Despite operating in the UK for six years, Uber is still a contentious company to discuss. From issues surrounding the status and payment of drivers through to business traveller safety and license issues and the waves of resentment from the black cab and private hire communities, Uber is never very far from the headlines.
But last month, Uber scored a major win – a 15-month renewal of its London licence, albeit with the caveat that TFL will be watching them like a hawk. For the company and its recently appointed CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, it was vindication that the changes they had made in order to be passed ‘fit and proper’ were being recognised.
But looking more specifically, our interest lies in the impact that the service can have on those travelling for work. In particular, the issue of duty of care. Applied to business travel, this can be defined as the moral and legal obligation to ensure the safety or wellbeing of those travelling on behalf of a business – and it’s something all businesses of all sizes should be aware of.
Travel for everyone
Of course, there is little for the SME to be concerned about when it comes to duty of care if they aren’t travelling very often. However, this is increasingly not the case.
The first point to make is that the price and accessibility of travelling for business is no longer restrictive for smaller organisations. Whereas before, the thought processes of many travel management companies were focused on the enterprise flying big earners across the globe, the industry is now starting to wake up to how often smaller businesses will also have employees on the move, meeting with prospects, clients and colleagues at other sites.
Secondly, is the natural inclination to see business travel about flying and international trips. This is not the case; a flight to New York and a 40-minute trip across London to see a client has just the same duty of care obligations that need to be taken care of. And no one knows better than the small business community the power of meeting with people face to face and building that personal connection.
Filling in the blanks
But if colleagues and employees are going to form this bond by physically meeting with people, they need to travel there first. To ensure that duty of care is in place as comprehensively as can be, there needs to be as few blank spots in employee tracking as possible. It’s not a case of big brother and closely monitoring those on the go – more the ability to locate them in the event of an emergency. If an employee has a flight, then gets in a cab then arrives at their accommodation, the cab ride is the black hole. This is why, especially for budget-conscious small businesses, Uber’s licence renewal is good news.
“With business travel, the safety of employees must come before anything else”
The reason is that the new generation of ground transportation (with Uber being the biggest example) carefully tracks and monitors its drivers and vehicles, to the point where they can revoke a driver account in a matter of minutes if vehicles are not road-worthy, or outstanding issues have not been resolved. Aside from the expensive fare, jumping in a regular cab also means that those in charge of travel lose that trackability for companies that use travel technology or have an Uber for Business account.
Fewer blind spots make for a far more comprehensive duty of care plan for travel managers, which is important with several major cities in Europe and the USA seeing terrorist-related issues in recent history. It’s not just less-developed countries that need careful employee monitoring; the USA, Britain, France and Belgium are just some of the countries that have suffered major incidents in the last year or so; incidents that mean employees may need to be contacted as quickly as possible.
It’s a company’s responsibility to know when an event has occurred and where all of their travelling staff are in that moment in time. The more data points – with trackable ground transportation being just one example – that can be used to check in and communicate with business travellers, the better.
Of course, budgetary control is another major piece of the puzzle for SMEs. Far too much time is spent by many companies wading through manual processes for the likes of invoices, expenses and other financial matters. It’s important work, but if not tackled in an efficient way, work that can eat into the time SMEs need to spend on their core business focus.
Again, by using this new generation of app-based ground transportation such as Uber, companies that are using expense software can have their receipts instantly sent and populated in their expense reports – no more trying to decipher the handwritten cab receipts of yesteryear.
It always takes some time for businesses – especially slightly smaller ones, who may be lead more by individuals – to adapt to new technologies and ways of working. But with business travel, the safety of employees must come before anything else. With Uber’s renewal, tech-savvy SMEs have the ability to fill in the gaps for business travel visibility; whether it’s part of a bigger journey or a trip to a client’s office on the other side of town. Uber’s licence is a sign that they are moving in the right direction and that small business decision makers need to pay attention to the new wave of connected ground transportation.
Dafydd Llewellyn is managing director of UK SMB at SAP Concur.