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Communication and information sharing is very important at all levels within the government. For decades, government agencies found that they had outgrown the traditional — though still highly effective — information-sharing methods such as conversations around the office water cooler. So how do agencies in several different localities communicate effectively and share essential information with each other, vendors, contractors, and, most importantly, their travelers? How do you obtain the knowledge from travel subject experts that is extremely valuable — the knowledge that is in people’s heads? This knowledge may be the most valuable of all because it is frequently more extensive and up-to-date and, therefore, more useful for decision-making.
Throughout the Government, there are a variety of user groups and advisory boards for Temporary Duty travel. These forums provide a means for agencies, travel managers, travelers, and vendors to share information, best practices, and collaborate on issues pertaining to travel.
One forum is the quarterly Executive Advisory Council meetings. This meeting is facilitated by GSA Program Management Office (PMO) and includes executives from several government agencies as well as executives from the ETS travel vendor. Topics of discussion include system issues, upgrades, communication plans, compliance to regulations, new initiatives, prioritization of new enhancements, system fixes, and a variety of other travel issues. All parties involved voice their issues or concerns and a plan of action is discussed and agreed upon.
Another forum is the monthly GSA User Group meetings facilitated by the GSA PMO. Agencies participate in these meetings to share deployment experiences, functional experiences, and collaborate with other agencies to discuss system issues that can be elevated as a group to the ETS vendor for resolution. System enhancements that are funded by one agency can benefit the other agencies as well. Agencies also participate in many other GSA-sponsored work groups and events. This gives them the opportunity to share best practices and network with other agencies.
The GSA PMO also facilitates a monthly ETS User Group meeting with each travel vendor and representatives from the entire Government-wide community for that ETS vendor. These meetings allow agencies to communicate directly with the vendor and GSA on system or performance issues and allows them to be involved in the decision making process for upcoming enhancements and improvements to the system. The vendor discusses new enhancements and initiatives, system releases, system refreshes, and fixes. For new regulations, it is required that the ETS vendor upgrade the system to meet the requirements. One example is the Secure Flight Program requirement that airlines collect a passenger’s full name (as it appears on government-issued ID), date of birth, gender, and Redress Number (if applicable). The ETS vendor provided an upgrade to the system to ensure that these requirements were met for all reservations made using the online booking engine.
At my agency, we have a long-term relationship with our ETS vendor that hosts and supports the travel system. We meet and collaborate with the vendor staff routinely to discuss system issues, new enhancements, testing, and problem resolution. In addition to the regular meetings, the ETS vendor hosts on-site customer meetings and educational sessions to allow for face-to-face time with the vendor staff. We also participate in ETS vendor coordinated projects in an effort to improve the ETS travel systems.
As a Shared Service Provider, my agency conducts quarterly Franchise User Group meetings to share information amongst our customer community on all areas of the travel program. Invitations are sent out prior to the meeting to our designated travel contacts, GSA PMO, and our Department agency contact asking for agenda topics. The agenda is sent in advance of the meeting. Meeting minutes are sent to all invitees covering the discussed topics. Some benefits of these meetings include:
- Providing a forum for educating our customers on new or revised regulations, system releases and enhancements, system issues, Travel Management Center (TMC) issues, etc.
- Sharing the same interests, collaborating on issues, sharing best practices, and discussing common issues
- Sharing ideas and suggestions to improve the travel program or system
- Building relationships and rapport with customer contacts without spending travel funds
- Discussing issues that may have been isolated to one agency or experienced amongst other agencies
- Having the support of GSA for vendor issues outside the control of the agency
- Having a forum established for fast communication of issues such as changes in the travel industry that impact agencies and travelers.
We also conduct travel system training and FTR training to our customers’ travelers and approving officials. Travelers and approving officials play an important role in supporting the travel program and need to be actively included in the EGov Travel communication network. On a routine basis, we send email communications to our customers on issues that affect their travelers relating to the travel process.
These meetings provide a means for information sharing, educating travelers, and including our customers in travel decisions and regulations that may impact their agency in fulfilling their mission.
As quoted by Denham Grey, “Knowledge is embodied in people gathered in communities and networks. The road to knowledge is via people, conversations, connections, and relationships. Knowledge surfaces through dialog, all knowledge is socially mediated and access to knowledge is by connecting to people that know or know who to contact”. Any tool that enhances communication can establish the relationship for people to learn from each other.
By: Julie Gilchrist
“The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.