transcript from Interview with SAP Concur’s Ralph Colunga]

What are your thoughts as they relate to today’s travel technology and how to take advantage without being inundated?

The tools that SAP Concur is bringing out, specifically with TripLink, our Duty of Care components, and identifying ways to help our clients book the way they want to book and capture that information, is very important.

Just to touch on your first point of TripLink as an example.  Ultimately to me, irrespective of the booking source, compliance really equates to transparency – the ability to see at any point during the end-to-end ‘Procure to Pay’ process for travel; the ability to see what your employees are doing, who they are booking with and what service are they booking, etc.  Transparency during this end-to-end process, allows the Travel Manager to take corrective actions as needed in terms of educating the employees, or holding back an expense report – Having that ability to assess whether or not someone is compliant with the T&E policy, as well as provide that ever important employee duty of care.

When we start to talk about the industry going forward…..Travel by its very nature means transition – it conveys motion.  Certainly over the past 30+ years I have been in the industry, we have experienced many transitions and whether we realize it or not, we have all been witness to one of the greatest paradigm shifts in history – being how in the last decade smart devices have forever changed how we work, live and play.  Since the iPhone was introduced in late 2007, and it really didn’t take hold until late 2010, these smart handheld devices in less than a decade have really transformed our world and our very being to the point where you can’t imagine living without it being within arms-reach.

The pace of technology change in our industry has also been unprecedented and it continues to accelerate to the point where it seems like all previous advances to some degree will become insignificant when compared to those in the present century will bear witness to.  In all of this constant change, I am starting to hear the term ‘technology fatigue’ as a growing topic of discussion among Travel and Expense Managers – how do you keep up with these changes within a corporate travel program?

Certainly during my time in being involved in travel paradigm shifts have continually occurred such as the move from paper to electronic ticketing – from the time it was introduced to the time everyone had to comply with it was a 20-year time period.  I remember being at one of the companies where this thing called “on-line booking” was introduced.  Everyone said that will never work. Comments like… “I have to have my travel agency”, then it was “the travel agencies are going out of business”, and all that kind of noise.  What we realized is that technology will definitely help us advance our programs, but we still need that element of human touch to help us  servicing our programs.  I think one thing for certain the last decade has taught us – time is not a luxury for anyone in a travel management role.  You simply can’t sit down and wait for all of this transition, or think that this is going to be a fad and will go away, and we will be able to go back to the way we were doing business.

That is not reality – if you just stop and think about the fact that during the same decade as the smart devices we just talked about – there are now more than 2M apps in the Apple App store, Google has 2.8 million, and both are growing rapidly.  If you start to think about that, and now we are moving forward to the implementation of 5G which will take hold in the next two years… with the estimated speed of data increasing by an estimated 100-fold of what it is today….. and this coupled with AI, machine learning and Block Chain… I believe the early 20s will enter into a new era of this ‘ecosystem dependency’.  In my humble opinion, those companies with platform solutions, or ecosystems, are pivotal, and at a distinct advantage for their customers going forward. SAP Concur is an ecosystem company in terms that we provide that ability for many different companies who can effectively ‘plug into’ our platform – that is the future of travel and expense management.  You don’t want to have all of these disparate systems that can’t talk to teach other nor work in sync together. That is not conducive to a business. So I think that the ecosystems will really start to take hold and I believe will be extremely important.

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