Jeroen Hurkmans: New economics of virtual meetings in travel management

06 December 2016
Jeroen HurkmansVice President EMEA/ APACAdvito

As the definitions of managed travel change so will the way it is managed and policed

Today, every business is (or is becoming) a digital company. This transformation demands us to reimagine technology as central to how people work and customers are serviced. It also requires travel management to strategically rethink how to engage a global workforce to collaborate effectively, innovate quickly and optimise travel spend through a combination of in-person and virtual options. Advances in virtual collaboration tools offer new ways to shift traveller behaviour, accelerate collaboration and innovate travel programmes for the future.

The new world order

We live in a digital and hyper-connected world. Physical and digital environments are intertwined, lines between business and personal lives are blurred and virtual and in-person experiences are integrated. The proliferation of mobile messaging, smart devices and the sharing economy has conditioned business travellers to expect more choices and on-demand ways to work and connect. The avid use of YouTube, Netflix, etc. has predisposed them to rely on video in business. And, social and collaborative platforms make it easier to work, share ideas and be a part of a global team while still being physically dispersed.

In fact, a distributed workforce is quickly becoming standard in business. This means agility and talent are potentially every company’s competitive advantage. Companies are leveraging technology to improve performance, extend reach and enable the best decisions with the right people as fast as possible. Doing this effectively can be the difference between winners and losers and is the reason two-thirds of CEOs indicated to IDC that digital transformation will be core to their corporate strategies by 2017.

Trickle down travel management

As the third largest expense behind labour and facilities, managed travel must now do its part to support business transformation. It demands travel managers to think broader and more unconventionally about a few fundamentals that have defined travel management.

Travel is essential to grow business, but not all business requires travel

There will always be a demand for travel. According to a GBTA report this year corporations spent $1.3 trillion on business travel (air, hotel and rental car costs only). Three-fourths of this spend is for business travel that delivers top-line value to corporations in the form of sales meetings, customer visits or the performance of a service that generates revenue. The balance, or $325 billion, however, is consumed for non-optimal purposes like internal travel for training, internal meetings or project work. Corporate travel managers are tasked with shifting spend to more meaningful travel but have few tools to assess and create desirable outcomes.

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virtual meeting credit vm-720Meeting technology has improved although the connection needs to be there too ©vm/iStock

Travellers are remote teams of workers

Travellers are not simply salaried employees on a business trip; they are also remote teams of mobile, contingent, contract and home-based workers. In 2014, a Frost and Sullivan report found nearly 25% of employees were remote or mobile workers. This figure is expected to rise as the workplace is no longer defined by 9-to-5 hours and corporate offices, but wherever, whenever and however people want to work. This has accelerated use of an on-demand workforce whereby half of procurement decision makers now manage the spend associated with contingent and outsourced labour, according to the ProcureCon Indirect Contingent Labor Force Trends Report. Corporate travel managers are tasked with realigning their programmes to adapt.

Managed travel offers strategic alternatives to collaborate

Managed travel will always be responsible for streamlining travel buying and optimising spend. But corporate travel managers are no longer limited to co-locating people in the most cost-efficient and secure manner. Today, they must support the dual purpose of moving workers to the work and moving work to the workers. Cloud and digital technology offer managed travel capabilities not previously possible. Corporate travel managers must take advantage of the new and practical opportunities these tools offer to give people options to productively work together, make decisions and service customers.

Changing definitions of managed travel

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Total collaboration management: because not all face time is created equal

Corporate travel managers must leverage advanced technology in their programmes to support the speed of business and modify spend behaviour. These tools are part of a larger, collaboration strategy to present new and flexible ways of personalising interactions and the data analytics to determine if the outcome is best achieved through in-person, video, phone or digital collaboration. This is total collaboration management.

By integrating virtual collaboration tools with travel, employees are empowered with the data, tools and support to choose the best form of collaboration for the business need - whether it is a simple voice conference, a web conference, a multi-unit video conference, travel or a hybrid of available options. This compels employees to consider the purpose, worth and outcome of a trip and leads to more responsible spending that directly impacts the bottom line.

Tenets of total collaboration management

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Next-gen experience

The new generation of virtual collaboration technologies includes audio conferencing, immersive telepresence, video conferencing and unified communications. This translates to virtual meetings where attendees can see body language and facial expressions, share and jointly review documents, include participants from different locations or record/playback meetings.

The consumerisation of technology has forced collaborative solutions to be far more user-friendly, less costly and more accessible. Collaboration solutions are available via cloud, on premises and hybrid models. And because the company is responsible only to pay for the device and services through the cloud, it is no longer considered a capital expense. Employees have access to these capabilities in conference rooms, through desktop units and through any portable device. Having choices gives travellers control over which collaborative technology to use and when so they are more productive on and off the road.

Making the shift requires travel manager collaboration

Virtual technology has advanced so significantly that the most progressive travel managers consider collaboration solutions a realistic and vital part of the portfolio of options available to travellers. But because this is more than simply implementing new technology, investigation and investment cannot happen in silos. This is an opportunity to change the organisation’s collaboration and travel culture and it is important to work with other stakeholders like HR, facilities and IT.

Immediate and practical uses

The most progressive are actively investing in modern video and web conferencing as a strategic alternative to certain types of travel and as support for the company’s talent retention strategy. This has proven to lower travel costs, improve productivity, boost employee engagement and expedite company decision making.

Not all travel or business situations make sense for virtual collaboration. Corporate travel managers can provide overarching guidelines to help employees determine when to travel vs. meet virtually. If a trip directly impacts the company’s ability to generate revenue, then travel should be encouraged. Meetings that cannot be linked directly to revenue represent the opportunities to use virtual collaboration. While there are always exceptions, these represent guiding principles. The intent is not to eliminate internal travel but to better manage the costs.

Some internal or non-optimal uses of travel spend that could potentially be replaced or augmented with virtual collaboration are

  • Initial rounds of candidate interviews
  • Project brainstorming with staff dispersed across multiple time zones and locations
  • Last minute and short trips that are not client facing
  • Staff training for new or updated technology, operational procedures or policies
  • Joint or concurrent review of documents or materials on deadline
  • Part of the company’s duty of care strategy for client meetings during natural, geopolitical or business emergencies
  • Executive briefings with top managers across continents
  • Ongoing client engagement in between trips
  • Internal project calls with employees on parental leave, working from home or those required to live remotely
  • Retired employees retained part time or contingent workers that are remotely accessible as expert resources
  • Travellers needing to participate in client and internal meetings while travelling

Digital is rapidly transforming companies and managed programmes, reshaping legacy thinking and engaging a changing and dispersed workforce. Going forward, it will not be easy to find additional savings in mature or well-managed travel programmes. The winners will be decided by those who holistically manage travel spend, collaborate with other departments and leverage virtual collaboration solutions as a strategy to optimise spend and innovate their managed programme for the future.

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