What a Difference a Year Makes—Or Does It?
Last year at this time, the NDTA staff was hard at work preparing for the GovTravels Symposium that occurred February 24-26, 2020. Held just two-weeks before much of the US shut down in response to the Novel Coronavirus circulating the globe, the 2020 symposium remains a distinct memory for me. This is because it was one of my last “normal” experiences before quarantine. I sat in a room with hundreds of others for the conference, shook lots of hands, hugged a few people, talked and laughed with others, and all without a mask. Oh, the good ol’ days!
This year, though the format has changed to virtual, the NDTA staff is once again hard at work preparing for the GovTravels Symposium. The travel industry landscape has changed tremendously since last year’s event too, but remarkably much of the 2020 meeting content remains relevant today:
During his opening remarks, NDTA President and CEO, VADM William A. Brown, USN (Ret.), said, “These next two days are all about professionalism in the travel industry, both for the industry and for the government. And it’s an opportunity for all of us to communicate with each other as stakeholders, whichever sector we are in, and to provide [in the end] safe and efficient travel for government travelers. We’ll be talking about requirements, needs, capabilities, policies, trends, issues, and innovations looking forward into the future.”
William R. Mansell, Jr., Director of DTMO, described the benefit of GovTravels attendance, “Year after year we experience first-hand the value that this event brings. The relationships we build and strengthen, ideas that are exchanged and integrated, and we walked away with a better understanding of what is happening across the travel landscape.”
Keynote speaker Don Moore, Senior Vice President of Business Rental Sales and Global Corporate Accounts, Enterprise Holdings, Inc., discussed Enterprise’s work with the federal government, including disaster relief assistance. He described the company’s commitments to hiring military and the importance of treating customers and employees well. Mr. Moore also talked about his company’s use of a corporate venture group to invest in partners and companies developing new technologies and business models that may support emerging customer demands and expectations.
Developing technologies retook center stage as the main subject of the next presentation, Innovation in Government Travel in 2020 and Beyond. The panel, moderated by Tony D’Astolfo, Senior VP North American, Serko, Ltd, featured panelists Jeff Register, Deputy Director of the Defense Human Resources Activity; Marques Tibbs-Brewer, Senior Sales Director at SAP Concur; Rob Connors, Vice President Business Development at Enterprise Holdings; Steve Croft, Head of Global Online Booking Tool Partnerships at Travelport; and Nick Vournakis, President, Military & Government Markets CWTSatoTravel. Panel members provided a cross-section of opinions on how technology and innovation are changing—or were expected to change—the government travelers’ experience.
GovTravels first day wrapped up with Dr. Chelsea Bright, Data Scientist and Global Industry Leader for Public Sector, Qualtrics, who examined how to leverage big data to make better decisions and ultimately provide better customer service and enable employees.
The second day kicked off with Lisa Hershman, Chief Management Officer (CMO) of the Department of Defense (DOD), who addressed travel reform initiatives, including identifying and fixing broken processes.
Ms. Hershman’s speech was followed by The Future Traveler Experience is Now – The Defense Travel Modernization Prototype panel presentation, led by Bob Gerenser, Strategy, Plans & Operations Chief, DTMO, who provided background on Defense Travel Modernization (DTM). To modernize, DOD needed to simplify policy, increase their use of and resources for data analytics, and get rid of their custom travel system in favor of a commercial Software As A Service (SAAS) system.
Panelist Lisa Moreno, Chief, Travel Systems & Support Branch, DTMO, described how DOD successfully took an out-of-the-box product and configured it to a prototype travel system. Lance Jenkinson, Functional Product Owner Supporting DTM, Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), described the challenge of configuring the commercial product without customization. Wrapping up the panel, DTM team members Josh Dahan and Sangeeta Ryan provided a highly anticipated live demonstration of the defense travel app from the traveler’s and travel approver’s perspectives, respectively.
Bringing together stakeholders from government and industry to address challenging issues, collaborate, and learn about new trends and technology in the travel industry is the cornerstone of the GovTravels Symposium. That has not changed. And, I would add, if the 2020 content was able to stand the test of time this year of all years, there’s no telling what insights we stand to gain from the 2021 event.