How to make expense reports cool

October 3, 2013, 3:22 PM UTC
Concur CEO Steve Singh

FORTUNE — It’s hard to get excited about expense reports. But Steve Singh, CEO of travel and expense management software provider Concur Technologies, says the corporate travel experience is about to get much, much better. A big part of that improvement will come from tapping into some of the trends on the consumer side, says Singh. To that end, about two years ago Concur acquired TripIt, a consumer-facing app that aggregates travelers’ itineraries. In 2012, the company launched the “Perfect Trip Fund,” allocating funds to invest in startups that respond “to the needs of business travelers, the companies they work for, and the suppliers that serve them.”

Last April, Concur (CNQR) also began opening up some of its APIs (short for application programming interface, or tools used by developers to write apps). That’s meant small companies like TripLingo, which sells a mobile translation tool, can easily integrate with Concur’s offerings — sending helpful phrases to a user about to travel abroad, for example. To tap into more innovation, Concur held its first developer conference in San Francisco earlier this week. We caught up with Singh to find out how he’s trying to change his company — and the $250 billion business travel industry — and why expense reports are still so cumbersome.

FORTUNE: What led you to start making some of the more recent changes at Concur?

Singh: We had this view of what business travel ought to be. When we first introduced it, we called it “The Perfect Trip” and the reaction was that this was kind of idealistic. Our view was, Why is it that something like the perfect trip can’t be a reality? One of the early realizations was that there just wasn’t a lot of capital available for companies that wanted to drive a massive amount of innovation into corporate travel, but there was a ton of capital for consumer travel. Why? The cost to get into corporate travel was very high, you had to build out a massive sales force to sell into companies. The reason why we looked at how to work with other companies is that there’s no way we can solve all of the needs of business travelers ourselves. So we built out a platform that everyone can build on.

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How does the “consumerization” trend fit into your strategy?

What the iPhone did is drive consumerization of IT — apps that you and I could easily download and get engaged with. And that started pushing massive demand on the corporate side — people were saying, Why aren’t my corporate tools as easy to use as my consumer tools? What smart companies did is they said, We can actually build all these enterprise apps in a consumer model, so it’s as simple to use as any consumer app. You can download it on the App Store and just start using it. That’s forced every supplier to corporations to deal with the fact that the individual is now also a part of the decision process. It’s not just a corporate purchase anymore. It’s you and I saying what kind of tools we like and that influences heavily what companies buy.

I don’t look forward to filing an expense report and don’t know many people who do. How are you trying to improve your core travel and expense management software?

Our objective is to get the idea of an expense report to go away. Our view is we think we can actually populate the expense report as you take your trip. When you get off the airplane, we know you took a flight. Why don’t we take the electronic receipt from the airline and automatically link it to your expense report, which we are already doing. The exact same thing for a hotel, or even dining or taxis. You should be able to use your phone to book a cab, pay for it and then have the receipt automatically go into Concur. Today if you use our full suite of products, then about 80% to 90% of the expense report we can do for you automatically. We haven’t gotten that last 20% but that will take time, and we’ll get to that. If you compare this to 20 years ago, what a massive change.

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More and more business travelers are booking through sites like Airbnb [an external website for booking rental accommodations]. Are you partnering with them?

We open up our platforms to companies like Airbnb so you can actually have an option within Airbnb to say, send this to my Concur expense report. It depends on the use case, but the idea behind an open platform is why can’t you open this up to everybody in the world.

How far along are you in opening those APIs?

This is our first developers conference. We announced the Concur T&E Cloud about a year ago, and in the first six months we saw 50 application developers build applications on top of our platform. Today we hosted about 160 developers who are also building on top of the platform. We expect over the course of the year to see that number going to 500 or so. When you think about the number of travel apps sitting in the App Store you’re talking about 20,000 or thereabouts. Every single one of these apps has the opportunity to integrate onto our platform. Give us a few years, and what you’ll find is that’s exactly what will happen.