Traffic is notoriously bad in China, so when a prototype was recently shown of a very tall bus that could straddle vehicles on congested roadways and glide over them with ease, it captured worldwide attention.
No one knows when the Transit Elevated Bus will become a reality in China. What is real is daily gridlock, sometimes even on a massive 50-lane highway. The snarls and waiting can be a regular nightmare for professionals who need to get from their offices to appointments or to the airport. Driving their own cars is not their first choice. And getting a taxi, which should take minutes, can take hours because of intense competition for cabs. In smaller cities, cabs aren’t available at all.
Now, China’s largest ride-hailing service, Didi Chuxing (or DiDi for short), together with Microsoft, is helping to ease those woes for business customers with an add-in for Microsoft Outlook. With a click of their mouse or a touch on their Outlook email screen, people can arrange for business transportation simply, quickly and without having to deal with payments and paperwork for reimbursements. And it also saves companies time and money.
The DiDi Enterprise add-in for Outlook is available in China to Outlook 2016, Outlook 2013 and Outlook on the web users with Office 365, Exchange 2016 or Exchange 2013 mailboxes. Customers will also require a DiDi Enterprise account to start using the add-in, which is available for download from the Office Store.
Like other Outlook add-ins in the U.S., such as email scheduler Boomerang, and customer service software Zendesk, the add-in resides in the Outlook command bar once it is downloaded by the employee after being approved for use by the employee’s company.
“Office 365 is the leading and open platform supported by all the mainstream operating systems and devices, and the add-in is easy to integrate,” says Derek Du, vice president of Didi Chuxing and general manager of DiDi Enterprise. The add-in was launched earlier this month in China and is available as a free download through the Office Store.
In China, DiDi handled a whopping 16 million consumer rides on a daily basis in the second quarter of 2016, and has 300 million active users of its services, which also include carpools and buses. The company operates in 400 cities.
DiDi Enterprise itself was launched a year ago, and since then has served more than 30,000 active corporate customers and provided transportation solutions for more than 5 million employees, Du says.
The company, which recently reached a deal to acquire Uber’s China operations, is looking to eventually expand to other countries as well.
“Together with Microsoft, DiDi Enterprise will be able to reach a vast global customer base,” Du says. Worldwide, there are more than 70 million monthly active commercial users of Office 365.
For business users in China, the DiDi Enterprise add-in for Outlook offers big benefits, not only because of the stress of dealing with traffic, but also because company reimbursement to employees for expenses is handled differently than in the United States.
In the U.S., for example, many companies give their employees company credit cards to pay for items like cab fare. Business credit cards also can be used to pay for rides from ride-sharing services in the U.S.
But there is not a company credit card culture in China. And taxi drivers there don’t accept credit cards for payment, only cash. It’s up to an employee to hire a taxi, pay cash to the taxi driver, get a printed receipt from the driver, then put in the paperwork in for reimbursement from the company.
The DiDi Enterprise add-in for Outlook does away with the paperwork for the employee, who doesn’t have to worry about handling any of that, or about out-of-pocket costs. The driver’s only job is to drive, not handle cash or paperwork.
When an employee needs to arrange a ride, he or she can simply access the add-in for Outlook, log in and set up a time for a ride. The billing is done directly by DiDi with the company.
Employees, once authorized in advance by their companies to use DiDi, can choose the kind of car they need from within the add-in based what they’ve been approved for — economy, standard or luxury.
The add-in is also intelligent enough to recognize key words in email subject lines or the body of emails, such as “meeting” or “airport,” and issues a prompt to an employee with a link to the DiDi add-in within Outlook if a ride needs to be arranged, estimating the time needed for travel and the cost.
Besides being much more convenient for employees, the DiDi Enterprise add-in for Outlook also saves companies money – between 20 and 50 percent per business trip cost, says Du.
The savings are compounded by “optimized business operational processes,” Du says, with employees not having to “spend hours every week to paste and submit the receipts for reimbursement.”
One DiDi client, a Beijing-based consumer electronics company, echoes that finding, saying via an email that “By using DiDi for a business solution with Outlook in Office 365, the company is not only saving 20 percent off taxi fees,” but also saving an hour a week of time for every employee who has had to deal with the “taxi invoice process.”
The add-in reflects the new Office-specific opportunities for developers that were announced last spring at Microsoft’s Build 2016 conference. They included enhancements to the Microsoft Graph that can be used to build smarter business solutions; improvements to the add-in model, centralized deployment and programmatic creation of solution-specific ribbons and buttons; and new extensibility features for Office 365 Groups.
Han Wang, Microsoft senior partner business manager, is based in Beijing, and led the collaborative project to bring the DiDi Enterprise add-in to the Office 365 platform.
“This innovative partnership will be a lighthouse attracting more independent software vendors to be part of our new, thriving ecosystem, and help our Office 365 customers save operation costs, improve productivity and reinvent business processes,” Wang says.
“We anticipate more solutions will get on-boarded to Office 365, and firmly believe these solutions and the data underneath will create sustainable benefits for both Office 365 customers and partners.”
Wei Li, Office 365 senior product manager in Redmond, Washington, says that people sometimes think of Office 365 as “a product, and underestimate the platform role that Office 365 plays.
“The ultimate goal for Office 365 is to improve productivity for customers and users,” Li says.
“The DiDi partnership shows our strong culture of adding value to customers, taking them to a new level of productivity.”
Lead photo courtesy of Didi Chuxing