This post is part of a series recognizing unique IBM Research projects and their unexpected ties to pop culture, with “30” or “1986” being the common thread. The series will run once a week, celebrating the 30th anniversary of IBM Research – Almaden in San Jose, CA.
What does Wanderlust have to do with IBM Research? This best selling book by Danielle Steel in 1986 has a title that broadly describes the human desire to explore, learn unfamiliar cultures, and tread the unknown. The premise of the book itself is to follow a woman traveling from America to China, Germany, England and North Africa.
The (business) travel bug
When it comes to wanderlust for work, IBM enterprise researchers, in partnership with Apple, created an integrated suite of mobile eTraveler apps designed to streamline business travel. Combining various data sources like airports, airlines, crowdsourced travel reviews, personal information and learned travel behaviors, these apps help business travelers accelerate trip approvals, plan flights based on prior transactions, pick a hotel based on traveler tips, keep track of travel events, get connected with colleagues, and be prepared with client intelligence, using the digital briefcase function accessible in the cloud.
Business modeling expert Guang-jie Ren, who works in IBM’s Almaden lab, leads the eTraveler project with a dozen other scientists and engineers, designing the program with a few key data points in mind*:
- Global business travel accounts for more than $1 trillion in annual spend
- Non-compliance with corporate travel policies is a top-three challenge for 57 percent of corporate travel managers surveyed by the Global Business Travel Association
- Also according to the Global Business Travel Association, travel-related mishaps lead to an average of 2.3 lost work days and $1,475 in out-of-pocket expenses and lost productivity
- Only 2 percent of corporate travel managers surveyed by Travelport indicated that smartphones are the most frequent method for business travel booking
Understanding the relationship between travel activities and business outcomes led Ren and his team to prioritize a few key differentiators for the mobile travel apps they developed in partnership with Apple: synchronization across approval processes (pre-travel), mobile-optimization (taking into account smaller screen size, software platform and embedded sensors), and personalization (using existing and trending data to cater to the needs of the individual traveler).
“The goal of the Travel Plan app [one of the suite of eTraveler apps] is to give business travelers a mobile application that is fully aware of his or her context and preferences, while still adhering to the enterprise need for policy compliance and cost optimization,” Ren said. “The app is integrated with pre-trip approval and immigration compliance tools, and advanced analytics are applied to derive trip dates and locations from the users meeting schedules or frequent destinations.”
Once on the road, business travelers can access Travel Track app to keep them aware and ahead of upcoming to-dos, status updates and major disruptions. The app also connects colleagues who attend the same meetings, fly the same routes, or stay at nearby hotels.