Integrating Expense Management Systems is Key to Better Rates

Tony Darugar
Tony Darugar
General Manager, Coupa Expenses

Prior to Coupa, Tony was the Founder and CEO of Xpenser, a San Diego start-up that was acquired by Coupa in 2013. Prior to Xpenser he spent 4 years at Yahoo! as one of the core architects of the Panama project.

Read time: 4 mins
Plane on a pile of money, representing travel expenses

Travel accounts for over sixty percent of employee-submitted expenses, so getting a handle on travel spend can have a big impact on the bottom line. Corporate travel booking platforms allow travel managers to define and enforce travel policies, and to take advantage of the best possible negotiated pricing.

But how do you ensure employees are making use of the travel booking tool, and that their submitted travel expenses match what they booked through the tool?

By integrating your travel booking system with your expense management system, booked itineraries automatically generate employee expense reports, and travel booked outside the system is automatically highlighted.

Paystream Advisors’ 2013 Travel and Expense Benchmark report shows that this is a big opportunity for a majority of companies. This is why Coupa was so excited to announce our partnership with Orbitz back in June.

I hope you’ll join Charles Bacharach of Orbitz and me for our "Managed Travel" webinar on January 15 where we’ll be talking in depth about how customers can benefit from integrating travel booking and expense management systems. In a nutshell, what we're trying to do together is help companies capture more travel spend, and then to optimize it. How? By ensuring employees are actually using the corporate booking tool and that their expense reports match what they booked, you can aggregate purchasing power and negotiate better rates.

Travel booking tools provide a great deal of power and control: for example, Orbitz for Business automates implementation of your policies around what hotels people can stay at, what the acceptable price range and advance purchase for flights is, and so forth. So, if I book travel to Boston using Orbitz, the company knows I booked it and that it was within the right parameters.

The trouble is, employees sometimes don’t use the approved tool. If I randomly go on a website, book my own travel and expense it, I may or may not comply with company policies, and the company may or may not get accurate information about my trip. If I find my own hotel somewhere else, even if it costs the same or less than the corporate rate, I'm still distributing my company's spending over many providers and diluting negotiating leverage.

But how do you find these rogue travelers who are booking outside the recommended path? When there's no integration between the travel tool and the expense management tool, this is a difficult, labor intensive process that involves manually comparing the periodic report from the travel booking provider with all employee expense submissions. It’s not pretty.

The other piece of the puzzle is connecting the booking with the business purpose: you may have booked the travel within company policies, but was there a valid, approved purpose for the trip?

This is where the integration comes in—it helps managers make sure travel is booked via the appropriate tool, where company policy can be applied, and that there’s a valid business purpose for everything that is expensed. It also helps employees not forget to expense any items and removes the need to manually re-enter the information.

Since the integrated system automatically generates reconciliation reports, you can easily see which travel was booked outside the corporate system, and have a nice talk with those folks who aren’t following the yellow brick road.

Getting everyone on board is the key to reducing prices on hotels, on flights, on rental cars and more. At the end of the year, if everyone’s been using the preferred vendors, your travel folks can harness the power of bulk buying to negotiate better rates.

There’s a visibility bonus too. The data that comes in via the integration is richer and deeper than what users would manually enter, so you get a better, more accurate view into where opportunities for negotiating better rates may lie.

With integration in place, I can go into Orbitz and book my same trip to Boston—flight, hotel and a rental car. The company will still know I booked it and it was within the right parameters. On my end, a few minutes later I'll get an email informing me that an expense report has been created for my trip. In that report I'll see my flight, hotel, and car, all just as I booked them in Orbitz. There’s no manual entry required and no chance I’ll forget to report things. Once the trip is complete I just have to attach a receipt and send my report on its merry way.

Integrating these two systems is a win for everyone. Employees win because their expense reports are created automatically - no need to manually re-enter everything. The company wins because they drive higher adoption of the travel tool, have automatic reconciliation reports, tie booked travel to approved business purposes, and gain deeper visibility into travel savings opportunities.

Tony Darugar is the product manager for Coupa Expense Management.