Managing Travel Shouldn’t Feel Like a Moon Shot

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin may have been the world’s only business traveler who enjoyed filling out an expense report.

Buzz Aldrin
Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11, during the lunar landing mission. Image credit: NASA

His report, filed 50 years ago this month, goes into a surprising level of detail considering the relatively small amount he expensed for personal costs for his trip to Edwards Air Force Base, and for travel in the vicinity of the Cape Kennedy, where the Apollo 11 mission was launched. Aldrin only requested $33.31, or about $232 in today’s dollars. But for a man with a quirky sense of humor, it was an opportunity to cap off a trip unique in human history with an equally unique expense report.

Among the highlights of Buzz Aldrin’s expense report was his list of destinations, including the moon via “Gov. Spacecraft.” We don’t need the expense report to tell us his next stop, but he listed it nevertheless as “Pacific Ocean” before itemizing the USN Hornet as his mode of transportation to Hawaii. The report acknowledges that “government meals and quarters [were] furnished” during the trip.

And as any frequent business traveler is familiar, any international trip requires a customs form. Aldrin and his colleagues figured galactic travel counted, filling one out to claim “moon rock and moon dust samples.”

If ever there was an employee with something better to do than fill out an expense report, it’s an astronaut returning from the moon

Imagine if Buzz Aldrin had the power of Concur Travel and Concur Expense. An electronic folio receipt for a trip to the moon could include a daily moon tourism tax, or extra daily charges for communications connectivity with Houston, in addition to the nightly rate of the astronauts’ zero-g accommodations. We would have automatically itemized those charges for Mr. Aldrin and brought them directly in to his expense report. If ever there was an employee with something better to do than fill out an expense report, it’s an astronaut returning from the moon.

With the filing and processing of Buzz Aldrin’s travel documents complete, the brief moment in world history in which someone smiled while dealing with an expense report ended and business travelers resumed being increasingly put out by the process.

While the moon landing was the one of the most exciting travel developments of the 1960s, another less flashy trend was in full swing. It was the decade in which aviation became the preferred mode of transportation for corporate America. Along with the rise in long-distance business travel came the ubiquity of the dreaded expense report, and the associated time-suck of typed-out transactions covered by stapled or taped receipts. The messes of paper were then inter-office mailed (and later faxed) to the unlucky individuals tasked with review and processing.

The epic levels of displeasure and costs related to expense reports are the reason Concur came to exist in 1993. Later, recognizing the ubiquity of travel-related purchases on expense reports, the founders recognized even more time and resources would be saved by joining travel and expense in the cloud. The goal from the beginning was to help organizations invest more in their missions instead of paperwork. Today, because of the innovations SAP Concur brought to the market, people around the world expect these processes to take less effort with each passing year.

The 50th anniversary of Buzz Aldrin’s entertaining expense report came at the perfect time, as travel managers, travel management companies, travel suppliers, and others gathered in Chicago for the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Convention to share best practices and learn new techniques for streamlining their work.

According to a flash poll of travel buyers we published in partnership with GBTA, the demands they face continue to grow. Amid those challenges, SAP Concur and partners work to ensure that the user experiences of travel managers or business travelers remain front and center. We made several announcements this month with that in mind.

First, we announced that more than 400 additional hotel properties have recently joined our Concur TripLink Web service network through expanded integrations with major hotel groups Accor, Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott. TripLink allows companies to capture hotel bookings made outside of Concur Travel, to gain immediate visibility into travel spend and ensure application of policy, while offering greater flexibility to business travelers. It also allows travelers to automatically receive corporate discounts at participating hotels.

Technology has advanced tremendously in the 50 years since the moon landing and the phone in your hand has millions of times the total processing power of all of NASA’s computers in 1969. SAP Concur harnesses that power to make the travel and expense process easier. For example, during a business trip, the Concur mobile app allows you to snap a photo of your receipt. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning read your handwritten totals on that receipt with incredible accuracy, and the receipt is automatically sent to your expense report in the cloud, for review and filing with just a few clicks. SAP Concur uses smartphone technology to improve the traveler experience in other ways, which brings me to our final announcement. TripIt, which gives you one place for travel details and notifies you when there are late-breaking changes to your trips.

TripIt also provides data on the safety of specific neighborhoods to which you plan to travel, which can change depending the time of day. This month we announced that TripIt users will soon be able to view neighborhood safety scores by day or night. This will help illustrate how time of day impacts the safety of each neighborhood and help travelers make smarter decisions while on the road.

Most business travelers won’t go quite as far as those who, 50 years ago, traveled to the moon and back. And most won’t have as much fun as Buzz Aldrin on travel-related paperwork. Yet SAP Concur will continue to innovate so those travelers and their colleagues can spend less administering travel and more on their missions.

Learn more at Concur.com.

Michael Koetting is chief product strategy officer at SAP Concur.
A version of this story originally appeared on LinkedIn.