The Travel Manager

Date:   Sunday , July 01, 2012

Business travel can be a pain, especially when it comes to knowing you can and can’t include on your expense account when you return. What expenses are covered by the company policies and what not is not only confusing but also tiring while keeping track of it. This is something Steve Singh realized in the early 90s when he travelled extensively while working for a software company. Steve Singh traveled regularly and accumulated over $100,000 in business travel receipts. It was this problem that led to the founding of Concur. Founded in 1993, Concur is a leading provider of integrated travel and expense management solutions that provides services for more than 15,000 clients and more than 15 million users worldwide. Its solutions help you remain compliant with your company’s policies and still enjoy your trip as much as possible. Today, nearly two decades later, including a successful IPO behind, continues to create a buzz by keeping up with the technology trends and foreseeing demands. And the man behind this successful streak of the company is none other than Steve Singh, CEO, Concur himself. In a candid chat with siliconindia, Steve Singh shares his thoughts on technology trends, competition and vision to stay ahead of the game.

Market Opportunities for the IT Players today

We think there is a tremendous opportunity for technology companies who serve the enterprise to leverage mobility and combine that with the trend of consumerization of applications. When done right, we think you will see enthusiastic adoption by end-users/employees, who will use these tools to solve real business needs, in turn helping their companies to streamline processes and drive down costs.

Trends & Opportunities in the Market today

At Concur, we have identified four key trends – mobile, local, social, and personalization and are focused on delivering continued innovation around these areas. But enabling all these is nothing but Cloud Computing itself.

The chatter about cloud computing was started by the likes of giants like Salesforce, Concur in the mid 2000s but it was still pretty nascent back then. Here, we are half a decade plus later and at this point, people get cloud computing, but just as important, they see it as central to the next evolution of the technology industry.

It is very easy for people to say today, I get how cloud computing took off in the consumer world, but now I am starting to see concrete, sizable examples in the enterprise world. So, that part is now well written, well defined and it doesn’t take a lot of courage to be a believer in cloud computing anymore. Even in the financial markets, billions have been made investing in cloud computing companies. We created around a $3.5 billion market cap. Salesforce is around the $21 billion market cap. You see Success Factors being acquired for about $3.4 billion, Taleo for $1.8 billion or $1.9 billion. So, you see real money being made in this sector of computing. Despite this, I would still say that it's, literally, just getting started. I think what you are in enterprise cloud computing in the next decade is applications companies like Concur or others turn into things way beyond applications companies. They will turn into content and commerce companies, in addition to being applications companies.

That is the way, we see Concur unfolding. Today, we are the second largest cloud applications company. We think in the next decade, not only will we be a large applications company but we will also be a content and commerce company. As you take all these big trends like cloud, mobile and social and local and big data, as those things all intertwine, you are starting to see some interesting problems being solved and some interesting companies being created from that.

Cloud Advantage – The Concur Way

If you look at enterprise cloud computing companies, they have certainly picked up some interesting scale. But, if you think about the problems that they are solving, there tend to be very significant processes being automated that are pervasive across the enterprise. So, you have a lot of people who actually engage in that particular business process, whether you are talking about sales automation or employee management or travel and expense management, as is the case with Concur. If you think about what we do as an example of that, our products are used on one side to book travel. And then we have another part that is used to manage the itinerary as you travel. Then our expense products are used to reconcile that trip information and file an expense report on your behalf.

The next step will be nothing but personalization. It is personalized down to the individual level. It is not at company level. It is down to the individual person. It says I know about you. I know how to meet your needs, and I know how to make your trip a better experience. So, what we see happening is these application companies will take all this rich data and deliver it back to the customer, to the end user and to the supplier in a way that makes it a more efficient supply chain for the supplier and frankly, a better experience for the traveler.

A big component that will support personalization is going to be Data. None of this works without the other components. In fact, that is why when we look at global and mobile and local and social and cloud, it is not that one works independently of the others. They, in fact, are tightly intertwined, and you will not be able to separate them out over the next five years. They are completely intertwined and interdependent, and they actually build value upon each other so that you have a much richer experience as an individual using these products.

The Big Data Plan

At Concur we have begun to chalk out our strategy for Data. The very first place that industries think about when they think about big data is in terms of business and growth intelligence. They think about it in terms of a Cognos or Business Objects where a company might buy a set of tools to analyze all the information that exists within its various systems. I would argue that it is about 10 percent of the opportunity. If you think about it, 90 percent of the world's electronic data has only been formed in the last couple of years. And most of that is not sitting within typical financial systems and HR systems. It is actually being created on mobile devices, social networks being deployed and used within mobile devices. So, imagine creating links between that information and the internal systems that exist within companies; at least within the enterprise sector. We think that big data applications will exist within other applications, within a sales force cloud or within an HR cloud. Only then the big data applications will really start to materialize. It won’t be in the context of a replacement cycle to Cognos or Business Objects.

Priorities as a CEO

As the CEO, I am responsible for ensuring the value we deliver to our customers, increasing our market leadership position, and improving our competitive advantage in the market. Successful execution against our market opportunity has driven and will continue to drive compelling and sustainable value for our shareholders.

Aligning Innovation with Strategic business plans

We have a strong and compelling vision of how our market will evolve and what products and services it will require. Everything we do throughout the organization is centered on that long-term vision and the enablement of that vision.

Managing Risk and Sustainability

The first things CEOs tend to do in a volatile economy is to stop investing in their businesses. I would recommend the exact opposite. There are always areas in which you can drive more efficiency. Do that and pour all the savings back into your products and distribution. Companies that invest during downturns tend to be the next generation of leaders in their respective markets.

While saying this, at Concur, we are focusing on the next phase of growth. With the market stabilizing, the company in the past couple of quarters has been making several active investments. The previous quarter saw the revenues increase by 23 percent to $95.2 million, and the annual revenue hitting $349.5 million. The company also made successful acquisition of TripIt.

Now is the time to capitalize on the robust demand environment and to do this, we will significantly ramp our investments across the business. We expect to double our distribution capacity over the next 24 months, drive the innovation curve in our industry and set the standard for world-class service.

Leadership My Way

My mantra for leadership is very simple — it is always about people. Hire and keep the brightest, most talented people you can find. Put the right people in the right place to execute against risks and opportunities. Hiring and rewarding great people leads to high morale, productivity and an effective organizational culture.

An unforgettable day as a CEO

Last year, we established Concur India. I was privileged to come back to the country of my birth as part of launching our business there. On the day of our announcement, I was struck by the enormity of the opportunity still in front of Concur, while also realizing how small the world is becoming thanks to technology. A milestone day like that both reminds me of how far Concur has come as a company, while also making clear just how far we still need to go to realize our vision of building a great and the enduring business.

Latest @ Concur

Lately, we've been very focused on Concur Connect – the platform that enables the entire travel and expense ecosystem of customers, travel suppliers, content aggregators and solution partners to access and extend the value within Concur’s T&E Cloud. Staying ahead of competition

Rapid innovation has been the key for us in maintaining our market-leading position and staying ahead of the competition. In fact, Concur was named one of the world's most innovative growth companies by Forbes.

We have also made several successful acquisitions that have allowed us to both increase our global footprint and extend our services to address an area of great opportunity for Concur – the unmanaged business travel market.

Road Ahead

Concur's continued growth will be driven by five core areas of focus –

• Expanding base of customers: We will continue to increase our investments in distribution, market development and innovation in order to continue to expand our base of customers in the markets that we currently serve and the range of services we can deliver to those customers.

• Expanding global presence: Our objective – over the next five years – is to become the market-leading provider of travel and expense management services in each major economy.

• Growing the SMB market: We are also investing to deliver our services for small and medium sized businesses on a global basis. We believe that this market segment is underserved and can generate incremental long-term revenue and earnings growth.

• Delivering value during the business trip: The integration of Tripit into our suite of offerings positions Concur to participate in every element of the travel process – from trip planning and booking, through in-trip activities and sharing trip information, to post-trip expense reconciliation and reimbursement.

• Continued innovation of the Concur Connect Platform: The Concur Connect Platform is our set of open, cloud-based APIs and tools that allow our customers, our partners, travel suppliers, and, for the first time, third-party developers to connect to and extend the Concur technology platform.

Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

Don't think there has ever been a better time to be an entrepreneur within the technology industry. The level of engagement that exists today between individuals and computing is a magnitude above and beyond anything I've ever seen in my life. A lot of this, of course, is being brought on by mobile computing and the cloud computing services that cater to mobile devices. This is an amazing time on the consumer side and the enterprise side to be in the technology industry. Obviously, you have to decide: Hey, look, what particular business problem do I want to solve? And how do I go about solving it? But today, if I am a young entrepreneur starting out, all my resources would be devoted to mobile computing and solving whatever business problem I want to solve, whether it's consumer or enterprise, I'd solve it via mobile device.

A year ago, when we launched our mobile products, we delivered on the Apple iPhone, iPad and, Android devices we had 17.5 million users of our Web-based cloud services. But our usage in mobile at that point was nearly zero. Today, just a little bit more than a year later, we have 2.5 million mobile users. If you think about it from an enterprise perspective, we might be one of the largest, if not the largest deployments of mobile applications for enterprise software anywhere in the world.

Challenges for CEOs in 2012

Personally, I am struck by the pace of innovation happening now in the technology industry. It's an ongoing challenge to stay on top of your game from an innovation perspective with such rapid change taking place and so many players and platforms to contend with.

Also, for any company keen to expand its operations globally, that can be challenging. At Concur, we have experienced tremendous global growth the past few years and found that the key to our success has been to remind ourselves that to be truly global, innovations must first and foremost address the local needs of each market.