Concur Bets Big on Mobile, the Next Big Revolution in Biz Travel

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winning of a large, multi-year travel contract with the federal government, many have the stock rated as a “hold.”

Concur could stop re-investing its money and deliver 30 percent operating margins that would surely please Wall Street, Singh says: “If we wanted to do that, we could do it overnight.”

But that doesn’t fit the company’s philosophy of developing its business for the long term. “Your job for your shareholders is not just to build a great company today, but it has to be a great company on a sustainable basis,” Singh says.

For just about anyone in the software business these days, sustainability means having a clear vision for how mobile computing will transform your customer base, your products, and your competition. The U.S. is just now starting to see smartphone penetration reach more than half of all mobile phone users, and tablet computers are being pumped out by everyone from Apple and Samsung to Barnes & Noble and Toys ‘R’ Us.

That probably goes double for Concur—travel is, of course, done on the go.

“If you go back 18 month ago, we had roughly zero users on our mobile products. Today, we have about 2.5 million mobile users,” Singh says. “Somewhere over the next three to four years, it’ll be the majority and perhaps even all users whose primary access to Concur will be through mobile devices.”

So what will that mean for the average business traveler? If Concur’s sights are set correctly, some pretty cool stuff could be coming down the pipeline soon.

Booking flights through a smartphone app with voice commands, Singh says, is probably less than a year away from being a reality. And advances in on-the-fly hotel check-in are close behind.

“When I get off a flight, why can’t I start a check-in process to my hotel as I’m walking off a jetway?” Singh asks. “There’s no reason not to. Concur knows that the flight landed. Concur knows that you’re staying at the Sheraton.” That should be available in the next 12 months or so, he adds.

A little further down the line are things like near-field communications readers tied to hotel room doors, which could let travelers with NFC-equipped smartphones have a security code sent to their handset after they check in, giving them access to their room with a wave of the phone.

Singh says the timeline for that kind of technology will be mixed—some hotels will be upgraded to handle NFC technology in six months or so, but others will take years (to say nothing of the rate of adoption of NFC in more smartphone handsets, something Apple recently declined to include in the iPhone 5).

That’s a long way from the days of paper expense forms. Less than a decade ago, Singh says, some very large companies still employed teams of workers who did nothing but turn paper expense reports into digital data.

“Sprint had 40 people who just rekeyed expense reports,” Singh says. “My God, that’s a terrible experience. Do you think those poor people wanted to do that?”

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