Corporate travel management and expense reporting are labor-intensive processes still performed manually at most companies. Many of these firms lack an automated system for making travel reservations and managing related expenses. Unisys Travel Alliance Services (TAS) is helping these companies reduce costs and improve efficiency, with a set of self-service applications for travel-expense management, travel-reservation management, and expense reporting. All the TAS applications depend on Oracle Enterprise Server to ensure secure, high-performance access to corporate data.
“Travel management and travel-expense reporting represent very large, yet very controllable costs,” says John Haville, managing director of Unisys TAS, part of Unisys Outsourcing, which is part of the Unisys Information Services organization. “We see tremendous opportunities in helping clients control travel costs. Oracle plays a key role in our travel- and expense-management solutions.”
In addition, Oracle is very much a part of the Unisys corporate environment. The corporation relies on the Oracle Financials suite and is eyeing Release 11 to enhance self-service accounting processes within its internal organization. “We did a litmus test of what was in the market, and we picked only best-of-breed technologies to construct our applications,” Haville says. “For database management, we selected Oracle, because we believe that Oracle is the best in its class.”
Unisys estimates there are 40,000 companies in the United States that spend $1 million or more per year on travel-management and travel-expense-management activities. To help serve these firms, Unisys maintains one of the largest outsourcing service bureaus in the world, with more than 900 employees in North America. At its Service Center in Eagan, Minnesota, for example, Unisys has 100,000 square feet of raised-floor computer space devoted to the data-processing needs of its clients.
“We use Oracle extensively,” says Steve Jolle, Oracle administrator for the Unisys Outsourcing Service Centers. “Internally, we support more than 100 databases here in our Eagan Center. We have two other worldwide centers that support many other Oracle databases.”
Unisys TAS’s business started with a vertical accounting system for travel agencies. Today, TAS offers four distinct but complementary modules to medium- and large-size corporations:
UniTracs: handles travel-agency accounting services
UniTrex: designed to automate travel-expense-management services
UniRes: simplifies travel-reservation-management services
UniView: an integrated travel-reporting and data-warehousing system
UniTrex and UniRes are prime examples of how Java and Internet technologies can reduce data-processing costs and streamline access to corporate data. UniTrex combines a software tool and outsourcing services to provide clients with an online, fully customized solution for managing all expense-processing functions—expense-report creation, audit, approval, reimbursement, and management reporting.
Clients can customize UniTrex to meet their own specific needs, supporting as much or as little of the expense-reporting process as they prefer. The results are impressive. “On average, it costs between $12 and $50 to process a single expense report,” Haville says. “Automating the expense-reporting process through network-driven applications can reduce this cost to less than $5.”
Haville attributes the savings, in part, to Web browsers that streamline workflow and increase the efficiency of data entry. “Once the Internet becomes a focal point, employees can enter expenses online rather than on a hard-copy form,” he continues. “With UniTrex, we implemented an effective set of controls and workflow processes to route information.”
Internet technologies also make it easier and less expensive to maintain the applications. “With Java, the application code lives in one central place,” explains Mark Iannaci, manager of solutions and transitions for TAS. “Software distribution is easier, especially if you have a large population of employees scattered throughout many regions. Customers can use the browser in different environments yet still apply the business rules and security constraints necessary for accurate corporate accounting.”
Most of the Oracle databases managed by Iannaci and his colleagues are Release 7.3 on UNIX systems. Unisys is considering implementing Oracle8 soon, partly for its partitioning features. “Within our data warehouses, much of our data is time-based or time-series data,” he explains. “Partitioning could help us emphasize the current, most relevant data subsets.”
Unisys is also targeting its Oracle-based travel applications at the explosive electronic-ticketing and -reservation-services markets. Industry analysts predict that the electronic-travel-reservation market in the U.S. will grow to $8.2 billion by 2002. This market opportunity motivated the development of UniRes, a Web-based solution that simplifies and shortens the travel-reservations process and significantly reduces the costs associated with making travel arrangements.
“Using PCs or laptops, travelers can utilize UniRes to make online airline, hotel, and car reservations through their corporate Internet-service provider,” Haville explains. “Travel managers can use UniRes to communicate and enforce travel policies and control the information and options travelers can access.”
UniRes also manages preferred-supplier relationships and allows managers to establish cost controls on items such as class of service, car type, and hotel-room rates. Through an outsourcing-services approach, Unisys assumes responsibility for each process, managing the function as well as the supporting technology. This enables organizations to reduce costs, focus on core competencies, and improve customer service by transferring responsibility for certain noncore business processes to Unisys.
“We’ve designed our applications to address widespread concerns about travel management, including high costs, inconvenient and cumbersome systems, data inaccuracies, and scarce resources,” says Haville. “At most firms, travel management and expense reporting are cumbersome, repetitive, labor-intensive processes. They are also nonstrategic functions. In that sense, they lend themselves well to being outsourced.