Innovative Updates for the Business Travel Industry: Notes from GBTA 2011

Engineers – we’re not known as the most entertaining people. The marketing people, though, are a very clever bunch. (They made me say that.) Given that we’re getting ready for the GBTA convention in Denver, where travel technology vendors showcase innovation, someone in marketing asked if I would talk about the way our engineers are focusing our efforts, especially in the travel industry. How could I resist?

“A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, enterprise software was clunky and cumbersome. But now we have software-as-a-service and cloud computing. And it has changed everything.” Making a Star Wars reference and using the word “enterprise” in the same sentence is genuine nerd humor. See, engineers can be entertaining, right? Right?

In all seriousness, when it comes to booking corporate travel, most employees want to do the right thing. They’ll give the chosen corporate booking tool a chance, but travelers also have needs. They need flexibility and choice. They need a tool that can work in the browser, the tablet, and the smartphone, with an experience that is truly native to each device. Instead of just making their arrangements online, they need to be able to change them and share them—and have their data where they need it and when they need it. The trick has always been giving the end user what they need while still delivering the promised value and control to the buyer. It’s a balance that challenges engineers, but we like figuring these things out.

How do we meet these needs? One example is mobility. While the IT department can control the desktop, in most corporations employees own their phones. The traveler can go to the app store and download apps to manage itineraries and book travel. The travel manager can recommend an app, but if that app gets poor reviews, the traveler will go elsewhere. Striving to deliver the functionality that travelers want, with the compliance the travel managers need, we also keep in mind that Android users expect different experiences than iPhone or BlackBerry users.

We believe that all of our customers are always right—in our case, the travel manager, arranger, and traveler. And we want to deliver the kinds of enhancements that will enable each of them to do their jobs better. While the travel manager may care about features we deliver around policy, we also help end users with a team focused on speed. For example, our average air search time has dropped by 11% since February and we continue to make improvements monthly.

What’s on the horizon? We normally don’t talk about futures here, but I’ll make an exception: sites like Facebook have changed the way lists are displayed. Think about how the list of recommended friends has evolved over time. Is a list of recommended hotels similar to a list of recommended friends? We think so, and our customers will see this soon. We have been and we will continue to look at how social computing impacts the way we develop software for our users.

So while we don’t have Captain Kirk saying “energize” to move people thousands of miles in an instant, we believe that a continual focus on innovation helps improve the overall travel experience.

Read Concur Adds Mobile Air Booking To The Corporate Travel Experience to find out what other innovations we’re showcasing at GBTA.

Tomorrow we’ll spotlight the new Locate & Alert service.


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[Photo: Captain James T. Kirk, Universal Studios]

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