Business travel for professionals is rapidly changing and 2019 will be an exciting year. Looking ahead, the pace of innovation will only continue to accelerate, fuelled by smarter technology, evolving employee expectations and an increasingly global economy.

For many companies, business travel is no longer limited to finding the best flight and hotel options, but it is also ensuring the safety of their employees during travel. Based on trends from last year and recent developments, here’s what you can expect in 2019, opines Neeraj Dotel, Managing Director, SAP Concur, SAARC & India:

The risks female travellers face will rise to the top of the corporate agenda

Women make up more than 40% of all business travellers and that number is growing. Travel professionals agree that female business travellers face unique risks while travelling compared to their male counterparts, but what are they going to do about it? A recent GBTA report found that only 18% of corporate travel safety policies specifically address female safety needs. Because safety threats impact the well-being and productivity of female travellers, companies will need to place more serious emphasis on ensuring their corporate travel policies address priority female concerns such as sexual harassment, assault, and theft. At the same time, women will take the initiative to demand companies take care of them and this will become a key consideration for talent retention.

Data privacy will fundamentally change product engineering

In 2018, GDPR fundamentally changed how global technology companies work with user data. In 2019 and beyond, GDPR is now table stakes. Product engineers and developers are looking at how they can deliver both ultimate protection and ultimate personalization. Approaching privacy as a sliding scale vs a simple model of opt-in or opt-out, opens the door to more possibilities for transparent data collection and machine learning. Concepts such as data washing and a privacy dial can allow users and/or their companies to increase or decrease the type of information gathered by filtering different levels of personally identifiable information.

Shifting immigration and tax policies create new pressures on multi-national companies

In 2019, there will be a growing focus on business travellers as a source of tax revenue, which has created new challenges for companies that send employees to conduct business across state and/or international borders. National and local governments continue to adopt complex worker-visa and cross-border tax rules in response to global trends on the movement of people and products across borders. An employee who spends a certain number of days in a calendar year in another country or state can trigger large liabilities on both the individual and the company, and potentially prevent business from being conducted.

SMBs will gain a competitive advantage by crowdsourcing data insights, thought leadership

True to my prediction, we saw technology help level the industry playing field in 2018 for SMBs, enabling them to be more powerful than ever before. In 2019, SMBs will continue to advance thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Due to their size and flexibility, SMBs will use this game-changing technology to gain a competitive edge over larger companies. They’ll grow by tapping into their professional networks to learn from thought leaders as well as crowdsource data insights that once wasn’t available. SMBs also will become increasingly diverse and we’ll see a rise in women, minority and millennial ownership.

Business travel booking is still a time-consuming process

According to prior research, almost 50% of business travellers take between 30 minutes and one hour out of the working day when completing expenses, while 18% spend between one and two hours. We believe that, in the next year, technology such as bots and machine learning (ML) will tremendously improve employee productivity. And that’s not just for travellers, but everyone involved in the process (e.g. travellers, managers, travel agents, travel managers).

Consumerisation of business travel leads to massive shifts in OBTs

Over the last 40 years, corporate travel has largely become synonymous with TMC administered booking programs (your company’s travel agent) reliant on one of a few GDS’. But as travel tools, options, and technologies continue to rapidly evolve for leisure travellers, employees increasingly expect business travel tools to follow suit. In the next year, Online Booking Tools will embrace new content sources to drive adoption, such as Airbnb. They must also fundamentally evolve their platforms to allow travel managers to capture all bookings, regardless of where they occur, to manage compliance and ensure their travellers are safe.

Machine learning goes mainstream

While few occupations are fully automatable, certain percent of all occupations have automatable activities. However, the gains delivered by increased processing power and greater access to machine learning (ML) tools by developers will extend well beyond the automation to include unique data driven insights, greater compliance and improved user experiences. In spend management, ML models that read handwritten tips and totals on receipts will replace legacy technologies like optical character recognition giving companies the ability to analyse and audit spend at unprecedented scale and speed. With the ability to identify patterns and anomalies across millions of data records in near real-time, companies gain the insight and agility they need when improving business processes, reducing costs or deterring fraud.

Closer collaboration between CIOs and CFOs at state and local organizations will unlock funding

Across India, state and local governments have made clear strides to modernize their IT systems to overcome common challenges, drive greater efficiencies and cost savings, and meet the demands of the 21st century. Despite this commitment to investment in IT, many state and local governments still operate critical workflows using manual processes – many of which are outdated, costly and error-prone, not to mention less secure. The risks associated with these legacy systems are too big to ignore. CIOs from states, cities, and counties will need to work cohesively with their CFO counterparts when looking to maximize their IT budgets over the next year. Focusing on making larger investments to support their automated technology projects—from cloud adoption to the deployment of AI and machine learning solutions will be critical. The collaboration fostered between CIOs and CFOs in the coming year will enable state and local governments to strike a balance between their IT budgets and their IT priorities, helping drive greater outcomes for the citizens in their communities.

Higher education institutions can’t afford to overlook technology as a retention tool

University leaders are facing increased financial pressure as enrolment growth slows, and traditional classrooms are evolving into remote locations extending beyond central university campuses. As institutions work to make the most of their limited resources in the service of teaching and learning, technology can tip them over the competitive edge. Deploying more progressive technology solutions will not only streamline campus and finance operations to create cost savings, but will also solve emerging priorities, such as ensuring the safety of students and staff on and off conventional campuses in the event of an emergency. Taking proactive measures to invest in technology that clearly demonstrate their campus values can help attract the next generations of prospective students.

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First Published: Feb 01, 2019 14:11 IST


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