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Managing staff travel

Dean Forbes

Dean Forbes, CEO of KDS, a global provider of corporate travel solutions, explains that while the bring your own device (BYOD) era is liberating for employees and presents opportunity for companies, managers need to understand the challenges and mitigate the risks. This challenge is at both a departmental and strategic level, he says, and is especially apparent in the case of business travel

Employees are increasingly coming to work with their own smartphones, tablets and laptops – a trend often referred to as “Bring Your Own Device”. Why are employees seeking such autonomy and what challenges does this pose to managers at the departmental and strategic level? In particular, how does BYOD affect an employers’ ability to ensure their duty of care over staff, or control costs?

Our tools shape our thinking. In previous centuries, our tools and lives were much the same as our grandparents’. Accelerating technological development has ended such generational continuity, and we are now in a world where major shifts in personal technology and social relations are separated by years not decades. We are not yet even 10 years into the era of smartphones and social networks and already it is hard to imagine life without them.

For business, the challenge is not only to leverage the latest technologies to better compete, but also to understand, accommodate and support the new generations of employees. Sometimes referred to as Generation Y or Millennials, the new generation entering today’s workforce brings expectations shaped by the tools and capabilities of modern life. Any question can be Googled, friends and colleagues can be networked instantly, for any task there is an app. For Millennials, immediacy is normal. A recent Inc.com article pronounced them the “most radically different generation since the industrial revolution. This Generation Y has arguably become the smartest, most opinionated, and globally astute group of consumers”.

One business reaction to this shifting landscape has been to implement a BYOD policy. To employees with highly capable smartphones or laptops already configured and personalised, being issued with a company device is a distraction and a nuisance. It slows them down. This creates huge challenges for IT departments, who have to support a multitude of unsecured devices carrying sensitive data. But the ramifications of BYOD ripple through the whole organisation. Nowhere is this a more vexing challenge than in business travel, and not just because of the risk of business-critical devices being forgotten in transit.

Trying to find the right balance of freedom and control for hyper-connected and highly autonomous new employees is a tough task for any manager. Most corporates have invested in a managed travel program, crafting a policy to reflect the company’s values and goals. They have negotiated deals with preferred suppliers and provided a corporate application for bookings and making associated expense claims. However Millennials are used to booking personal travel on easy-to-use consumer apps, so – rather than use clunky corporate applications – they prefer to book their travel outside the corporate environment.

The impacts of what is sometimes called “open booking” include:

• Duty of care – If you don’t know where they are, you can’t help them.
• Irresponsible spend – No way to know if travellers are over-spending, or measure the loss.
• Loss of preferred supplier deals – Negotiated rates are renewed based on volume. “Use it or lose it”.

Naturally, technology offers solutions as well as problems. The latest business travel and expense (T&E) applications bridge the gap between corporate/management concerns and employee expectations. By emulating consumer applications, they can woo employees back into the company fold.

The most radical of these solutions have stripped down travel booking to its essence. Travellers input when and where their business meeting is (e.g. using a link in Outlook), and within seconds, the application proposes a bookable, cohesive, policy-compliant set of services (taxi, flight, hotel, etc.) presented as a “door-to-door” timeline to the meeting. Some even pre-build an expense report to submit on return. The traveller saves hours compared to the usual process of researching and booking individual elements of their trip. And because these apps estimate costs for transfers, meals and other extras, managers can understand and make approval decisions based on the predicted total cost of an entire trip. True demand management of this kind can lead to significant savings.

Designed primarily for tablets and smartphones, these applications are a good example of business adaptation to Generation Y employees. The employee gets their consumer-level experience, while companies can track employee movement, and promote preferred suppliers. Meanwhile this new insight into the total “door to door” cost of travel empowers senior management to better craft policy and to control costs.

To hire and retain the brightest, expectations need to be met in both directions. This means rethinking both management style and corporate tools. Although this digitally savvy generation expects better tools and processes, many managers agree they are often more willing to adapt to corporate policy than previous generations. But the pace of technological change is increasing and corporations need to keep up. After all, soon we will be hiring Generation Z, an even more demanding crowd.

For more on the topic, download the KDS white paper “Open Booking v Door to Door.”

Dean Forbes, CEO of KDS, a global provider of corporate travel solutions

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