by By Phil J. Tedeschi, CCTE | February 01, 2009

Advancements in technology continue to shape the way we travel and the way travel is managed. And just as policy compliance contributes to bottom-line savings, noncompliance can undermine the travel manager's efforts and render the best negotiated agreements ineffective. Now, however, we can use technology to shape the way travel expenses are monitored and controlled by confronting policy offenders before their trips are taken.

Automated policy management (APM) software, now available from many travel management companies, is software programmed to identify when travelers bend or break the rules; it then sends out e-mail messages to policy offenders almost immediately following confirmation of reservations. The software can warn offenders to be more careful when spending the company's money and can require that they change their intended reservations to comply with policy.

Timeliness is the key to APM software. Whereas in the past, policy offenders often weren't caught until the monthly travel reports came out, long after the trip took place, they can now be identified and dealt with within 24 hours of making their reservations. This permits changes to be made on all but the very last-minute trips.

Although the message generated is from an automated system, the "from" box can be populated with the e-mail address of the travel manager, traveler's boss, CFO or even the company president. Employees who receive the e-mail often don't know it's an automated message -- just that they were caught breaking the rules.

Instant results
Although it smacks of Big Brother, APM gets results. At one major corporation, at least 80 percent of offenders who responded to the automated e-mail said they weren't aware of the company's position with regard to their choices, and that they had already changed or would change their plans immediately to be compliant.

The tool is extremely effective at guiding travelers to the right carrier, hotel or rental car company, enabling the firm to achieve targeted preferred supplier goals and racking up real and measurable savings. And, since the script of the e-mail can be drafted by management, the message can be as hard or soft as the company desires.

The tool is more than just an electronic watchdog. It can be used to communicate a variety of messages aimed at a very narrow target audience. One company used APM to alert travelers entering Canada from the United States when the passport requirements changed. Another firm used it to pinpoint employees who were not using the company's preferred card. The e-mail asked them to change their method of payment and, if necessary, to apply for the corporate card.

Still another company used the software to send a message to last-minute bookers requesting an explanation as to why they did not plan at least seven days in advance or obtain authorization for the late booking. APM also can be used to send "atta boy" messages when travelers make good choices in selecting contracted carriers, smaller rental cars or preferred hotels.

Gentle nudges
For companies that do not mandate online booking, APM provides another way to boost adoption. Travelers who book a simple domestic trip by calling a live agent can be sent an automated reminder that they could have used the online tool, noting ways it benefits the company and the employee.

Furthermore, if the company fears that travel agents are being "used" by admins and travelers trying to skirt policy, the automated messaging can reinforce policy effectively without putting agents in a precarious position between the company and its employees.

Given that policy compliance is critical to travel cost reduction, automated policy management software is a must for every travel manager's toolbox.