BUSINESS TRAVEL: WHAT IS HOLDING DOWN THE ECONOMY?
August 6, 2009 -- by Jeff Blanc, Business Mobility Editor -- So the worst may be behind us. Business outlooks are becoming more optimistic. It's time to hit the road and see those customers!
Well not so fast.
Last anyone checked, travel still costs money. Airfare, hotel, meals, car rentals and the mobile devices used to stay connected. CFOs don't want employees traveling and spending that money without a clearly definable return on that expense. Corporate travel policies must be in place and adhered to.
As my colleague pointed out in an article early this month (August 4, 2009 BUSINESS TRAVEL: NOT JUST MOBILE, BUT SHRINKING by Jessee Allread) business has to get back to actually calling on its customers. As they do so they are deploying an array of mobile devices and solutions to be more cost effective and more productive.
As a traveling businessperson this may come as good news but there are still barriers to being successful. With the advent of mobile computing devices it has become easy to find and book cost-effective travel. Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, and Kayak are all very useful. But what about getting that 10 day, 7 city Odyssey approved? "So I have to print out the itinerary, forward to my manager and secure sign off from five different departments?" Or "I have to manually fill out a proprietary Travel Request Form and forward for approval?" By the time the process is done the prospect has gone cold or worse signed with the competition.
Now you are on the road. Anyone who has traveled for business knows what happens next: the itinerary change.
"Mary can't meet on Monday anymore how about Wednesday?"
"Jack can still meet with you Friday but he will be in LA not San Francisco."
Finding the right flights and booking the hotel is easy. Now how do you get a quick approval for the extra cost these changes will incur? Or even worse if you make the changes and get back to the office will it be approved?
And if you are a CFO how can I keep a tab on these expenses BEFORE they occur so I can anticipate the cost and prevent actions that are against corporate policy?
Once you are back in the office it is time to report on your trip. Managers are concerned with the prospect pipeline report. Who did you see? What did you close? How close are other deals to closing? This usually gets managed in ACT or Salesforce.com or some other application. But it is also time to submit an expense report. This is usually done via another ERP solution or more likely a stand alone Excel spreadsheet that must be manually filled out and then submitted for approval.
At no point do these different functions come together in one application across multiple platforms for easy use, analysis and reporting. CFOs are frustrated because they can't quantify the return on the expense. Road warriors are frustrated because they spend more time trying to justify trips, fill out paperwork and track the paper trail than actually selling. And in the end we all lose as business travel stagnates, companies that need to send out sales people get smaller, travel related companies cut back and the whole economy flounders.