by Guang-Jie Ren, PhD, Research Staff Member, Cloud & Mobile Enterprise Research, IBM Almaden Lab
I still remember my first business trip to
the United States, while still a PhD student in the UK. It was to present a
research paper at the Frontiers in Service Conference in San Francisco, back in
October of 2007. It turned out that writing and publishing a paper about
service transformation in industrial companies was not the only hard part.
Coordinating the trip was also a major challenge.
A lot of my time and energy was spent
applying for scholarships to cover the travel budget; appearing in the embassy
to obtain a business visa; searching online for the least expensive flights and
hotels; planning in advance the best route from one place to another; staring
at the airports’ blue screens for flight status and gate number; and keeping
all the receipts that were later stacked and stapled on the expense report.
Every step of way was manual and every piece of information on paper.
Thanks to the release of the first
generation iPhone that year, it became easier and easier for leisure travelers to
make reservations, check in flights and get directions, anywhere anytime, with
just a few taps on mobile devices. But business travelers have largely been
The reality is enterprises have been slow
to adapt to making the process of business travel mobile and connected. That’s
why my team has been working on Project eTraveler, and two apps that tackle all
those extras, from meeting schedules to expense reports.
Many Processes Trip Up Today’s Business Traveler
Much of the mobile experience is a
retrofit of web applications. Most business travel mobile apps have a similar look and feel and functionalities as their counterparts on the web; they
neglect smaller screen sizes and fail to take advantage of capabilities unique to mobile devices, including software platform and embedded sensors. The user interface and interaction also lacks design intuition, forcing system workflows and constraints onto user behaviors rather than the other way around.
Consequently, mobile adoption and engagement is low among business travelers. So travel apps are missing opportunities to motivate and empower end users for long-lasting business benefits.
And business travel processes and tools
are disjointed. For a typical business trip, the traveler starts with an
internal pre-trip approval app to justify the business reason and provide cost
estimate. They then make reservations through an online booking tool or travel
management agency. Meanwhile, they must also assess their immigration
compliance in the case of a cross-border trip. Once that’s settled, they’ll use
a calendar or third-party app for itinerary management. And it all finally goes
through yet another process for expense reimbursement.
These tools are not integrated, and
information is not shared or synchronized, both internally or with the external
ecosystem. A lot of time is wasted in re-typing or carrying over the same
information from one tool to another. Equally important, the isolated processes
make it difficult and time-consuming for corporate travel program managers, who
manage these processes for a business, to get visibility at both traveler and
Business travel systems also don’t know
you as an individual. They offer the same list of air, hotel and car rental
options to everyone, regardless of your job role, business needs, traveler
profile, travel history, or if you’re traveling alone or in a group, let alone any
reasonable personal preferences and family constraints. They provide you with
information that is often entirely out of context, from alerts about a union
strike in France when Germany is the only country on your itinerary, to
notifications about flight delay or gate change that are received hours after
you board the plane. And they make very few if any recommendations in areas
where advice is most needed, from ground transportation in an unfamiliar place,
to restaurant choices for a client dinner.
Existing business travel processes and
tools are focused entirely on the travel side of the equation. And yet the
whole purpose of any business trip is to achieve business outcomes, such as
promoting products, closing deals, evaluating ideas, learning skills, and so
on. There is usually no connection between business and travel, leaving it to
business travelers to figure out how to make travel arrangements that best
serve business needs; how to prepare for business meetings while on the go; and
how to coordinate with others in order to maximize collaboration. Meanwhile,
very little effort is in place to understand the relationship between travel
activities and business outcomes, and establish the return on investment of
business travel. As a consequence, travel spending is the primary concern,
making spending control the only tool that’s widely used at the enterprise
level, often at the expense of business outcomes.
Class Connection With New Apps
Recognizing these limitations, about a
year ago we started a research project code-named eTraveler with colleagues
from IBM Corporate Travel Program and IBM Travel Industry Units. In our vision,
business travel tools on mobile platforms would no longer fly second-class. They
should be built and run on the mobile-first principle, using intuitive design
and mobile capabilities for the best possible user experience. We want the
business travel processes transparent and integrated so data is shared without
duplication or contradiction. And also make business travel services personal,
and cater to explicit and implicit needs of individual business travelers --
being fully aware of their contexts and preferences, while still adhering to
the enterprise’s need for policy compliance and cost optimization. Business
trips should no longer just focus on travel cost, when they are really
carefully organized business activities meant to maximize ROI.
It was with this idea that we conceived,
designed and developed the Travel Plan and Travel Track apps as part of the
IBM-Apple Partnership on Mobile Enterprise. Available on iPhone, Travel Plan lets
business travelers plan trips in a simple, intuitive manner. It derives trip
dates and locations from the user’s meeting schedules or frequent destinations,
rather than asking the user to fill in the blanks from scratch. In addition,
the app is integrated with pre-trip approval and immigration compliance tools, saving
the extra time and effort to go through those processes. Advanced analytics is also applied to provide
trip cost estimate based on historical and real-time data, and make reservation
recommendations that take into account company policies, personal preferences
and past choices.
|Screenshot of Travel Plan app|
After a trip is booked, Travel Track keeps
business travelers informed on the iPhone and Apple Watch. It provides trip
itineraries, upcoming to-dos, status updates and major disruptions, such as
traffic jams or flight delays. And it offers additional meeting intelligence,
pulling data from internal and external sources about meeting participants and their
affiliated organizations. The app also connects colleagues who attend the same
meeting, fly on the same route, or stay in nearby hotels, and facilitates group
coordination and networking. It recommends to first-time visitors local
services, such as ground transportation options and restaurant choices, and
encourages users to review their travel experiences, which can be used by
corporate travel program managers to detect service issues and evaluate
|Screenshot of Travel Track app|
Plan and Travel Track enterprise apps are the first milestone of our eTraveler
project, and IBM is starting to introduce them to travel-intensive clients and
partners. Once implemented, the apps are
available for download from an enterprise’s own app store, to ensure security
protection and policy compliance. Meanwhile, our research team continues to work
on other components of the business travel ecosystem, including pre-trip
approval, immigration compliance, meeting briefcase, travel kit, corporate kit,
and travel program analytics. The same set of principles is applied, from
mobile-first and seamless integration to personalization and business centricity.
And our vision remains the same, that is, to strike a healthy balance between
compelling, engaging and empowering experience for business travelers, and
travel spending, policy compliance and business outcomes for enterprises.
Labels: apple, ibm research almaden, mobile application development, travel and transportation