Flying by the seat of their pants
UK residents conducted 6.8 million trips abroad for business in 2014.
Business travel – a fact of life for many organisations
In the modern day workplace which is highly influenced by globalisation and expansion, there are numerous strategic and/or operational reasons why personnel have to travel for business. Consequently, it has become very common for employees to travel as part of their job.
United Kingdom residents, for example, conducted 6.8 million trips abroad for business in 2014. These can range from a company director attending a board meeting, to a low-level employee travelling to perform a service.
Why focus on travel security?
There are several factors driving contemporary travel risk management. These include organisations ensuring that they are complying with duty of care principles, avoiding criminal liability, ensuring business continuity, preventing reputational damage and demonstrating positive corporate social responsibly. More specifically, there are several types of risk related to business travel, including the risk to personnel, risk to reputation, risk to data/equipment, legal risk, financial risk, and risk to productivity/trip effectiveness. The most important of these risks is the health, safety and security risk to personnel.
Research and developments
Due to the ever increasing scrutiny of failures by the media, legal entities and the government, when studying for a master’s degree at Loughborough University, I embarked on a dissertation project to determine the maturity of contemporary organisations’ travel security risk management practices. In order to evaluate this, the research project, entitled ‘Flying by the Seat of their Pants’ methodically analysed core components of the practice: stakeholder identification and ownership, risk assessment and promulgation, policies and procedures and evaluation.
The research methodology comprised a literature review and empirical research based on a mixed methods approach. Quantitative data was produced using an online questionnaire, distributed to 240 recognised security and human resource professionals as well as business leaders, by various highly regarded institutes and associations. Qualitative data was produced from semi-structured interviews with the representatives responsible for the practice employed in three large multi-national organisations.
In short – what did the research highlight?
The research indicated that there is a significant gap in the literature on travel security management, and that what is available is predominantly provided by practitioners linked to commercial enterprises in the context of duty of care and/or corporate social responsibility.
The empirical findings suggested that, in strategic terms, responsibility for security whilst travelling on business was considered to be shared (50/50) between the traveller and the organisation. Stakeholder involvement in the practice was very much dependent on the contextual influence of an organisation’s size, industry and operating location. Varied business departments were reported to manage the function, and commonly with no ownership of the function.
It was generally considered that organisations provided poor or only adequate planning and protection for travelling personnel.
Critical components of the practice were not being implemented, with survey respondents highlighting their organisations’ failure to employ the following measures:
- Travel security policy and associated procedures (34%)
- Pre-trip advisory or briefing (33%)
- Security specific training (58%)
- Compulsory pre-trip authorisation procedure (29%)
- Active traveller tracking (55%)
- Dynamic security updates (35%).
So where does this leave us?
The research project goes a long way to demonstrating that this important business function is still in its infancy in terms of development. The findings suggest that the practice needs to be addressed strategically, with a person accountable assigned, preferably from a security department, to design and implement a proactive and robust travel security risk management programme.
The research highlighted the immediate market need for a business travel security standard, in order to develop the generally informal, ad hoc and somewhat reactive practice many organisations are currently adopting, and developing this to being a more formal, structured and proactive risk management practice.
The author, as a representative of the Security Institute, proposed these findings to the British Standards Institute and work is currently underway to bring to the market a new travel safety and security specific standard which will enable organisations of all sizes (especially those without dedicated security departments) to effectively manage the function.
Gian-Rico Luzzi MSyI
Security Institute, Standards Special Interest Group