Top Travel and Expense Trends of 2021: NielsenIQ's VP Shares His Insights

K. G. Subramanyam, who goes by KGS, is the Global Vice President of Enterprise Platforms at NielsenIQ. He has more than 20 years of technology experience managing finance, travel and expense (T&E) platforms, and corporate card programs across 105 countries. He is currently leading digital transformation initiatives on S/4 Platform, with expertise in innovating and leveraging platforms using Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning (ML), and other process automation software.

In a recent webinar, KGS and other thought leaders discussed the four key T&E trends that will drive positive change in 2021, as well as best practices to help improve your program. Here are some thoughts he shared with us:

Travel and Expense Trends 2021


Trend 1: “Safe travels” is taking on a new meaning

The return to travel is top of mind right now. With more people getting vaccinated and restrictions lifting in certain parts of the country, the return to business travel has already begun.

“Responsible travel, with a focus on employee well-being, will be the hallmark this year,” shares KGS. “Applying lessons learned from the last year of the pandemic will completely re-shape an organization’s travel and expense policies. The travel environment is going through significant changes, so global travelers need to continuously adapt.”

Vaccine passports, health checks, and invasive screenings will also become more common. KGS goes on to explain that, “Employers like us are already shaping up strategies with input from local countries that is more data driven by trends, mandates, and communications. Duty of care obligations will gain traction. SAP Concur data will help locate employees through their ecosystem and collate information from WHO, CDC, etc.”

Travel will also remain flexible for employees maintaining remote work arrangements. However, KGS explains, “Employees considered ‘business critical travelers’ will see relevant measures put in place to ease the burden of travel as there is greater sense of health and safety trumping travel necessity. Vaccines will take time to spread globally and will differ country to country based on vaccination progress, infection rate, new strains and local government response. But as more people are vaccinated, it will provide an ability for some level of business travel to come back.”


Trend 2: Sustainability is about more than just recycling

The past few years has shown a huge uptick in concern over sustainability, with the driving force being the influx of younger generations joining the workforce.

“This new generation of employees are researching organizations’ actionable goals, achievements, and track records before they ever commit to join. The topic of sustainability is moving mainstream with traction picking up in North America, but still not quite on par with the European Union. The global pandemic has brought it into sharp focus as well,” states KGS. “Because of this, technology will see more traction into a holistic environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy of enterprises. Technology can and will play a big role in the digital transformation of making ‘environmental impact’ data more transparent to its end-users.”

KGS goes on to share exactly how SAP Concur solutions helps support their goal to be more sustainable in 2021: “Our SAP Concur data currently feeds into our ESG framework and reporting to educate our employees on their carbon footprint. This data gives them options to reduce or eliminate their CO2 emissions, such as ride sharing, identifying properties that are LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified, promoting sustainable living and supply chain, and reducing paper by going digital.”

Enterprises are moving forward beyond carbon offsets to more practical and impactful strategies. KGS believes that, in the end, it all comes down to technology-enabled, data-driven ways to achieve long-term ESG goals.

See also: The Corporate Travel Sustainability Index


Trend 3: The shift toward cloud-based solutions

T&E platforms are no longer a back-office function, given the volume of spend that has increased over the years.

“A common theme emerging among organizations is to use real-time data to drive decision-making,” said KGS. This allows companies to:

  • Improve budget management and liquidity
  • Increase compliance
  • Eliminate errors
  • Maximize profitability

“Spend management is high on the CFO agenda. With the availability and adoption of cloud-based tools, it has become much easier to access data. Technological advances, like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA) will play a key role in providing data-driven analytics and reporting for strategic decision-making,” KGS states. It is clear that intelligent automation will become standard across all industries.

Enterprises are investing millions of dollars into digital transformation initiatives, by adopting cloud-based solutions, using AI, ML, and RPA technologies, reducing tech complexity, manual labor, and optimizing people-oriented processes. “At NielsenIQ, we have been able to go completely digital in North America, which impacts most of our T&E users. This allows us the ability to conduct audits of our expense reports globally via cloud-based ecosystems,” KGS states.


Trend 4: Maintaining compliancy with ever-changing tax laws

State and local governments are changing and updating tax laws faster than most companies can keep up with. According to Deloitte, the digitalization of taxes and advances toward real-time reporting have contributed to stricter requirements among global tax authorities. That means it’s imperative to have technology that’s ready to adapt and comply.

“VAT tax obligations are a primary focus for CFOs. Software solutions are focusing on the end-to-end automation perspective to make it easier to claim VAT,” KGS states. “The use of AI, ML, and RPA technologies will further enhance solutions to ease the burden on large, global organizations that had a manual, cumbersome process to claim VAT, while avoiding the risk of not passing financial audits.”

Essentially: “Think local and act global”. KGS goes on to add, “That is the theme to remember to consistently recover as much VAT as possible with global visibility into recovery. Integrating T&E systems tightly with ERPs driven by tax engines, combined with intelligent automation, will lead the way to reduce complexity in this space.”


Getting prepared for 2021: How SAP Concur solutions can help

SAP Concur solutions can help you manage the T&E process to create a more flexible program and uncover cost savings. Before and during booking, you can pre-approve costs, then consistently apply policies and preferred pricing whether employees use your booking tool or book direct. During trips, our top-rated app manages every part of travelers’ itineraries and gets rid of paper receipts, while you get visibility into plans to support duty of care. After each trip, charges get automatically populated and categorized, reducing errors, simplifying allocation, and giving you insight to evaluate and refine polices and create the versatile program the business needs.

For additional insights into these four trends, listen to our webinar as experts from PACCAR and Ernst & Young LLP share what they’re doing to get ready for 2021.

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