BTN's annual answer book for business travel managers.
BTN's 2013 Travel
Manager of the Year Karoline Mayr and 2013 Best Practitioners—Tim Hay, Cindy Heston, Steven Schoen and Mark Stansbury—in August engaged in a roundtable
discussion with BTN editors in San
Diego. Edited excerpts of that discussion follow.
On Senior Management Support
Tim Hay: In
Oregon, I was lucky because the person who formed the original travel program
was my chief procurement officer, so she always supported a managed program,
and she understood the value it brought to the state. Having the program that
we have, I was able to document the savings that we brought to the state, which
was somewhere around $7 million on an annual basis. That's a lot of money to a
state government. As we all know, when trying to make cuts, the first two
things [states] cut are travel and education, so to be able to demonstrate that
we're saving money and how we're saving money, fortunately travel never got cut
when we had the economic downturn in 2008-2009. Being able to show that and
demonstrate it to the state chief financial officer really opened up his eyes
because he used to be one of the naysayers. When you document [savings], the
light bulb goes on, and then I had the backing that helped us project the
program even more.
Steve Schoen: In
the United States, I have five different groups of senior managers I have to
work with. Sounds like I'm complaining, but I'm not. Our businesses are so
different. Health care is different from infrastructure, which is different
than energy, which is different than industrial solutions, and then there's
corporate. Each of these businesses serve different markets, and as a result
they have different priorities, different triggers, and bumps in the market
affect them differently.
Overall, we have management support, we just have to speak
different management languages depending on which business we're speaking to,
depending on which economic cycle that business is in, depending on a hundred
factors that affect that business' marketplace. We handle the healthcare sector
completely differently with meetings and events than we do the others because
of the Sunshine laws. If we went to the energy sector with some of those laws,
they'd look at us like "where are you from?" The more we demonstrate
that we understand their businesses, that we understand their challenges, their
limitations, their opportunities, the more support we get from them.
There's formal buy-in and more informal buy-in to the changes you're making. On
a formal level, I have an amazing manager and have been very lucky for the last
six years to have worked with her. There's definitely political structure
within the organization. You just have to know how to navigate around it. You
have to gather buy-in from particular individuals, not just at the executive
level, but there are also folks abroad and different people in different
regions, because this was a global program. You have to cover all your bases
with who those influential people are within the organization, otherwise, a
whole country's not going to take off.
Not everybody will be 100 percent happy, but for the most
part, you want to get the majority of those folks on board.
On Data, Dashboards And Reporting
Steven Schoen: We're
taking data feeds from agency and card and had a third party build in a
behavior scorecard for us—we built that about five years ago—and spend-analysis
type reporting. One set of data we really didn't have easy access to was
expense report data. We're on a homegrown system, it's a really good system,
but there's no ad hoc reporting capability. We knew we had this wealth of data
there. We've been working together with our shared services organizations in
building a business intelligence tool on the Oracle platform. We're rolling out
in fiscal 2014, which starts in October, but we're finding things in there
that—well, you don't know what you don't know until you really have the
transparency into the data.
When different business units ask for agency data, I always really push them to
the data from the expense tool. Because every [traveler] wants their money, and
they might not always book through the agency, but they're going to put in
there exactly how many days or how long they've been gone. That data and that
[expense reporting] tool become to me the most important piece of technology
because it tells me what's hitting the budget and what this business trip
really is costing the company.
Karoline Mayr: We
were really surprised when we built our [travel dashboard] that so many people
wanted to be part of it. The dashboard has all the key performance indicators
and all the businesses broken down, but you can click on it and see standard
stuff [broken down by] business unit. They all had [access], the executive team
and the C-team. There's a key contact in every business unit who we work with
on travel and card initiatives, and they help us with compliance issues.
Initially we gave access to those groups of people, but it's now expanded way
On Using Industry Benchmarks
Steven Schoen: We
talk to everybody, internally, customers and stakeholders. We talk with peers.
We belong to a couple of benchmarking groups. Probably what gives me the
greatest insight within my own company: I just got back from an internal travel
conference, where those who manage travel in the eight largest clusters, the
largest travel spend, all got together. It's not something we do a lot.
From an internal standpoint, I get most of my ideas from my own customers. They
don't articulate it like, "Well, here is A," but they will tell you
in the way they engage you and they will show you there are holes in the
system, as far as complaints or, very rarely, you hear compliments. I try to
listen and find solutions. There are a lot of good industry people you can talk
to and walk through things, but it's your culture. What do they want, how do
they want it and how can you build it in their design? You have to get a feel
for what your company is telling you, and act upon it.
Mark Stansbury: I
do like to listen to our peers in the industry and hear what they're doing and
see whether we can try it internally and innovate. We vet it out with my team
and talk about what so-and-so's doing and seeing great success, and perhaps we
can improve our numbers in that area. Maybe it can't, because of this reason:
We're a government contractor. The gamification thing, we always have problems.
We can't give prizes to anybody. So, what else can we do? We vet it, and
sometimes it doesn't work out, and sometimes it does.
It's a lot of different data points. You're talking internal
and external. We do an external benchmarking and internal benchmarking. All of
these are tools. None of them are to solve all methods of coming up with the
best solution, but they're all great data points to use when you're trying to
innovate and come up with creative ways to do things.
On Advice For Peers On The Same Path
[When introducing the first phase of a program], if it breaks, if it's not
perfect, if it's not beautiful, at least you're trying to move things forward
in the industry. I t's not always going to be pretty or easy, and there's
always phases two, three and four. Especially with something that hasn't been
developed yet, you don't know what the end is and you should never build it
saying that you want it in this perfect state.
The other aspect is project management. I'm a huge believer.
Execution is a really difficult thing in a corporate environment, and I think a
lot of talented people are a little afraid to execute, because of the fear of, 'when
it lands, then what?' And I say, when it lands, then we'll learn if it's really
good, or we'll tweak it, or we'll just pull the whole thing. Until you put it
out there, you won't really know, but have the courage to do it and don't worry
about it being perfect. But manage it closely.
Keep service levels high. If you don't have people complaining about the
day-to-day, then you can take a lot more risk. Whatever endeavor you're going
into, do your homework. Be strategic, not reactionary.
If you do enough preparation up front, you have less
problems on the back end, and it's usually easier to execute.
[Regarding gamification,] don't get wrapped up into, "I have to do this
formal thing and buy software and it's going to cost a lot of money and I can't,
I can't, I can't." That's what I hear the most, that people think it's
something formal. You can do something fun, free and easy; it wasn't
complicated to come up with these ideas.
It's important to
collaborate with key stakeholders, the folks who do travel, to find out what
they are interested in. Have an open mind and be flexible. Keep it fun and
light and people will engage in it. If you make it complicated, no one is going
This report originally
was published in the Sept. 2, 2013, edition of Business Travel News.
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