It seems like every day I hear about a new travel technology, a new pitch from a travel start-up, or a tale of a future where traditional travel-related technology (e.g., expense reporting tools, online booking tools, TMCs) is replaced by a “new-wave,” “Google-ized,” “Big Data,” and/or “artificial intelligence” solution. These new travel technologies are designed to save travelers money and make them more productive, informed, smart, happy and mobile. But quite often, they violate current corporate travel policy. Even I sometimes ignore my company’s policy by using a car service app on my iPhone (my guilty pleasure).
So what should your company do? Should you “love it” and let your employees find the best technologies in the marketplace? Or should you “leave it” and lay down the law, knowing that enforcing consistency among technologies (as well as related policies, processes and preferred vendors) will be best in the long run?
There’s no single right answer for everyone, but here are some basic considerations.
If you’re part of a very small company (i.e., fewer than 20 employees, less than $150,000 in annual travel spending, and no employee with the word “travel” in their title), then let technology happen. Deploy a simple expense-reporting tool—you still need something to gather the expense data and provide the accountants with the numbers—but let people have some fun exploring additional travel-related technologies for their business travel. Just make sure their travel expenses are legitimate and not excessive.
The rest of us need to decide if our travel and expense program is going to be open, closed or somewhere in between. If it’s closed, then every employee should be using company-approved processes, policies and technologies (both systems and applications). No using Airbnb for $100/night rooms or “Ubering” their next cab. You want controls and consistency. You want to leverage your spending and support your preferred vendors. Your policies and communications to employees should support that.
An open system might provide core services to employees—an online booking tool, an expense reimbursement tool, a travel management company, a corporate card, status with certain preferred vendors—but if they choose a different path, so be it. If the expenses are legitimate and the right amount is being reimbursed and entered in the accounting systems, all will be OK.
So, with all these new travel technologies, should you love them or leave them? Here’s what I think:
Core travel technologies (i.e., expense systems) should be just that – core.And required. They manage your core processes (booking travel and reimbursing travel). The leading systems will eventually integrate many of the bells and whistles your employees crave.
Let employees use some non-core applications. I’ve used some great apps to help me speak Portuguese when visiting Brazil, tell me if my flight is on time, help me choose my seat on the plane, and tell me who’ll be sitting next to me. None of these technologies hurts anyone, but if our travelers don’t use our preferred vendors, corporate cards, or expense tools, they do hurt the company. Set clear guidelines around this to achieve a happy medium.
If you can’t beat them, join them... and lead them! There’s nothing wrong with approving employee use of websites or apps that you don’t have to implement, pay for, or own (although they should be monitored). This way you can turn the screws on the important things, but still be helpful, fun, flexible and informative when it comes to using technology to enhance your employees’ business-travel experiences.
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