How Technology Helps Keep Road Warriors Safe in the Post 9-11 Era

Business travelers have always faced risks ranging from natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis to political unrest and thieves who steal their wallets or passports. But the 9-11 terror attack on the U.S. represented a watershed moment in the history of business travel.

“It really brought work travel dangers to the forefront,” says travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt. “From the victims in the planes and buildings, to the people stranded who were traveling for work – there was a new awareness of the different ways employees could potentially be in danger.”

In the wake of 9-11, a concept known as “duty of care” became an important foundation for corporate travel policies and procedures. Harteveldt explains: “Duty of care is what I call the corporate parent. It means making sure that employees’ safety and well-being remain at the forefront when they’re away from their home office, whether it’s travel to an adjacent town or another country.”

Harteveldt points out that technology innovation accompanied this new awareness of corporations’ responsibility for traveling employees. Over the past 17 years, mobile technology, social media, cloud, and other technologies have matured, enabling companies to stay in closer and better touch with traveling employees.

That’s where SAP Concur has stepped in. The provider of corporate travel and expense software has created cloud-based software called Concur Locate solutions, which help businesses find employees and provide support in case of emergencies.

For Mike Eberhard, president of SAP Concur, the topic of business traveler safety is personal. He says, “As Concur grew prior to the acquisition by SAP, I moved [from the United States] to Asia Pacific to build our business in that region. It was tough because I was traveling to a lot of places I had never been before and didn’t know what to expect.”

Eberhard was in Japan during the 2011 tsunami and while working in Asia he was in “the opposite time zone” from corporate headquarters so getting help could be challenging.

Now as president he says, “It’s really important for me to take care of people who are traveling on our behalf. Whether you’re in Vegas or Bangkok, the world is incredibly unpredictable and it’s not getting safer. The question is: How can companies keep track of and help their employees?”

Concur Locate was developed to address those questions. The cloud-based software is a visualization tool that shows employees’ location while on the road. Travelers use SAP Concur to log their travel expenses during their trip, so Concur Locate can use that information to pinpoint people’s location during emergencies. (It doesn’t use the data to track employees’ movements otherwise.)

Unfortunately, many companies use what Eberhard calls “legacy travel management systems” that rely on travel itineraries to find staff when incidents occur. But that only works when companies use travel agencies to book trips or travel managers keep track of itineraries. It also assumes that employees book through preferred booking channels — and stick to their planned itinerary.

Roughly half of corporate travel is booked outside corporate travel program, either using sites like Expedia.com or reserving directly on airline or hotel websites.

SAP Concur also partners with HX Global to offer an active monitoring service around the clock and support for employees in need. When disaster strikes, HX Global conducts status checks of all traveling staff and reports back on their safety. For example, Eberhard recounts that when the earthquake in Mexico City hit, he received a report in 60 minutes that told him who was safe and who was still missing.

“SAP Concur is the only system that captures employee travel bookings regardless of where they are made,” he says. SAP Concur doesn’t just rely on an itinerary – it also uses expense data, like corporate credit cards, to recognize employees’ location. Eberhard further explains that SAP Concur uses multi-channel communication to connect with people: SMS and email as well as via the SAP Concur mobile app.

SAP Concur recently extended its partnership with Uber for Business, adding an API so location data is automatically loaded into Concur Locate, making easier to find employees when needed.

It’s the thoughtful, deliberate approach to strategy and execution that impresses Harteveldt.

“Duty of care is complex,” he says. “A multinational company must manage people who speak different languages, regions with different levels of IT infrastructure, etc. So a duty of care process must be tailored to fit their employees’ and operations’ diversity. Concur can do that and keep track of people down to the last inch — not in a creepy way, but so they know where you are and can keep you safe.”

This week business travel professionals from around the world are convening in San Diego at the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) annual convention and traveler safety is sure to take center stage. Watch this space.