There’s a reason innovation comes slowly. It’s hard. It’s hard for those with new products to get customers to ditch
their old suppliers. It’s hard for travel managers to get buy-in (ahem, money) from higher-ups and to get adoption from
end users. The physical law of inertia applies, as well, to running a travel program: You need a force sufficient to
bounce your program out of its status quo. Here are six compelling new travel suppliers whose missions—to streamline expense auditing, protect travelers, improve the travel experience, ease booking, improve adoption and even
reinvent the entire travel-buying economy—might do the trick.
How is AppZen different from its competitors?
Plenty of companies pretend to be audit tools. They
take expense data and run it through their system,
but the majority of the data on expense reports is on
[attached receipts]. The only way today [to review
them] is by having a person browse through the
entire document. We mimic auditors by checking everything as if a human with all the time in the world
were checking it and looking on the Internet for clues
but in real time. And we have our ABI.
Your 2016 partnership with Concur has been suc-
cessful and has helped AppZen score large clients
like Amazon. How else are you going to market?
We just did a partnership agreement with Coupa and
are into the technical integration phase now. We plan
to release [the integration] to the first set of customers by the end of this year. We’re also partnering with
Chrome River and Expensify.
What is the biggest challenge of operating a product
based on innovation?
Nobody is coming to us saying, “I found you guys
because you use AI for expense audit.” It’s not like
selling expense automation software, where you have
a thousand Google search results. Our product is
really innovative, far ahead of what anyone imagines
can be done. The challenge is: How do we ensure
companies understand the value of it?
So how do you? Some expense management systems
also have introduced automation throughout their
systems, but many travel managers are reluctant
to enable aspects of it. How do you remove that
The only way to remove that hesitation is to prove it
out with data. We go to a large company, look at their
processes and the results they’re getting. We say, “Let’s
look at a new way of doing it,” and work behind the
scenes. We take their data, which has already gone
through all kinds of controls, and put it through our
engine. We analyze their 10,000 expense reports and
give them results. The data always speaks for itself.
What do customers find most surprising when they
get their results?
[The results] are always amazing for them. They see
someone got reimbursed when they shouldn’t have,
someone upgraded to first class and no one noticed,
or they paid for car rental insurance. We’ll analyze
data for [a two-week period] and show them the
[potential] savings [from catching such violations].
Think about what would happen if they did this for
Getting the industry to think differently about
T&E management is challenging. How do you
Customers are still thinking in traditional silos. We’re
trying to solve for the fundamental approach to how
travel and expenses happen and [to] revisit the entire
concept. But you still have to have something that
works with their existing processes because companies have invested millions in their travel management system, rolled it out for thousands of employees
and trained everyone on submitting expense reports.
You cannot make a wholesale change; it would be
too disruptive. If we can show them the value these
innovations can bring them, then they see for themselves without too much change.
You’ve said many legacy companies are jumping on
the AI bandwagon and claiming their systems are
innovative. How can clients distinguish between
real capability and hype?
There’s fake AI out there. AI and blockchain require
a product to be built from the ground up using
[those technologies]. If a company is older than
three years, there’s no way they can rebuild their
platform from ground up to use AI. A true company will show you what it does [that] cannot be
done by anyone else if they’re true innovators in
that space. Second, some vendors claim that if you
buy a robotic automation platform you can build
[an AI tool] yourself and use it for everything, and
that absolutely doesn’t work. Customers have to be
Startup AppZen takes expense auditing to a new level. Its artificial intelligence-powered engine not only analyzes
each clients’ expense reports and receipts to catch duplicates and out-of-policy purchases but also scours the Internet to validate that the merchants and meal companions who show up are real. Additionally, there’s the AppZen
Behavior Index, which indicates a traveler’s tendency to violate policy intentionally, based on historical behavioral
data. CEO Anant Kale told BTN payment and expense editor JoAnn DeLuna what makes AppZen “unique.”