Although he just started using American Express Co.'s travel and entertainment (T&E) benchmarking service in July, Dan Sundwall, leader for global business shared services at $5.7 billion Owens Corning, is pretty impressed. Sundwall and his staff track and enforce employee compliance with the company's travel policies, overseeing some 6,000 T&E reimbursement reports filed each month. Although he had used other T&E tools in the past, they didn't allow him to see how his company compared to others on prices for hotels, meals, airfare and car rentals, so he could never be sure it was paying the best rates possible. "One of the things I wanted to do was take our data and leverage it back to the business," says Sundwall. "I need to be able to say, 'Did you know we are paying more for some of these segments than we should?' or 'We haven't negotiated a good rate.' We have that for the first time."

Using American Express' Web-based benchmarking solution, which the company provides free of charge to large global corporate card clients and plans to roll out to others in the future, Sundwall can compare Owens Corning's spending in a specific category, say rental car rates in Atlanta, to the average price paid by a group of peer companies or those with similar spending volumes. He already has seen in some cases that his own company has paid more for a service. That can only mean a few things: An employee may not be adhering to travel guidelines; the employee may not have booked the service through the travel office; or the company has negotiated an inferior rate. "I have the visibility in a real time way to correct behavior and get best rates for the company," Sundwall says.

Web-based benchmarking is the latest wrinkle in an already crowded market of T&E analytic tools. Benchmarking products fall into two groups: price-based benchmarking, like the American Express tool, and process-based benchmarking, which focuses on how much companies spend to process their T&E expenses.

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