BTN's annual answer book for business travel managers.
Business Travel News
met with the three best practitioners it named for raising the bar for a
specific travel management practice in the past 12 months before the opening of
the National Business Travel Association's International Convention &
Exposition in Houston to discuss what it takes to pursue any best practice. BTN named Accenture's senior director of
global travel and events Mary Bastrentaz
for creating a consolidated, high-touch, multilingual global travel services
technology platform for a decentralized company, University of Texas manager of
travel for intercollegiate athletics and NBTA chairman Kevin Maguire for advancing the use of consortium buying and
Walmart senior manager of corporate travel Mary
Sharp for pioneering a centrally billed hotel program. The following is an
edited transcript of their remarks.
BTN: What were the
biggest challenges and what lessons did you learn?
MaryBastrentaz: You need to test in a live
environment. What we also learned is that you need to look at all the process
changes all along the way. You have to look at your service offerings, the
online tool, and how executive assistants do a reservation and how much time it
takes. We had to make sure that when we were designing the new model that it bumps
up to that so we understand what they're facing. That's been a big learning.
Also, communications: We have to continue to keep the stakeholders involved,
and we got better at that as we went along. We were sure to over-communicate
and keep people informed along the way. If you don't tell people what's going
on, they make assumptions on their own.
In doing an implementation like this, we had all the teams
doing everything. You need to divide the teams—one to deployment and one to
stabilization. We figured that out pretty quickly. We had 75 days from the time
we made the decision to implementation. They know how to implement, but it's
the post-implementation that people spend so little time on. More time needs to
be spent post-implementation—what you do, how you handle. It's almost risk
management and contingency management.
MarySharp: The biggest obstacle was
bringing the suppliers together, recognizing you have something that needs
improvement. We were able to bring them together so they could see what we were
talking about. Of course, you have paradigms that you have to break down. When
you're doing things that have never been done before, you have to be able to
explain that so everyone sees the big picture.
BTN: Were there
models that you used as a point of departure, Kevin?
KevinMaguire: There were really two
different models: one was a model of all the programs that had failed, and then
the model of the one that had been successful.
BTN: What did you
learn from the ones that failed? What were the mistakes?
biggest mistake, number one, was that they didn't know their programs and what
they had to offer. The second mistake was to approach it as a single
contractual agreement, instead of being flexible in terms of individual
contracts. The third mistake was they approached it as singular pricing.
Everybody got the same price; everybody got the same benefits and all the
different aspects of the agreement. That will never work.
number of companies have done this before us. General Electric really pioneered
this, and they really enabled others like Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and Oracle to
take it a little bit further. Others had to endure the challenge of going into
the markets and making sure GDS and online booking tool capabilities were at a
point where they could globalize. Those companies stand out for what they
accomplished. We're all on the shoulders of the ones before us, and we just
help refine it. Starting with GE and the three others, we're putting in new
models that, maybe in five years time, could become the norm for more
BTN: Did the agency
provide you with input in developing the concept?
spoke with the agency about globalization and what they had done with other
companies. They were very generous with their time. They brought us examples of
what worked and what didn't work. Then, we leveraged Caldwell Associates. They've
helped us from way back, from the early '90s.
BTN: Please tell us
about senior management involvement.
Sharp: We had
buy-in immediately. They saw this as an improvement to our process. It's
important to understand, at Walmart we talk about next-generation and we look
for technology to improve our processes and to solve business challenges. We
realized that this was a challenge for us because we were paying a lot of
invoices manually. This was a cost-saving idea, and anywhere we can cut costs,
that's what we're looking to do.
put together a small steering committee, and I was able to present to
leadership a number of times about what was going on, so they were informed. We
met with them at least once a month. The steering committee we got together in
various phases moving up to the business case, and then we would share certain
deliverables with the wider geographic leadership audience.
Maguire: It was
very similar to a corporation in my case. It was buy-in first from the athletic
directors, then from the president of the university, and then by the director
of travel for the University of Texas System. There was a multiphase process,
and in any stage, if there was not support, it would never work.
BTN: What metrics
were you providing senior management along the way?
Maguire: We had
projected savings. We're in that period where you can't guarantee, but you can
had six objectives. We had the savings target, but we also had service levels,
because our service levels had been at a certain point and we wanted to keep
that at least at a minimum level. Another was that we have IJet for safety and
security so we wanted 100 percent accuracy around profiles for better tracking.
We're going to continue to track against our six objectives.
Maguire: In most
cases, the objectives are all very similar. There may be one or two variances,
but we all have the same objectives.
Savings and service.
Savings, service and security.
BTN: How important
was communication to travelers?
were so busy on implementation that we were not as aggressive with
communications. We did a good job up to the launch, but post-launch we needed
to do more communications. Now we've gone back and developed a monthly
postcard. There are three sections. One is “feature of the month.” Second is
called “we're listening” to let them know how we're addressing feedback. The
third is frequently asked questions. Now we deliver that out to the geographies
to push out any way they want.
BTN: How important
was benchmarking to your best practice?
was very important. We identified 10 companies we wanted to look at: companies
that had done it, companies that had done it in different ways, and companies
that were not successful in doing this and decided to stay in a traditional
configuration. They were all very large and innovative in their own right. We
set up a series of interviews, and we learned a lot along the way on what to
do, what not to do, what to avoid, where to go fast, where not to. That was
BTN: What advice
would you give to someone ready to attempt your practice?
would say check and double-check. Make sure your discoveries go deep, but also,
from a process, wide. Understand the differences and the gaps. To do this you
have to go to a standard. You have to hold hands and agree this is how we're
going to do it. Keep the local people involved and listen to them. The other
thing is, focus as much time post-implementation as you do on implementation.
Maguire: You have
to know your own program. Set realistic expectations and approach suppliers and
other group members with an open mind. The travel industry historically does
not like change. You have to at least accept the concept that you may make
mistakes, but you'll also get solutions. The overriding, umbrella concept you
have to have: If you don't have buy-in from your own management, then you have
no program. You can have all the partners and all the information you want, but
without their support your program will die.