In 1997, Microsoft launched Sidewalk.com, a site intended to house all things local, from restaurant listings to hotels to handymen and so forth. Sidewalk.com went head to head with newspapers to offer arts and entertainment information but couldn’t compete and was eventually purchased by CitySearch. During the same era, AOL launched Digital City; however, AOL’s local endeavor integrated with each city’s content partners—newspapers and magazines—to monetize what they knew users wanted, local online content. They upped the appeal by hiring locals to blog. This new concept aimed at generating fresh local content as well as launching user-generated content such as live polling about local issues.
Why does Digital City matter, though it no longer exists? Many include the Bulletin Board System that AOL used to support Digital City’s blogging and user-content capabilities as one of the key steps along the path to modern social media. At the end of the day, Sidewalk.com and Digital City had similar intents, but only Digital City listened to the needs of their audience, and the site succeeded by integrating a new technology within the existing media framework.
Virtual card technology was developed in 2009; however, in 2013 just 18% of companies were using the technology. The widespread adoption of Virtual Account Numbers (VANs) has been surprisingly sluggish for a product with exceptional value. However, products with value come along every day, and many of them fail. Remember Apple’s MessagePad? It was the precursor to the modern PDA. But it wasn’t user-friendly enough and was possibly ahead of its time.
This idea of “ahead of its time” can often be read as “didn’t respond to consumer needs” or “didn’t integrate with existing consumer technology.” Herein lies one of the most important and, perhaps, under-discussed issues with new technology. Technology does not exist in a bubble.
It can’t revolutionize based simply on its existence.
Technology must fit into today’s systems, bringing Netflix and Hulu to your existing televisions via your current Internet access with an understandable interface.
Many companies have yet to work out the system-to-system communications required to make VANs a valuable enterprise tool. Most hype the intrinsic value of the number, focusing on the one-time use and security of virtual cards. Cornerstone Information Systems (CIS) sees the role of VANs differently. Rather than just providing the technology of virtual numbers, CIS’s role with AutoPay is to facilitate the integration, data management, and execution of virtual numbers so that they increase the overall value of your service.
Of course, VANs do reduce fraud and improve security. They also help travel managers enforce policy compliance far more effectively primarily by virtue of having a set limit (i.e., a VAN can be issued for the exact amount of an airline ticket). But these are only useful elements if they are properly integrated with a travel manager’s existing technologies. This means:
- VANs can be requested from any GDS (and in 30 currencies).
- Travel managers do no manual work in getting the numbers integrated across different systems, and the numbers are automatically associated with the booking for tracking and reconciliation.
- VANS are integrated with your reporting mechanisms, so you know if you are saving money through travel compliance and can quickly identify issues.
- Fewer expense errors with less manual reporting from employees.
When all is said and done and VANs are properly operationalized, they offer increased profitability and efficiency. But you can’t achieve or identify their benefit if they are treated only as a number.
So what will it take for VANs to hit the big time?
Last year, Apple launched Apple Music in an effort to revolutionize the music streaming industry and compete directly with powerhouse Spotify. Recent numbers from Billboard have Spotify at 30 million paid subscribers and Apple Music at 11 million. While Apple Music has met with some success, it is far from toppling Spotify, and just one year in, Apple is already re-launching its interface and working to better integrate its streaming and download platforms. Apple Music must deliver more than music in order to succeed. The company must, instead, figure out what its users need. As Macworld reports, the interface is “needlessly complicated” and the integration with Apple’s existing iTunes has been “a disaster.”
Similarly, a sixteen-digit virtual number on its own won’t provide the value that travel managers need to adopt it.
Interface and integration—fitting VANs into overall operations—are essential to ensuring virtual cards succeed.
 McCann, David. Will Virtual Cards Finally Find a Big Market in AP? CFO. May 2015.
 People, Glen. As Spotify Nears 30 Million Subscribers and Apple Music Exceeds 11 Million, Is Streaming Turning the Corner? Billoard, February 2016.