Business travel needs to be three things above all: safe, smooth and productive.

AI-powered automated assistants are paving the way toward that goal. They’re helping business travelers plan trips, avoid hazards and even enjoy the travel experience more than before. 

Meanwhile, back at the office, those same assistants are helping financial decision-makers control spending and cut down on the busywork associated with expensing. They’re also giving those managers peace of mind about the well-being of their colleagues, wherever they may find themselves.  

“It's about engaging the traveler in a way that really allows them to maximize their productivity and even bring some delight to the experience, yet the benefits accrue back to the business,” says Doug Anderson, SVP of travel at SAP Concur.  

Here’s how AI-assisted business travel looks today—and a hint at what it will look like in the near future. 

Eager to close a deal, Judy, a fictional VP of procurement at a medium-sized company, books a trip to see her client Elsa in New City. As her AI-powered travel app develops an itinerary for her travels, its algorithm recommends hotels that she’d like. The app is working on the basis of the kinds of hotels she’s patronized in the past and analysis of the travel patterns that her coworkers who travel under similar circumstances have established. It also takes into account room rates consistent with her company’s travel policy and negotiated rates available from her company’s travel program. 

When Judy, prompted by something she saw on social media, tries to book into a different hotel, the app warns her that it happens to be located in a neighborhood known for its crime rate. The app’s algorithm consults a range of sources in issuing safety warnings—everything from U.S. and local governments to law enforcement and private security firm databases to social media, and beyond.

In the future, this technology will be even more impressive. Judy will be able to simply tell her voice assistant, “Sandra, I need to see Elsa next Tuesday.” Within seconds, “Sandra” will have prepared a full itinerary that meshes not only with Judy’s preferences and calendar but also with her company’s travel policy and budget. 

When this app of the future goes mainstream, says John Dietz, VP of Concur Labs, it will be analogous to giving every employee an executive assistant who knows their preferences and transparently manages their travel and expenses. That will make the travel experience better for employees—at a cost financial decision-makers will appreciate.

In New City, Judy takes Elsa out for a business-related dinner. When it’s over, Judy pulls out her smartphone and snaps a picture of the receipt. Using today’s technology, her travel assistant can read the text—including Judy’s handwritten totals—and automatically populate an expense report. All Judy has to do is review and click to submit. The assistant has been trained to recognize receipts in every major language and currency. 

To celebrate the deal, Judy wants to order Champagne. That makes her a bit nervous—will her managers accept a bottle on her expense report? In the near future she won’t feel that anxiety, since she’ll be able to audibly ask her assistant whether the company expense policy covers Champagne—and get back an immediate answer. That answer won’t necessarily be yes or no, either. The assistant might offer a compromise, telling her to forgo the expensive French stuff and choose a local bubbly instead.

The app’s message won’t “come off as a mandate,” Anderson says. It will rather be a way of “making it easier for the traveler to do the right thing.” That will make things easier for managers, too. 

Judy and Elsa are watching the rainstorm outside when a text message flashes on Judy’s phone. Her assistant has noticed that she's in a location prone to flooding. The text asks her if she’s okay. She responds that she is indeed. Then she waits out the rain at the restaurant, enjoying the evening with her client. Had she responded that she needed help, the assistant would have notified personnel at Judy’s company who could get her the help she needed. (Judy shouldn’t fear for her privacy, though: The assistant does not track users via GPS.) 


In the past, travelers had to collect sheaves of receipts and painstakingly fill out expense reports after trips. By the time Judy is back home, by contrast, her expense report is ready. Her assistant has combined data from pictures of physical receipts, data from travel suppliers’ electronic receipts, and credit card data to pre-populate the information in her expense reports, so all Judy has to do is review and submit. Dealing with expensing still might not be fun, exactly. But the experience will at the very least be elegantly simple—and Judy may well glean from this app that she uses for work some of the satisfaction that she finds in using her own personal apps.

After Judy submits her expenses, AI helps again. When humans alone do expense auditing, they typically manage to audit only a small percentage of reports. Currently available AI-assisted auditing technology, by contrast, can review 100% of reports. The automated auditor notices that Judy—who sometimes produces multiple expense reports at once—has mistakenly submitted the same receipt for two trips. The AI app brings the issue to Judy’s attention, so she can take care of it. And since Judy’s dealing with an algorithm, not a human colleague, she’s spared any embarrassment resulting from the error.

Sometimes it’s okay to bend the rules. It turns out that Judy spent $200 more for her hotel room than company guidelines allow. Resolving the issue could require the intervention of Judy’s manager—an inevitably stressful situation, as pleasant a person as her manager is. In the future, an automated assistant will have learned that a big convention in New City is pushing up median hotel prices there. More, it will determine that Elsa is a key client who was worth the travel expenditure. Most important, perhaps, it will determine that Judy is still well within her quarterly travel budget. The expense will sail through without further human intervention, saving both Judy and her manager valuable time. 

Either way, the AI application’s ability to recognize context and exceptions is a boon for the company. 

And the capabilities will just get better. Today, says Dietz, we handle the exceptions that AI recognizes by bumping them up the chain to a manager. “In the future,” he says, “more of those exceptions will be handled by … somebody in that chain delegating it to AI.” Managers and employees will benefit from that change.

“Time is happiness, and both the traveler and the business are getting time back,” says Anderson.




John Dietz, VP of Concur Labs, discusses how deep learning and AI are making work easier and better, from easing the expense report hassle to minimizing "time on task" in other office contexts—and beyond.


Automated assistants are already helping travelers and their managers save time, avoid tedium, stay safe and make the right choices. They’re also making reporting and auditing faster—and getting travelers reimbursed faster. Plus, company financial decision-makers have better visibility into its cash flow and where and how it’s spending money. 

As Dietz points out, such changes, small as they may appear, can do a lot to improve the culture of a company.

And this is just the beginning. As the AI revolution gears up, we can expect other innovations that make things better for employees, decision-makers and companies alike—harmonizing their interests to make possible progress for all.


Text by Richard Sine

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AI-powered automated assistants are paving the way toward that goal. They’re helping business travelers plan trips, avoid hazards and even enjoy the travel experience more than before. 

Meanwhile, back at the office, those same assistants are helping financial decision-makers control spending and cut down on the busywork associated with expensing. They’re also giving those managers peace of mind about the well-being of their colleagues, wherever they may find themselves.  

“It's about engaging the traveler in a way that really allows them to maximize their productivity and even bring some delight to the experience, yet the benefits accrue back to the business,” says Doug Anderson, SVP of travel at SAP Concur.  

Here’s how AI-assisted business travel looks today—and a hint at what it will look like in the near future. 

Eager to close a deal, Judy, a fictional VP of procurement at a medium-sized company, books a trip to see her client Elsa in New City. As her AI-powered travel app develops an itinerary for her travels, its algorithm recommends hotels that she’d like. The app is working on the basis of the kinds of hotels she’s patronized in the past and analysis of the travel patterns that her coworkers who travel under similar circumstances have established. It also takes into account room rates consistent with her company’s travel policy and negotiated rates available from her company’s travel program. 

When Judy, prompted by something she saw on social media, tries to book into a different hotel, the app warns her that it happens to be located in a neighborhood known for its crime rate. The app’s algorithm consults a range of sources in issuing safety warnings—everything from U.S. and local governments to law enforcement and private security firm databases to social media, and beyond.

In the future, this technology will be even more impressive. Judy will be able to simply tell her voice assistant, “Sandra, I need to see Elsa next Tuesday.” Within seconds, “Sandra” will have prepared a full itinerary that meshes not only with Judy’s preferences and calendar but also with her company’s travel policy and budget. 

When this app of the future goes mainstream, says John Dietz, VP of Concur Labs, it will be analogous to giving every employee an executive assistant who knows their preferences and transparently manages their travel and expenses. That will make the travel experience better for employees—at a cost financial decision-makers will appreciate.

In New City, Judy takes Elsa out for a business-related dinner. When it’s over, Judy pulls out her smartphone and snaps a picture of the receipt. Using today’s technology, her travel assistant can read the text—including Judy’s handwritten totals—and automatically populate an expense report. All Judy has to do is review and click to submit. The assistant has been trained to recognize receipts in every major language and currency. 

To celebrate the deal, Judy wants to order Champagne. That makes her a bit nervous—will her managers accept a bottle on her expense report? In the near future she won’t feel that anxiety, since she’ll be able to audibly ask her assistant whether the company expense policy covers Champagne—and get back an immediate answer. That answer won’t necessarily be yes or no, either. The assistant might offer a compromise, telling her to forgo the expensive French stuff and choose a local bubbly instead.

The app’s message won’t “come off as a mandate,” Anderson says. It will rather be a way of “making it easier for the traveler to do the right thing.” That will make things easier for managers, too. 

Judy and Elsa are watching the rainstorm outside when a text message flashes on Judy’s phone. Her assistant has noticed that she's in a location prone to flooding. The text asks her if she’s okay. She responds that she is indeed. Then she waits out the rain at the restaurant, enjoying the evening with her client. Had she responded that she needed help, the assistant would have notified personnel at Judy’s company who could get her the help she needed. (Judy shouldn’t fear for her privacy, though: The assistant does not track users via GPS.) 


In the past, travelers had to collect sheaves of receipts and painstakingly fill out expense reports after trips. By the time Judy is back home, by contrast, her expense report is ready. Her assistant has combined data from pictures of physical receipts, data from travel suppliers’ electronic receipts, and credit card data to pre-populate the information in her expense reports, so all Judy has to do is review and submit. Dealing with expensing still might not be fun, exactly. But the experience will at the very least be elegantly simple—and Judy may well glean from this app that she uses for work some of the satisfaction that she finds in using her own personal apps.

After Judy submits her expenses, AI helps again. When humans alone do expense auditing, they typically manage to audit only a small percentage of reports. Currently available AI-assisted auditing technology, by contrast, can review 100% of reports. The automated auditor notices that Judy—who sometimes produces multiple expense reports at once—has mistakenly submitted the same receipt for two trips. The AI app brings the issue to Judy’s attention, so she can take care of it. And since Judy’s dealing with an algorithm, not a human colleague, she’s spared any embarrassment resulting from the error.

Sometimes it’s okay to bend the rules. It turns out that Judy spent $200 more for her hotel room than company guidelines allow. Resolving the issue could require the intervention of Judy’s manager—an inevitably stressful situation, as pleasant a person as her manager is. In the future, an automated assistant will have learned that a big convention in New City is pushing up median hotel prices there. More, it will determine that Elsa is a key client who was worth the travel expenditure. Most important, perhaps, it will determine that Judy is still well within her quarterly travel budget. The expense will sail through without further human intervention, saving both Judy and her manager valuable time. 

Either way, the AI application’s ability to recognize context and exceptions is a boon for the company. 

And the capabilities will just get better. Today, says Dietz, we handle the exceptions that AI recognizes by bumping them up the chain to a manager. “In the future,” he says, “more of those exceptions will be handled by … somebody in that chain delegating it to AI.” Managers and employees will benefit from that change.

“Time is happiness, and both the traveler and the business are getting time back,” says Anderson.




John Dietz, VP of Concur Labs, discusses how deep learning and AI are making work easier and better, from easing the expense report hassle to minimizing "time on task" in other office contexts—and beyond.


Automated assistants are already helping travelers and their managers save time, avoid tedium, stay safe and make the right choices. They’re also making reporting and auditing faster—and getting travelers reimbursed faster. Plus, company financial decision-makers have better visibility into its cash flow and where and how it’s spending money. 

As Dietz points out, such changes, small as they may appear, can do a lot to improve the culture of a company.

And this is just the beginning. As the AI revolution gears up, we can expect other innovations that make things better for employees, decision-makers and companies alike—harmonizing their interests to make possible progress for all.


Text by Richard Sine

SAP®

Concur®

is the world’s leading provider of integrated travel, expense, and invoice management solutions, driven by a relentless pursuit to simplify and aut...