In today’s technology-driven business world, changes in customer expectations, societal shifts, and industry disruptions rule. That’s why leaders at SAP Concur, and those from our parent company, SAP, think constantly about trends with the potential to impact our customers, partners, and the global community. While there is no magic crystal ball that reveals the future, staying one step ahead allows us to envision solutions before they are widely needed. Here, our global team of technology, customer engagement and business experts once again share their predictions for the coming year. With 20 predictions for 2020, it is our most comprehensive list ever, divided into trends about economics, technology, business, travel, the environment, diversity, corporate social responsibility, education, and the public sector.
Global Economic Trends
- Small businesses will tighten budgets to safeguard against economic and government downturns
Social, political, and economic factors caused serious bumps in the road for small businesses in 2019. Volatile stock markets, the threat of a recession, and a government shutdown that caught them off guard levied a massive impact. With similar threats remaining a possibility for 2020 and beyond, small businesses will stay even tighter on budgets, holding on to more dollars to safeguard their business health from factors beyond their control. While these businesses – which create the vast majority of the world’s jobs – are especially vulnerable to the unanticipated ups and downs of economies, they will fare much better by expecting, and preparing for, the unexpected.
– Ben Brewer, former SVP and GM of global SMB, SAP Concur
- Fears of a slowing economy in Asia-Pacific will bring more pressure on businesses to do more with less
As a result, more CFOs will steer their companies to calmer waters by improving visibility into corporate spend to better control budgets. By harnessing technologies like AI, machine learning and deep data analytics, automation will deliver greater productivity and intelligence to operations, without growth in headcount. In addition, more travel managers will leverage technology to help their teams achieve the same business outputs with fewer trips. Asia Pacific airline and hotel prices are also expected to climb about three percent in 2020, according to BCD Travel’s 2020 Industry Forecast, and there will be a bigger emphasis on implementing corporate travel systems to get the best deals. And as a region with so many countries and borders, solutions that help firms manage the complexities of business T&E – such as country-specific tax regulations, traveler tax and immigration, VAT reclaim, and cashless payments – will grow in popularity.
– Andy Watson, SVP and GM, Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China, SAP Concur
- Trade tensions will create uncertainty and reshuffle global priorities
A period of widening free trade and travel came to an end in recent years, replaced by rising tensions that will continue to build, at least in the early part of 2020. These tensions will shift business practices in travel, procurement, and beyond. A trend that we predicted last year, that shifting immigration and tax policies would increasingly subject multi-national companies to additional tax liabilities, will continue. In addition, in 2020, companies should no longer expect the same levels of visa and tax flexibility that they took for granted in the earlier part of the new millennium. They will need to keep a close eye on current events and adjust their travel policies accordingly. Add to these challenges new pressures to diversify supply chains to be less dependent on Southeast Asia and South America, where trade tensions with certain super-powers grew in 2019. There may also be “wildcard” trade impacts in the coming year – or for that matter, a reduction in tensions – as we are in a period of trade uncertainty. However, it’s conceivable that mixed economic growth around the world will encourage parties to come to the table to negotiate, which would push the pendulum back in the direction of freer trade.
– Chris Juneau, Senior Vice President, Business Operations
- Workers looking to save time will kick demand for AI into overdrive
In 2020, workplace changes related to artificial intelligence will become a noticeable trend. While societal tensions around AI will continue, workers’ growing openness to automation will incrementally drive changes that will ultimately impact everyone. For example, millennials, who now represent the majority of workers, are instinctively comfortable using AI. As consumers, they are more likely to approve of AI-provided customer support, automated product recommendations, and even want AI to enhance their experience watching sports. Millennials and others will increasingly bring their consumer preferences for AI to work and expect that routine tasks can be automated. We’re already seeing this today, as a growing number of employees are using AI to sort and forward emails, proofread documents, schedule meetings, and build custom workflows. This trend will lead to many benefits, including higher productivity and more economic activity. Employers will need to lean into this shift, supporting those employees who want to use automation to be more productive, helping others understand the benefits, and providing support to those who need help learning to use it.
– Michael Koetting, Chief Product Strategy Officer, SAP Concur
- Artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence converge
Customers are individuals with similar needs: to feel important, listened to and respected. As a result, “empathetic AI” is increasingly applied in advertising, customer service, and to measure how engaged a customer is in their journey. For example, are they attentively focused or just passively scrolling? Consumers are already benefitting from this trend, through music streaming services that suggest artists, songs or playlists based on your listening history, or from digital vendors that suggest items of potential interest, based on your past purchases. In 2020, this trend will kick into much higher gear, with more technology companies infusing empathy into their AI. Expect to see it more often in the enterprise technology space, as well. As companies use empathetic AI to bring more of the benefits of advanced technology to life, they will instill more trust, create better user experiences, and deliver higher productivity.
– Michael Weingartner, CTO, SAP Concur
- Machine Learning moves from a novelty to a routine function
Businesses, technology companies, and everyday people have been fascinated by the novelty and promise of machine learning (ML). But in 2020, ML will be less of a novelty, as it proliferates under the hood of technology services everywhere, especially behind everyday workflows and forms. In a way, it will fade into near invisibility, even while making a huge impact. Technology services will increasingly anticipate your needs, whether they be related to expense reports, scheduling, or other processes. Eventually it will do all or a portion of certain tasks, with more accuracy and speed than a human being. SAP Concur is already working on advances in these areas. Your preferred travel itinerary may be suggested and filled out based on previous trips, and automatically combined with your company’s preferred vendor commitments. ExpenseIt will ultimately predict the location of expenses based on the cities you visited, making the process of filling out your expense report even faster. All of this, and more, will be possible as ML fades into the background, thinking through elements of your work-life, and allowing you to put more of your effort into creative and productive tasks. It’s a trend that will bring more benefits in 2020 and beyond.
– AG Lambert, SAP Concur Senior Vice President, Spend, Data and Analytics
- “Super Apps” will catch fire in Southeast Asia
In 2020, the “super app” trend that dominates mobile commerce and communications in China will reach critical mass among consumers in Southeast Asia. True to its name, a super app is a number of apps within a single seamless experience. They tend to start as messaging or payment apps that merge and grow to include ride-hailing, dining, social media, health tracking, games, common business applications, and more. Where they proliferate, super apps become the primary way people interface with the Internet on mobile. China’s WeChat, with over a billion monthly active users, is the best-known. In addition to the usual payment and chat features super apps are known for, you can apply for loans, rent housing, apply for a visa, request time off, and according to Quartz, even “drift bottles into a sea,” letting random people pick up your messages. The trend is growing far beyond China, as payment and messaging apps converge and add a wide range of other features in Southeast Asia. Singapore’s Grab offers transportation, food, payment, movie tickets and more, in eight countries. Gojek, started as a ride-hailing call center in Indonesia, offers more than 20 services in four countries. Line, a messaging app from Japan, offers coupons, news, videos, and payments through Line Pay. South Korea’s Kakaotalk super app grew by about 10 million monthly active users, to about 44 million, over the last year alone. In Asia, it’s becoming easier to use super apps than apply for and use credit cards. That means any vendor that wants to create seamless experiences for mobile customers – and especially providers of transportation, dining, and travel – needs to keep a close eye on this trend.
– Deepak Seth, SAP Concur Vice President of Product Strategy, Asia Pacific
- Data moves from an analytical – to decision-making – tool
In 2020, the shift to leveraging data for real-time decision-making will accelerate for a growing number of business functions. For example, through intelligent platforms and network ecosystems, companies will access more and more data sets to shed light on such things as a potential supplier’s financial capability to fulfill a contract. Data can also be used to make budgetary decisions informed by the current status of each and every area of a company’s spending. Organizations possess, and can access, much or all of this data today, with the right tools. And with an increasing number of data points uncovered by IoT and machine learning, there is more information than ever before to help drive results. This allows organizations to make better sense of what’s happening, what’s coming, and, ultimately, make more intelligent decisions. In the coming year, many more organizations will start to realize the potential of their data to intelligently guide business decisions and leverage it to reach even greater levels of success. And looking even further into the future, they will eventually be able to determine whether potential suppliers’ policies adhere to international laws and social ethics, and be able to use data to identify, in advance, a host of potential supply chain disruptions, such as a small number of suppliers concentrated in a region vulnerable to weather or manmade disasters.
– Mike Eberhard, President, SAP Intelligent Spend Group
- Organizations will treat their employees as technology customers
In 2020, more organizations will endeavor to meet employee expectations about how workplace technology should evolve. The trend is related to the “consumerization” of workplace tech: having become used to great experiences with mobile phones or shopping websites, for example, employees expect their enterprise applications to work just as well. Yet it can be difficult for employers, who face cost, policy, and other roadblocks, to keep up. At the same time, it is important to make the investment because employee satisfaction and retention are critical. One thing that makes SAP Concur different from many enterprise technology companies is we have always focused on the experiences of end-users – our customers’ employees – to shape our products. In the coming year, more organizations will gather data on the user-experiences of their employees and use it to improve productivity, human resources, travel, expense, and other technologies. They will begin selecting solutions which leverage AI and machine learning to improve those experiences. In addition, we anticipate that organizations will increasingly bridge the gap between how their enterprise travel-booking tools are configured, relative to consumer-travel apps, without forgoing the discounts, control, and real-time visibility into the choices that employees are making. The range of possibilities is huge, but the common denominator comes down to better employee experiences with office tech.
– Jim Lucier, President, SAP Concur
- A move toward "co-location with a purpose" office spaces
The Internet has finally freed organizations from static workplaces and recruiting policies. We may now hire and work with the best people we can find, anywhere in the world. In addition, “mobile-first nomadism,” favored by a growing number of workers, is changing the way we collaborate. Virtual meetings are as common as in-person ones. People feel less tethered to a traditional office and want the ability to work from home, a coffee shop, a library, or a park (or all of the above, depending on the day). In 2020, especially in cities known as tech hubs, these developments will lead to noticeable changes in office spaces. I like to call the trend “co-location with a purpose.” More office spaces will be designed to be flexible: open-space hubs to host teams coming together for shorter-term projects, touch-down spaces for work-from-home employees or those visiting from distant home bases, plentiful conference rooms for more confidential work, and easily available focus rooms for introverts and others who need an occasional alternative to open spaces. These are spaces ready to be used for a variety of important purposes and reconfigured as needs change.
– Darren Bauer Kahan, Senior Vice President of Development, SAP Concur
- Paper receipts decline, smart receipts rise
According to the Mirror, in 2018, approximately 11 billion receipts were printed in Great Britain alone, with two-thirds thrown away almost immediately – the equivalent of 53,000 trees, or the annual destruction of Sherwood Forest. There is a productivity cost to go along with the environmental toll, and these are among the reasons the trend of digital payments is growing. In 2020, we will see a significant increase in the number of digital receipts provided by suppliers. China is moving toward a more cashless society. Japan is moving to change laws requiring paper receipts for reimbursable transactions, allowing transaction data to count instead. Mexico has already made that change, and many other countries will follow, including Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Brazil. Employees will benefit, as receipt data floats more easily into expense reports, eliminating frustrations about lost “receipts” and helping employees get reimbursed faster.
– Hendrik Vordenbaeumen, SAP Concur Vice President, Product Strategy
Shifts in Travel
- Employees will travel with purpose
Whether picking destinations to support a community impacted by a natural disaster or spending vacation time volunteering, people are increasingly approaching travel with a sense of purpose. They are choosing trips, activities and brands that support their values, and nearly two-thirds of consumers engage in belief-driven buying. This carries into their booking experiences, and in 2020, we predict this will influence business travel significantly. With “bleisure” trips already on the rise and customers investing in purpose-driven programs at their companies, employees will not only extend their business trips to explore the local cultures, they will also become active in the communities they visit by volunteering for local organizations. Companies will factor this into their travel policies, providing breathing room and additional programs for their employees to make a difference.
– Christal Bemont, former Chief Revenue Officer, SAP Concur
- Safety will go hand in hand with employee satisfaction
A year ago, I predicted female traveler safety would rise to the top of corporate agendas. While there has been progress, the issue of traveler safety overall – for all employees, and especially for those in under-represented groups – will reach critical mass in 2020. It’s becoming an issue of employee satisfaction that employers will need to address. Workers will increasingly demand more information and resources to stay safe during their work trips. According to a recent study from Wakefield, 78 percent of women report being harassed during business trips and a majority (52 percent) want more guidance and support from their employers. Ninety-five percent of LGBTQ+ travelers have hidden their sexual orientation while on a business trip, with 57 percent saying they do that to protect their safety. In 2020 and beyond, companies have an opportunity to step up and enrich their traveler safety resources for employees, from introducing flexibility within travel policies to offering access to tools that keep them safe and protect their rights on the road. Emerging features like Uber’s emergency button, TripIt’s neighborhood safety scores and the U.S. Department of State’s automatic advisories for travelers won’t be considered “added,” they’ll become an expected, and hopefully common, part of the traveler experience.
– Kim Albrecht, CMO, SAP Concur
- Hotels and other travel vendors will make wellness amenities the new norm
Those of us who travel frequently for business worry about the impact it has on our health, and the evidence is more than anecdotal. Recent research from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, investigating health outcomes of frequent business travel, found higher body mass index scores, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and trouble sleeping, among other problems in frequent travelers. Hotels and travel brands are catching on – several major hotel brands already offer healthier meals, bike-sharing programs, and in-room exercise equipment, from yoga mats to Peloton bikes. Wellness features are also increasingly found in airports, from napping pods, to nutritious food options, and even therapy dogs. This trend will continue to grow in 2020, and business travelers will have more options, in more places, and at a wider number of price-points, to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle on the road.
– Doug Anderson, Senior Vice President for Travel Strategy, SAP Concur
- Environmental concerns will accelerate eco-conscious travel
A recent study by Wakefield research found that one-third of business travelers have adjusted their form of travel due to environmental concerns, and we predict that number will rise. With the EU’s commitment to the Green New Deal pushing companies to reduce their carbon footprint, airlines adjusting seating options to maximize travelers per flight, and hotels rethinking the sustainability of their designs, it’s only the beginning of a shift to eco-friendly travel. As discussions around climate change intensify, travelers and companies will continue to strive for more sustainable traveling options. Whether you’re in the rural country-side or populous city, expect to see green travel alternatives in 2020.
– John Dietz, VP, Concur Labs
- Led by executives, businesses will go green
The year 2019 was a great year for environmentalism. The European Union launched a Green New Deal to achieve European carbon-neutrality by 2050, and 181 CEOs announced a new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation,” identifying environmental sustainability as one of their top concerns. Corporate sustainability is now at the top of the agenda for people of all ages, and in 2020 we’ll see companies’ efforts to reduce their environmental impact create positive shifts across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). A major emphasis will be providing more sustainable choices for employees, especially around travel. The Global Business Traveler Association (GBTA) reveals that many travel programs do not mandate, or even encourage, travelers to make sustainable choices. Yet, the travel sector accounts for eight percent of global carbon emissions. Organizations in EMEA and beyond will start to address that problem in 2020, one of many moves we’ll see by companies looking to do more to fight global warming in the coming year.
– Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz, EMEA SVP and General Manager, SAP Concur
Growing Emphasis on Diversity and Corporate Social Responsibility
- Non-traditional tech recruiting will go mainstream
Immigration in the United States fell by about 70% in 2019, and colleges and universities are not able to graduate enough people to meet the insatiable demand for workers in the technology sector. These and other factors point to a growing shortage of workers qualified for technology jobs. As a result, in 2020, we will see companies increasingly go outside traditional worker pipelines to find the people they need. First, we will see more “mid-termships,” apprentice-like roles for those who, in most cases, have degrees but want to learn and grow into technology careers. Second, we will see more outreach to women who left the workforce after starting families and want to re-enter the technology workforce. Third, we will see more companies participate in tech summits and conferences held outside of the U.S. to find top talent (Year of Return, in Ghana, for example). Last, connected to these summits, there will be growing investments and new offices in Africa. This trend will help companies find exceptionally talented technology workers on a continent not yet fully appreciated as an employee pipeline. These welcome shifts will not only help address a serious shortage of technology professionals but will bring greater diversity – and thus greater innovation – to a sector that thrives on new perspectives.
– Michelle Grover, VP of Development, SAP Concur and TripIt
- 2020 will be the year of the “purpose-driven workplace”
In 2020, with labor markets tight in North America and elsewhere, many employers will retune their cultures to create or showcase purpose-driven workplaces. These are workplaces in which work has meaning, according to HR Daily and others, and “connects to a purpose beyond profit.” Millennials, projected to represent half of all workers in 2020, are driving the trend. Fair compensation is important to them, but no longer the only priority, according to Gallup; the emphasis for this generation has switched from paycheck to purpose. Based on this, in the coming year, expect more employers to adjust their missions accordingly, while helping employees understand how they align to, and impact, those missions. Expect to see more of them demonstrate their societal, environmental, and nonprofit impact. And expect more employers to focus on finding meaningful intersections between how employees prioritize their time inside and outside of work, with an emphasis on encouraging volunteerism. This will result in both attracting and retaining top talent, higher engagement and productivity, and ultimately, even better financial performance.
– Jenn McColly, SAP Concur Vice President, Employee Experience
Changing Public Sector and Education Landscapes
- New tech investments at the state and local level will chip away at old government tech debt
Technical debt, while not a new concept, will take center stage in the year to come as state and local government agencies work to overcome the challenges – and costs – associated with legacy technology systems. Historically, agencies tended to hold on to older systems as long as they could in order to avoid new upfront expenses. But that creates other problems, including the need to add manual patches to ensure security, which is a risky game of whack-a-mole when it comes to government security threats. In other cases, maintaining older systems requires staff who are knowledgeable about those systems – a challenge from both an attrition and recruiting perspective. Even while state and local governments spent a reported $107.6 billion on IT in 2019, they may still be spending too much on maintenance of legacy systems, rather than investing in new technologies to create efficiencies. As agencies push these purchases forward, they will find it unsustainable to maintain outdated, manual systems because in most cases, doing so turns out to be more expensive than investing in modern applications. In fact, newer technologies are less expensive to run, while bringing added benefits such as automation, intelligence, and security that further increase ROI by freeing up resources to allow employees to work on more mission-focused tasks to serve their communities.
– Dave Ballard, Senior Vice President, Public Sector, SAP Concur
- Colleges and universities will reach a transparency tipping point
Some of the biggest questions about higher education in the year ahead will be around two things: money and transparency. As frequent headlines continue to remind us, students and parents grapple with rising tuitions and the impact of student debt, while admission scandals draw attention to school finances and admission policies. That’s why, in 2020, colleges and universities will start to visibly raise the bar on transparent governance. By proactively sharing financial data that demonstrate responsible and compliant spending, institutions will strengthen their reputations and competitiveness. As these institutions become more transparent, they will set new standards for managing fraud, waste, and abuse.
– Mike Dover, Director, Public Sector, SAP Concur
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