Coupa Waves Travel Into Integrated Platform


Coupa’s Tivona and Layman discuss:

  • How travel is fitting in with the larger procurement experience
  • Tracking supplier diversity and carbon footprints
  • New procurement trends with remote workers

Earlier this year, business spend management platform Coupa launched its new travel booking module. Built from its acquisition of travel booking platform Pana, Coupa designed its travel platform not to sell as a standalone product but to offer as a tool integrated with its payment and expense platforms. Coupa VP of product management Valerie Layman, alongside head of Coupa Travel Devon Tivona—previously Pana’s CEO and cofounder—recently spoke with BTN executive editor Michael B. Baker about initial customer response to the new platform as well as future plans in influencing traveler behavior and helping clients with sustainability and diversity needs.

[Editor’s note: After this interview was conducted, a Coupa spokesperson confirmed to BTN that Layman was departing Coupa, and her last day is Oct. 14]

Business Travel News: How has Coupa incorporated travel into its larger strategy?

Valerie Layman: Everything that we do is around a three-wave strategy: capturing all spend, optimizing processes and amplifying that value through the community, the value of all our community data. Wave one was capture, and we’re doing that through a seamless, wonderful user experience. If we can make this a beautiful user experience, they’re going to want to use the solutions, and we’ll be able to capture more of the spend. Wave two is all around optimizing the processes, breaking down the silos. Most point solutions, you’re going to have siloed solutions that don’t connect well together, data processes that don’t flow well, so we are breaking down those silos. 

We recently were listed as No. 19 on Fast Company’s [Best Workplaces for] Innovators. T&E is a shining example, because we spent the last two years building and innovating in the T&E space, so we can deliver what we call a sweet synergy of products that creates a seamless experience for the travel. We didn’t just build a booking tool. We built a seamless experience between travel, expense, Travel Saver, which was formerly Yapta, payments—that means virtual cards as well as employee reimbursement—and fraud detection. You bring all of this together, and it creates a very seamless experience. You book something, it’s automatically generated into an expense report, and you can pay with a virtual card that you buy other goods and services with as well. You track it with Travel Saver, so if a cheaper hotel room comes along, it will automatically rebook for you. Once the expense report is approved, it’s seamlessly paid however the employee wants to be paid: ACH, Venmo, PayPal, or however [else]. 

You’re going to see us continue to work on creating additional synergies across our suite of products at Coupa, especially when it comes to [environmental, social and governance]. Our third wave is amplification, amplifying that value through community AI. We take all of our spend across all of our companies and customers and we use that information, anonymized, to help drive better decisions as well as benchmarking.

BTN: What specifically are you doing on the ESG side?

Layman: Now, we have the dashboard view of diversity and how diverse the suppliers you are interacting with are. It looks across procurement—what have you procured, what invoices are coming in and what have you expensed—and it says, “Here’s how you’re doing from a diversity perspective.” It’s the same with sustainability. We just launched our sustainability dashboard that does similar things, looking across all these different avenues of spend and gives you that view. We will be adding travel into that. We aren’t there yet, but it’s the next step. You have all these initiatives in your companies going on, but how do you show that across your spend, especially when you have to start reporting on the spend and bringing it all together? We just need to take the data we’re collecting and feed it into that dashboards.

We did analysis on expense data recently, and we’ve seen spend for airfare pick up about 250 percent quarter over quarter. We’re seeing demand pretty hot and heavy for T&E.”

– Valerie Layman

BTN: What customer response did you see after the booking platform launch?

Layman: February was probably a pretty good time to launch, because travel was picking up again. We did analysis on expense data recently, and we’ve seen spend for airfare pick up about 250 percent quarter over quarter. We’re seeing demand pretty hot and heavy for T&E. Where we’re seeing the most demand and success is with existing Coupa customers that already buy our solution and understand the value of bringing all of this sweet synergy together, adding on travel to their existing suite.

BTN: Have users typically been companies that already had other travel platforms in place, or are these customers new to travel management?

Devon Tivona: I’d guess about 50 percent are switching from existing managed travel solutions, and about 50 percent are at that tipping point where they had an expense solution and now want to have the pre-spend control on top of that. When you can apply the same governance controls to pencils, laptops and travel all on one platform, almost every single one of our win reports we get in our inboxes mentions customers seeing the value of having it all in one place. 

Layman: We recently launched a client on our [Procure to Pay] platform, and we were talking to this customer about T&E. He said, “I just launched procurement. I want my employees to procure versus expense. Go to Coupa, buy what you need to buy, and then you don’t have to expense it, but I’m having a hard time getting my travelers to know about this and getting them to see the benefits.” We have a beautiful new T&E dashboard that basically shows employees how much they could have saved had they procured something instead of expensing it. It’s bringing all of those concepts together that’s so powerful for these customers.

That’s one of the unmentioned roles of a travel manager, particularly in a company that’s becoming managed for the first time: the chief advertiser of why you do managed travel. We’re trying to help with that advertising campaign.”

– Devin Tivona

BTN: Are you aiming to influence traveler behavior as well?

Layman: We’ll go down the behavior path. We don’t do it yet. One of the most important applications will be when it comes to sustainability initiatives. Today, you can go to a lot of different booking sites, and they’ll tell you the carbon emissions of this particular flight. For a traveler to be able to make that tradeoff between costs and how that impacts that sustainability at that company, that’s where prescribing to the traveler what the right thing to do is will be really important. 

We also have a concept we call Spend Coach. Let’s coach the users to do the right thing, what’s best for the company. If they think they can get their flight cheaper somewhere else, here are all the reasons you save money if you book through the booking solution. Not only does it give us visibility and have duty of care and reduce risk, it also allows the traveler to save money. Things like that will continue to be built into the solution. That’s where the power of our community comes in, too. Here’s what everyone else in the community is doing and spending, and we can start to get very prescriptive about the things that we’re going.

Tivona: That’s one of the unmentioned roles of a travel manager, particularly in a company that’s becoming managed for the first time: the chief advertiser of why you do managed travel. We’re trying to help with that advertising campaign. In our industry, we talk about [that] end-user experiences add conflict with cost savings. That might be true in very basic terms, in that it would be nice for me to fly business but that would cost the company a lot of money. But for the broad view of spend management and optimization, the better end-user experience gets more people booking in-channel, and therefore the better you can optimize that spend and negotiate on it.

BTN: Are customer needs changing due to new workplace realities following the pandemic?

Layman: We do a lot of analysis on our expense data, and we have seen an increase in what employees are procuring. It’s around, “How do I build my at-home office?” We’re definitely seeing more remote workers, and that relates back to, how do I gather and create that sense of community with those particular employees who are now remote, and bringing them back together. One of our areas of focus is around how we help employers bring these small groups together in a more seamless, easier way.

Tivona: Not only are we seeing the trend of infrequent travelers needing to get on airplanes because they’re now remotely located and need to get together, we’re also seeing those infrequent travelers becoming procurement personas as well. They have to buy stuff they never had to before. Both of those two needs together are one of the reasons why one our wave one strategy of focusing on user experience is so critical, so they have that single payment class on mobile or on desktop, where they can go outfit their home office but also buy a flight for the first time, and it’s not a confusing interface for them. They haven’t gotten used to all the nuances that we’re all aware of in corporate travel and have come to be OK with. They’re just expecting something that’s as good or better than their consumer experience. 

On top of that, we’re not out yet, but we’re focusing on investing in tools we can build for those small meetings organizers to make their life easier. There’s tons of coordination that goes on when you’re wearing that unofficial hat.

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