The face of business travel management is a familiar one to millions of corporate travelers. But it's the wrong face. For decades, the business travel management executive has worn the guise of the corporate watchdog. The perceived effectiveness of the travel policy too often has been gauged by the length of the fangs intended to inspire "compliance." The industry has reached a point where the very nature of compliance coincides with "submission."
This development occurs at a time of extensive economic interpretation. Barely a month goes by without another survey projecting the good news of minimal growth or the slightly less disheartening headlines of minimized losses. Anything that isn't a reverse is hoped to be a trend. In an environment where the benefits of innovation are occasionally viewed with skepticism, compliance is continuously regarded as an underexploited option.
The time to change the face of travel management is long past. The watchdog look is more than passé; it's counterproductive. The barking of the travel manager has become background noise. The travel management executive should be the face of an expert facilitator, dedicated to assisting the individual traveler in fulfilling their corporate mission. The nature of that assistance may not always look like travel.
Connectivity is as much a part of the business travel process as flight and accommodation. A new concept sweeping the industry is "BYOD"—bring your own device. Contrary to the established methods of corporate control, this approach enables employees to use the handheld device (smartphone or tablet) of their choice to access the corporate network.
Any travel manager eager to become the friend and booster of the traveler would be wise to explore the potential of this concept. Benefits include the elimination of corporate expense (acquisition, maintenance and upgrades) relating to the employee's personally owned device. Travelers no longer will have to carry two devices when on the road. (This almost certainly minimizes the risk of loss or theft by nearly 50 percent.)
The real payoff comes from the familiarity and ease of working with the preferred device, as travelers develop a preference and passion for particular brands. This translates into acquired skill. According to one study (conducted by Strategy Analytics and published under the aegis of the Enterprise Mobility Foundation), companies with a BYOD mobility policy show an increase in workforce flexibility of 12 percent. More dramatic is an increase of workforce efficiency of 16 percent. It's not hard to translate either of these categories into traveler convenience, prompting a higher return on a business trip.
The best part of the "mobility policy" is that it largely remains within the IT domain. The travel management position is primarily supportive. Some communications apps will be proprietary and others off the shelf. This leaves the door open for a company's travel executive to make recommendations regarding apps that deal with boarding passes, gate changes, weather and even traffic conditions around the airport. These are in addition to popular booking tools.
The BYOD issue is offered neither as a quick-hit revenue stream nor as a new avenue of dramatic savings—though I suspect it can lead in that direction. But just as the acquisition of the specialized meetings role eventually became standard fare for travel managers, support policies of the BYOD type ally the travel manager with the traveler. This enhances a necessary travel component, and may boost compliance on a number of levels.
This is but one option in which the travel manager can become a protagonist in the eyes of the business traveler. There are others. Becoming a recognized advocate for business travelers only can increase compliance factors in the long run. And I just read in a recent Carlson Wagonlit Travel survey that compliance tops the list of primary concerns for travel managers in 2013.
Greeley Koch is executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. In his 28-year business travel industry career, he has served as a travel manager, consultant, supplier and as an ACTE board member and president.
This column originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Travel Procurement.