Virtual collaboration up-ends travel management

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By Lesley O’Bryan,  Senior Vice President

Digital is no longer an emerging trend

If your company is like most, you have seen a heightened focus on leveraging mobile, social, analytics and cloud to transform your organization into a digital business. These technologies have spurred new levels of profitability and market differentiation. Some companies use these tools to improve internal processes. While other, more forward-thinking companies, use them as a driving force for growth. Regardless of your company’s approach, one fundamental applies – the way work gets done has changed dramatically, and travel programs must adapt.

Modernized view of travel management

Adapting requires a more holistic view of your program and a forward-looking definition of travel management. It requires travel managers and procurement to focus on delivering value beyond cost savings to position travel as more strategic to the goals of the business. It requires you to think about your travel program as a collaboration platform. This means building your travel program into a platform that reshapes and optimizes how employees communicate, engage and get work done. Adapting also demands that you redefine travel management as total collaboration management. This means including both face-to-face travel and virtual collaboration options in your program so potential travelers choose the best choice for the business need.

Why reconsider virtual collaboration?

Virtual collaboration is people meeting virtually for day-to-day business, instead of face to face. Since launching about 20 years ago, it has largely failed to meet expectations. Early adopters of video conferencing were disillusioned with the results. Earlier versions were expensive, required special equipment and dedicated rooms and offered a choppy and disconnected user experience. Many tools were poorly managed and failed to deliver significant travel savings.

Today, we see a much different situation.

Evolved technology. Today’s collaborative technology offers faster, more reliable experiences. There is a new generation of high-quality video-conferencing equipment called MCS, or multipurpose conference systems that doesn’t require dedicated rooms. And now, different systems can interact through the cloud so products connect more easily across mobile, tablet, personal computer and conferencing platforms.

Lower pricing. Prices have fallen dramatically and some entry level products are available for free. Now companies of all sizes and budgets can afford some type of collaborative technology at a fraction of the price.

Video collaboration is the norm. “Meeting” by video has become the norm – in both our personal and professional lives – thanks to apps and camera features like Facetime, Skype and Google Hangouts. At an enterprise level, 81% of businesses already have access to video-conferencing, telepresence or both types of collaborative systems. (source: Advito).

What’s in it for your travel program?

Total collaboration management offers you a new, rich and strategic layer to your travel program to support the changing shape of business and managed travel.

  • Contribute to your company’s advantage. A company’s competitive edge is its talent. Many companies incorporate different types of work options (e.g., telecommuting, short-term assignments) as a way to attract top talent and the next generation of workers. Virtual collaboration connects geographically dispersed talent, enables them to work smarter and speeds decision making.
  • Offset travel costs. More travel is not always possible especially with costs continuing to rise and suppliers using dynamic (hotel) and alternative (air) pricing. Virtual collaboration leverages the benefits of face-to-face communications without the travel costs by allowing travel managers to drive travel savings or shift travel spend to higher-value trips.
  • Manage risk to keep business moving forward. Global expansion means increased travel to high risk areas threatened by border issues, political unrest, terrorist attacks and medical crises. Virtual collaboration serves as an extension of your risk management plan and duty of care responsibilities to keep travelers safe.
  • Improve work-life balance. The lines between work and personal time have blurred. Traveling and working off-hours and remotely increases stress for employees. These costs quickly stack up. Virtual collaboration allows employees to be productive even when they can’t meet face-to-face with colleagues, customers or partners.
  • Look for low-hanging fruit. There are certain types of travel that are more conducive to virtual collaboration. These include: internal meetings, project work among dispersed individuals and groups of employees; non-essential, last minute travel; travel to high risk areas; captive markets that command the highest travel costs or dynamic pricing and single and two-day trips.

Virtual collaboration can never completely replace the human touch, particularly for client relationships. However, it offers the potential for tremendous rewards when strategically integrated into your travel program as part of a total collaboration management strategy. Your program has to adapt.

All you need is a plan and 100 days. We’ll show you how in our next blog post.

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