Government Travel: From Old School to the New “Mobile & Connected” School

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» Posted by on Nov 25, 2014 in Electronic Travel Systems | 0 comments

In a very short time (years, not decades), government travel has gone from old school where travelers had to call their Travel Management Center (TMC) to book every reservation to working with first-generation on-line booking tools that may or may not have been a real time connection. These tools were not always user friendly but they lowered the agencies overall travel cost. From there we progressed to on-line booking engines designed to mimic the experience travelers had when booking personal trips on leisure web sites. These tools were developed to be in compliance with the Presidents E-Gov Initiatives to reengineer the federal government’s travel process to realize significant cost savings and improve employee productivity. E-Gov Travel Services (ETS) are designed to provide a comprehensive end-to-end service to plan, book, track, approve, and request reimbursement for travel services all in one easy to use system.

For the most part, our E-Gov Travel vendor provided what was promised. The system allows travelers to complete their travel authorization and book their reservations all at the same time. Policies and procedures are built into the system that ensures compliance with the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) and individual agency policies. These built in features allow the government traveler to complete their travel authorization without going to another web site to look up per diem rates or city pair fares. They receive pop up or warnings messages when they are outside of FTR or agency policies and can instantly go back and change their authorization or reservations to be in compliance or justify the need to deviate from policy. Today’s systems allow the traveler to return from their trip, log back into the same authorization and complete a voucher for reimbursement. If they completed their authorization to accurately reflect the authorized trip, most of the necessary information is copied to the voucher and the traveler only needs to update a few line items with the actual expense cost and they are ready to submit their voucher for reimbursement. Our current system allows the FTR and agency required receipts or documentation to be attached so that that it is readily available for the approving official to review and for post payment auditing. The system even maintains all documentation for the required retention period. With all that our current systems provide our government travelers, how can we say that we are still old school?

In today’s technology savvy world, everyone knows something about the travel industry. The Internet and mobile technology have vastly increased the public availability of travel information.  Web sites provide unprecedented transparency into fares and hotel rates. Smartphones serve up travel knowledge that arguably competes with what travel agents can see on their desktop computers and from their Global Distribution Systems (GDS). When all this is put in the hands of a talented, motivated, and mobile workforce with access to more and increasingly sophisticated technology, our government travelers don’t want to be tied to a “system” to meet their business travel needs. These wily travelers have figured out how they could use their personal smartphones loaded with leisure travel mobile apps to increase their productivity while on business trips. Instead of logging into a system to change their reservations to meet a new meeting deadline, they could access their itinerary right on their phone, update their reservation and be on their way. Technology companies, both inside and outside the travel industry, recognized this area of opportunity and have started to build applications that support corporate travel policies and booking processes, but what about government travel? Yes, even government travel is moving towards the new mobile connected school. GSA recently introduced the Per Diem Mobile App that allows travelers to look up Federal government per diem rates by city/state and ZIP code in locations throughout the United States and its territories. Some government agencies are developing apps that link their travelers to their internal agencies policies and procedures. But, are we there yet?

As we move towards ETS 2, travel managers must drive enhanced programs for the mobile employee. Our focus should be on not only keeping compliance to the on-line booking tools, but also have flexible and adjustable travel policies to support the road warrior. We should be looking for mobile booking tools that support the government travel programs.  ETS 2 will give us the opportunity to work with our selected vendors to develop smartphone applications that access the travel program, policies, and information.  As travel managers, we must lead the charge and be the first to say that the old school way of operating the travel program is over. Travel managers can help focus our agencies on getting in front of what the travelers have already embraced – using smartphone technology and other virtual collaboration tools to make themselves more productive. By becoming the knowledge expert on mobility and virtual collaboration we’ll find ways we can actually increase productivity and reduce our travel cost.

By: Carole Byrd

Disclaimer: The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.  Use of this equipment is consistent with the agency’s policy governing limited personal use.

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