Behavioral Messages: Accenture Uses Personal Travel Summary To Improve Compliance - Business Travel News

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Behavioral Messages: Accenture Uses Personal Travel Summary To Improve Compliance

December 14, 2012 - 11:15 AM ET

By Mary Ann McNulty

When consulting firm Accenture last year changed its travel policy to tighten compliance and require more economy- and less premium-class travel, managing director of global travel and events Mary Bastrentaz prepared for an outcry. But despite this "pretty big cultural change," she said, Bastrentaz and her team were surprised by a supportive response as "noncompliance dropped dramatically and we saved millions of dollars."

As it turned out, a seemingly minor thing went a long way, Bastrentaz explained. The travel department had created a mini-report that made it more plain to travelers what they were spending. "My Travel Summary, as little as it seems, is a big contributor," she said.

The 'Guilt Factor' 

Launched about a month before the policy change in late 2011, My Travel Summary appears on the personal Accenture portal home page of every traveling employee. A dashboard details the employee's year-to-date airfare spending, number of tickets booked outside policy, average number of days booked in advance, missed savings, miles flown and travel-related carbon output.

Accenture made other technology and process changes to enforce the revised policy, which eliminated international first-class travel, required all employees below senior manager to fly economy and allowed business class only for senior managers and executives on flights of more than eight hours.

Mary Bastrentaz"We stop the booking if not compliant," Bastrentaz said. Accenture's GetThere booking tool, owned by Sabre, advises travelers when any potential booking options violate policy and forces those insistent on making such bookings to check a box acknowledging they are aware of their noncompliance. "That booking goes to an escalation process," Bastrentaz explained. "A leader in every market has to approve exceptions, and each leader has guidelines on what they can approve."

By spring 2012, about four months into the new policy, the travel team expected significant noncompliance figures but found no big jump. "I think it's because of the guilt factor in My Travel Summary," she said.

The personal travel dashboards have been so successful that plans are in place to show each traveler how their own data compares to three other types of travelers, including by business unit and/or location.

"Many are talking about gamification," Bastrentaz said. "This gives us the platform to show them others like you. We can easily add recognition to reward those who make good travel-buying decisions." She noted that other company departments already use recognition badges on the portal.

"So many messages about cost reduction come from the top," Bastrentaz added. "But to really change the mindset to more of a cost-conscious awareness, there has to be a grassroots type of culture."

Pushing Reporting Down  

The capability to capture and consolidate such data and push it monthly to each traveler emerged from Accenture's travel agency, Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Technology transformation began nearly four years ago.

The multi-year journey transformed the company's fragmented global travel structure into a streamlined, centrally managed program that now allows travelers to "book anywhere, anytime." By consolidating to a single global agency from two, to one global distribution system from four and to one booking tool from seven, Accenture evolved its country-specific program, which had been organized into 15 geographies, to a truly global operation.

Led by Chicago-based Bastrentaz, the travel team stretches to 54 countries and manages not only travel contracts and operations, but also meetings and events, corporate housing, logistics for expat relocations, expense components related to travel and more. U.K.-based global operations director Margaret McGrath worked with suppliers, the travel agency and travelers to execute policy changes.

SNAPSHOT

Organization: Global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing firm Accenture, with 257,000 employees, operations in more than 200 cities and $27.9 billion in sales for the 12 months ending Aug. 31

Volume: Nearly 100,000 travelers and about $1.2 billion in global travel, including $234 million in U.S.-booked air travel and another $350 million in air travel elsewhere

Challenge: Centrally manage and streamline a global travel program and revised policy to eliminate first-class and reduce business-class travel purchases

Approach: Rely on a single travel management company, global distribution system and online booking system, and implement technology notifications and pre-trip approvals to improve compliance

Solution: Deploy personal travel dashboards to summarize prior travel purchasing decisions, policy compliance and missed savings

Global Profile Reality  

One of the latest components of the technology vision was put in place in recent weeks: a global or universal profile built by Carlson Wagonlit Travel. The profile can be used to book travel while traveling, take advantage of the local discounts, unique policies and travel management support. This followed release of a Travel Arranger tool that allowed Accenture administrative assistants from locations in India, Eastern Europe, Argentina or the United States to support any traveler around the world. Until now, CWT and Accenture created workarounds to assist such travelers. But the fixes weren't seamless and corrupted data, she said. 

Global profiles, Bastrentaz said, are expected to "improve cost savings even more," as negotiated discounts always are applied and manual rework is reduced. The global profiles could help airlines save time and expense too, she added, as they won't have to file discounts in every market for company employees to access them.

Travel Procurement sister publication Business Travel News in October named Bastrentaz its 2012 Multinational Travel Manager of the Year for her vision of the universal profile and tenacity to convince CWT to fund the technology development. The tool now is available to other global companies.

Cost-Saving Options  

Timely reporting of travel trends long has been part of Accenture's travel program. But with moves to a single travel management company, GDS, booking tool and payment system, Accenture has relied on CWT to consolidate all travel information and provide within two days at the end of each month 94 percent of spending data. Relying on suppliers and internal resources, the travel team provides senior management with reports on the highest-spending travelers and travel trends from the prior month.

As the company since 2008 has added nearly 100,000 employees and incurred greater travel costs, senior management frequently asked how to reduce spending.

"My rally cry with executives is that there really are only three ways to do it," Bastrentaz said. "Negotiate better deals, drive better compliance or stop traveling."

Accenture long has negotiated global contracts—backfilled with local discounts—with airlines, hotels, car rental companies and other major travel suppliers.

To address meeting costs, approvals and payment, Accenture's travel and expense information technology developers in the past year built a global meetings management platform using SharePoint, a Microsoft collaboration solution. The tool manages the meeting-approval process and in the United States integrates with American Express meeting cards.

Because both cost and work-life balance concerns have grown during the past five years, Accenture installed a variety of videoconferencing options, including more than 125 high-definition suites, 220 other systems and 100,000-plus webcam-enabled laptops. Bastrentaz said the cost of such systems has dropped to a point where she even has in her home office a high-definition system that allows her to connect to any other Accenture system.

Increasing the use of telepresence "certainly is about cost reduction. Our travel was growing significantly, to more than about $1.2 billion in pure travel costs," Bastrentaz said. "But it's also about engagement. It's about work-life balance. We needed to think differently about how we work, collaborate and meet."

Beyond information technology, human resources and travel, Bastrentaz said the best promoters of travel alternatives are senior leaders and "technology champions, or those executives who use Skype at home" or iPads to chat with their families.

A communications campaign at Accenture touted: "Travel is so 20th century." Besides good communication, Bastrentaz recently told delegates at an Association of Corporate Travel Executives event that "it's really about getting leadership sponsoring and leading by example. We've had a number of global broadcasts. Our CEO and global leadership team are very much behind this. A recent employee webcast combined all types of virtual technology—telepresence, Microsoft RoundTable, other things beaming in, Twitter feeds going across the bottom of screens" and a facilitator who served almost like a DJ to monitor it all.  "It was fabulous," she said. "If leadership is behind it, it does trickle down."

With leadership behind Accenture's most recent policy change, Bastrentaz said the technology and focus on personal behavior helped to deliver policy compliance and expected savings. "I really see the technology transforming the travel experience, automating things, eliminating anything that's non-value," she said.

Past And Future 

Bastrentaz has worked on Accenture's travel program for more than 17 years. She guided its evolution to online booking and has focused on traveler safety and security, the traveler experience, environmental concerns, demand management, meetings and events integration, travel alternatives and globalization.

More than ever before, Bastrentaz today finds herself collaborating with managers and departments across her company as travel touches so many. "I call myself the adaptive travel manager, because we must adapt to so many things today," she said. As others in the company set strategies for environmental awareness, facilities and the workplace, Bastrentaz said "travel has to have a seat at the table as we deliver the services," or must interpret the impact a strategy might have on travel and supplier relationships. "More than ever," she said, "I have to adapt our program to each of their strategies and company needs."

This report originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Travel Procurement. 

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