Five ways business data analysis can improve corporate travelNews / TechnologyBy Viewpoints | November 25, 2013Share This article was originally published on We've heard a great deal about how the travel industry at large is using big data at large to improve offers.However, what specifically can travel and expense managers do on a regular basis to gain powerful insights from their travel and expense data?NB: This is a viewpoint by Patrick Taylor, CEO of Oversight Systems.One proven, easy to implement strategy is to leverage business data analysis technology to collectively evaluate and routinely examine the details of expense data, and deliver insights that uncover patterns in behavior and deliver specific recommendations to directly and immediately improve your travel programs.T&E is probably your company’s second largest discretionary expense, representing on average as much as 6% of all corporate expenses. As that percentage continues to grow in today’s emerging markets focused business environments, it’s important to make every budget dollar count.Here are the top five ways you should be using business data analysis to improve your travel program:1. Influence traveler behaviorThis is an area where business data analysis can make a big impact.According to a recent study by the GBTA Foundation, 59% of business travelers said they went out of policy on at least one major travel expense on their latest trip and 90% made a conscious choice that went against specific policy, such as buying business class air instead of economy or staying an extra hotel night.The best way to influence this type of behavior is to look for accumulated patterns.Consider analyzing data each month to find the top 20 offenders within the company and focus on monitoring activity and working with their managers to make them aware of the patterns of out of policy behavior and the accumulated costs.Once travelers know you are inspecting this data, you might be surprised to see measurable changes in employee behavior across the board.2. Manage your budget in spite of open bookingsWith open bookings, travelers have more discretion but travel managers have less control and must adopt a "trust but verify" approach to manage compliance and expenses.In general, it is only a small percentage of transactions that have issues and those transactions largely come from an even smaller percentage of the travelers.By using analytics to identify these travelers you can provide the feedback to influence their behavior (and revoke their Open Travel privileges if necessary).Using analytics to "trust but verify" you can reduce the travel headaches by letting travelers use the tools of their choice, while meeting the goals of cost management and reduced abuse.In other words, you don’t have to punish the many for the actions of the few. This is also another way to influence traveler behavior.As mentioned above, once they know you are monitoring, you’ll likely see a shift in behavior globally.3. Identifying and addressing misclassified expensesWhile T&E management systems streamline the process for travelers to account for expenses, presenting drop-down menus for selecting expense types can be too broad.For example, it’s a lot easier to select "hotel" or "taxi" than it is to enter the expense type. The challenge comes when travelers erroneously select an expense type or intentionally select an expense type that is inconsistent with the transaction.Unfortunately, misclassification errors can impact the deductibility of expense for IRS reporting purposes, misrepresent the distribution of spending and also conceal expenditures that are not compliant with company policies.4. Duplicate submissionsT&E management systems do a good job of discouraging the same expense from being reported twice on the same expense report.However, things get a little more challenging when expenses are duplicated across multiple expense reports for the same traveler or when two travelers claim the same expense on different reports in two different periods.5. Support company-wide anti-bribery and anti-corruption effortsWhile it probably isn’t at the top of your priority list, analyzing travel data can go a long way in supporting company-wide anti-corruption efforts.For example, are employees entertaining a foreign official in a manner such as taking them out for an overly expensive lunch? If they are, your organization could be in hot water with regulators.Fortunately, there are analytical tools available that can help you identify expenses that are not “normal and customary” for a given market and help your organization maintain compliance.Consider the many tools that are available to help you take a bite out of big data.In an effort to make big data analysis less intimidating and more attainable, we’ve created an on demand analysis tool where travel managers simply upload the data and in return gain valuable insights that are easy to understand and make it easy for frontline, non technical employees to take action.Yes, big data is rather big and business analytics can be confusing and overwhelming, especially in knowing where to start.By taking a step back to look at data collectively and enlisting the right tools, you can easily take advantage of your data to uncover valuable insights and make continuous improvements that will not only benefit your travel program and help you in your job, but strengthen your company as a whole and have an impact on the bottom line.NB: This is a viewpoint by Patrick Taylor, CEO of Oversight Systems.NB2: Data analysis image via Shutterstock.