ABTN takes a closer look at a company that hopes to use GPS technology to keep a watchful eye over the corporate traveller.
|Blue CRM monitors global threat levels|
The UK 's Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which came into force last summer, placed at the risk of prosecution, a strengthened duty of care on senior managers. With no prosecutions and therefore no precedents, the new law has some uncertainty as to whom exactly is liable and for what, should the worst happen to an employee.
It could quite possibly apply to travel buyers. Concern has intensified in these troubled times of terrorist attacks and commercial shipping piracy about the safety of places companies might ask employees to visit.
Crisis response management (CRM) companies such as Control Risk and the Anvil Group provide employee risk assessment, consultation, protection and repatriation services, covering most areas in an employer's all important duty of care obligation to its travellers. But most worrying is the rogue corporate traveller, the individual who makes his or her own arrangements while on a business trip and in doing so fails to comply with travel policy. In the Mumbai terror attacks last November, many companies found that employees visiting the city had booked their own hotels and subsequently they had no way of tracing them. When this happens, corporate liability becomes a grey area as an employer has little control.
But aside from corporate manslaughter there is a deeper concern purely for safety.
It was during those Mumbai atrocities that Blue CRM's Crisis Response Centre (CRC), a small UK-based operation, was put to its first real test. According to a spokesperson for Blue CRM, the CRC is unique in that it is able to track a client's GPS-enabled mobile phone using technology similar to that employed by the military. Working 24 hours a day in three shifts, a 12-strong multilingual crisis response team in Reading, near London, can pinpoint a client's position to within 45cm of wherever they are in the world.
But Blue CRM does not track mobile phones in a clandestine, Big Brother fashion. An application on the mobile phone uses the inbuilt GPS to locate itself and then sends a message to the CRC. Effectively the traveller periodically contacts Blue CRM with a location, rather than being ‘tracked' in any worrying sense of the word. The application can also be turned off.
The ability to track is married to Blue CRM's primary role as a risk assessment company. When a client's signal is picked up from a high risk country, as determined by Blue CRM's own intelligence department, it is flagged up to the CRC and the client's tracking is intensified automatically. For example when an oil industry employee is detected in Iraq the CRC sends a signal to the client's mobile phone telling it to send its location once every minute. In Aberdeen the frequency would be far less at one signal every half hour.
Each of the four CRC operators has access to a bank of multiple computer screens, allowing them to monitor news channels such as the BBC world service. When an incident occurs, an operator can use "geo-fencing" to highlight safe areas on a map of the world. Any client that goes outside that geo-fence is flagged up and notified immediately by text or phone call.
The mobile application, available only on GPS-enabled devices such as BlackBerry smartphones, features a ‘panic button'. The button opens a voice channel directly to the CRC in the UK via the mobile internet rather than the normal mobile phone networks which may be congested or unavailable. In extreme situations a team from Blue CRM's security partner Alfa Evac can evacuate or repatriate a client from anywhere in the world.
Blue CRM's operation, formed two years ago, is made up of ten people not including the 12-strong CRC. Its military connections go beyond the technology employed. Richard Williams, one of three major shareholders, was a commanding officer of the 22nd SAS Regiment and among the first British military to engage the Afghan Taliban in 2001. Backed by Roger Davis, former head of Barclays UK, Mr Williams bought into Blue CRM a year and a half ago, and has spent the time since then upgrading the tracking technology.
Blue CRM already works with "high net worth" individuals involved in the oil industry, but hopes to attract corporate accounts from companies keen to provide an extra level of security for their employees in low to medium risk countries such as South Africa, India and Nigeria.
"We do have a lot of very frequent, high level and high risk individuals, but the corporate travel market is very new to us in that sense," Blue CRM's spokesperson said.
"That is the market where we feel we can provide the most benefit, because the individuals that travel abroad less frequently are not as familiar with the local environment, they may not know the language or the first thing to do in the event of a crisis."
Blue CRM's service was showcased at this year's Business Travel Show in London and the Institute of Travel and Meetings (ITM) Liverpool conference in March. Blue CRM recently became a member of the ITM, demonstrating a desire to attract corporate travel customers through relationships with other suppliers and buyers.
Blue CRM's spokesperson explained: "We are part of an organisation that a lot of the corporate travel buyers work with very closely, and we are part of the closely knit family."
"We're keen to work with travel management companies. Because they're booking the tickets, travel and hotels, all that information can be fed directly to us via a link and used to populate our database to know where the individual is travelling to."
Terrorist attacks have highlighted the need for corporates to be able to monitor where exactly their employees are in such times of emergency, demonstrating the worth of the TMCs to manage itineraries. But the TMCs and other crisis response management companies can only do so much.
Without adequate technology, current solutions can only monitor where a traveller should be, based on their itinerary. In other words, should mobile phone networks become congested or landlines severed, it's little more than assumption and guess work. In Mumbai, Blue CRM was able accurately to locate all its clients within a matter of minutes and issue them with information.