2021 will be the year of innovation, recovery and renewal

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By Mankiran Chowhan, Managing Director – Indian Subcontinent, SAP Concur

2020 has been a roller-coaster ride for all businesses. The unforeseen circumstances tested the organisations on their readiness to pivot and adapt to the changing situation. With businesses trying to sustain and reset for growth, we are optimistic that the coming year will be one of innovation, recovery, and renewal. While 2021 is unlikely to look like any recent year in history, it may be remembered as one in which life slowly began to return to normal after one of the worst pandemics of the modern age.

In 2021, the global community will continue to see significant changes in nearly every sector. Here are a few insights for the new year reminding us that out of challenging times often come new ideas that can benefit the world well into the future.

1. 2021 will usher in the era of responsible business travel and sustainability – As border policies change with the rise and fall of regional COVID-19 case numbers, companies will require employees to comply with government guidelines, such as quarantine requirements before and after trips. Travel providers, including hotels, airlines, rail providers, ridesharing, and car rental services, may require travelers to disclose their COVID-19 health status until a vaccine widely adopted. Rapid testing is expected to become more accurate and prevalent, allowing travel and the hospitality industry to continue to reopen. Digital health passports, displaying a traveller’s vaccine or negative test status, along with travel corridors, will emerge as we transition to a new normal in global travel. In addition to an individuals’ actions, companies will play a major role in supporting the employee experience while traveling. Leaders will need to adapt and be flexible as they aim to meet employees’ needs.

This would be coupled with a focus on sustainability. The pandemic has effectively hit the pause button on emissions, which are projected to be eight percent less in 2020 than they were in 2019. Travelers are increasingly demanding any recovery in travel to be rebuilt sustainably, from more effective seating layouts to low-carbon sustainable aviation fuel. In 2021, consumer travelers are expected to spend more time at their destinations; utilize paperless boarding pass and itinerary solutions; dine at restaurants that offer locally sourced food; and stay in hotels that are more eco-friendly, boasting everything from refillable toiletries to water conservation as an amenity. We can expect consumers to increasingly look for solutions that track and offset emissions easily. New environmental research compels companies to use the temporary pause in travel to add new environmentally sustainable practices to their corporate travel programs. These efforts will inspire the 30% of travelers who, according to an SAP Concur study, rank sustainability as important to them feel more comfortable and encouraged about returning to travel.

2. Employee Health and Safety– In 2021, employee health and safety would be among the top priorities for all businesses. A SAP Concur study identified that Indian employees’ top concerns are getting sick themselves (57%) and infecting their families (46%) during a business trip. With travelers able to practice the health and safety habits they’ve adopted in their daily lives, business travel will feel more feasible. Organisations need to have policies in place for employees to share their trip status as part of their personal safety plan. Nearly all Indian business travelers (98%) have shared their location while travelling for business, the most of all markets surveyed (global average is 91%). Now, as travel slowly resumes, it becomes very important to implement an integrated communication solution to enhance communications and alerts to your employees in the event of a disaster.

3. Human Resources function will have a crucial role to play –Employee experience is inextricably linked to – and enabled by – technology. Especially now that entire organisations are being asked to work from home. Increasing the productivity and experience of the workforce will be a focus area of not just human resources department, but for business leaders as well. Organisations can help to create a positive employee experience by providing state-of-the-art systems and processes for managing travel booking, expense reimbursement, purchasing card reconciliation, and invoice payment. If you told your employees you were eliminating manual steps and paper processes from travel and expense reporting, they’d go anywhere for you. And it’s easy: Take pictures from receipts and capture data electronically sending it straight into your expense system. It’s effortless, regardless of differing currencies and allowances in different countries. And when charges are automatically populated, itemized, and categorized, employees have more time to do the work they want to do. Additionally, when you provide employees with top-rated apps and the ability to book the brands they love, you are giving them an elevated sense of comfort and convenience while ensuring accountability and trust.

4. Financial Process Acceleration – Companies need to embrace digitalization and automate manual financial processes enabling employees to cut down on menial tasks and focus on more meaningful and strategic priorities. Manual clunky paper led processes vs. consumer grade tools like using a mobile to take pictures of the expense receipts and completing the claims request on laptops or mobile devices will speed up the process for employees in addition to simplifying things for managers when approving those claims. Technology can help you gain a unified experience around the organization, local or global enabling you to implement a seamless, integrated and consistent process and policy mandate worldwide with abilities to adapt to unique cultural and regulatory requirements in each market. In order to survive and thrive in the times to come, businesses require strong finance leadership and a resilient finance function that has visibility into its numbers and is equipped to offer meaningful insights and direction to the business. And as we have seen, a resilient finance function can be delivered through the adoption of truly automated, digital finance processes.

5. Small businesses will keep chipping away at the costs of doing business – The distribution of vaccines cannot come soon enough, as many small to mid-sized businesses are fighting to survive the economic effects of the pandemic. Continued trimming of operational costs and limiting non-essential spend will help. Businesses can look to create and support demand underpinned by investments in cost-saving, and business-enabling technology solutions. These solutions will automate and digitize processes that are essential to running their businesses under tightened budgets. Leaders will also explore renegotiating terms on their loans and recurring payments to preserve cash, especially at the start of the year. Small businesses will also be on the hunt for vendors and partners that can withstand economic uncertainty and extend value beyond their traditional services, such as lower-interest credit card offers from their preferred banking institutions. These steps will help small businesses minimize cash flow disruption as they manage lingering uncertainty in the market.

6. New ventures, and ways of doing business, will mix things up in the marketplace – Many small businesses have permanently shuttered due to the economic fallout of COVID-19. At the same time, the pandemic has created a new context for commerce—gaps in the marketplace have created opportunities for new business. Spikes in new business applications indicate more entrepreneurs will explore microservices to meet emerging product and service demands. As new companies enter the fold, their leaders will leverage digital solutions and hybrid business models to fast-track growth and resiliency in a disrupted market. We will see more small businesses embrace digital commerce, changing the point of sale and/or moving from physical to online sales completely or in part. This will create new options for people to “shop locally” to support small businesses and enable small businesses to fill gaps in crucial supply chains.


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