A travel manager's travel manager, Kathy Kaden doesn't get
hung up on differences between travel and procurement. She's too busy running
the travel operation at fast-growing Cognizant Technology Solutions, attempting
to "delight" travelers by dealing with them personally and ensuring
that travel and logistics don't interfere with getting the job done.
"We have come full-circle," said Kaden, a 20-year
industry veteran of four travel manager positions, two stints with travel
agencies and one airline job. "It used to be about service, and then it
became a financial proposition. How much can you save? Where can you cut? Now
we're coming back to providing them a service so they see there's a value in
the program. Price is important, but in the end it's what we call 'associate
delight.' We want them to be happy and comfortable." Kaden said in some
sense she is no longer a travel manager, but rather a manager of expectations, "because
that's what I do all day—I let people know what they can expect."
Does this mean cost control isn't a priority? Of course not.
But it illustrates that negotiating a deal is only part of the mission, and it
may be the less important part.
Cognizant is about 15 years old and yet the IT consulting
firm last year racked up more than $6 billion in revenues—one-third higher than
the prior year—and $884 million in profits. The company has about 140,000 employees
with plans to reach 240,000 by 2015. Cognizant's air volume booked in the
United States last year was $25.6 million, and this year it is nearing $30
million, Kaden said. Cognizant also buys nearly as much in air travel out of
India, where it is one of the largest employers among tech companies, and
counts about another $20 million in roughly 24 other countries.
As of a little more than two years ago, Cognizant's
employees—then only 80,000—were provided travel contracts to use but had no
real program to guide them and support cost-saving initiatives.
Kaden applies an analytical approach to contracting, using
formal processes and KPIs. But the operational side, the "associate-facing
piece," is what most interests her, she said. "A contract is only as
good as the ability to implement it and drive compliance to it, and you need to
look at that from the associate's perspective," said Kaden. "You have
two ways to drive compliance: either they're happy with what you have done and
they want to be on board, or you do so with a mandate. Different companies have
different reasons for doing what they do. At Cognizant, we tend to drive
compliance with associate delight."
As an example, Cognizant might save on negotiated contracts
by cutting to one from two suppliers in a market, but if that move makes half
the travelers unhappy, Kaden questions how successful that contract can be.
Yet, there are mandates the company deemed defensible—such as those on
purchasing air and car rental through the travel management company.
Shortly after Cognizant launched its preferred travel
management company program in 2010, compliance to it was in the low 50s. Now,
more than 90 percent of airline passenger name records are booked through
preferred TMCs. Car rental is at 98 percent.
While Kaden watches contract performance closely, she only
pushes preferred deals in areas where they are effective. Her team has chosen "not
even to bother with hotel compliance," and it isn't measured, she said. As
a consulting firm, Cognizant's travelers often stay using client rates, which
are not available through the corporate booking tool, or find better rates
"From our perspective, it's a losing battle,"
Kaden said. "We knew that if we mandated hotel, we wouldn't necessarily be
able to compete with a rate our customer gets. To mandate compliance would only
create frustration, so our goal is to create value. If we can get the rates
into our booking tool so our associates can do air, car and hotel in one
booking, then that's a value-add. It's not an easy thing to do.
"We're not just creating a program but creating a
program that generates value," she continued. "That's the primary
driver to everything I and my team do."
Can't Say Enough
On a quarterly basis, Kaden matches expense report data to
transactions from her preferred travel management companies to identify those
employees booking outside the preferred channel, and then has "one-on-one
conversations with associates to explain to them the importance of booking with
the preferred agency."
Asked whether she tells travelers not to waste time
searching for rates and inventory outside the TMCs, Kaden said pointedly that
she "would never tell them that. There's a fundamental credibility issue
"It's saying, 'Don't challenge us,' " she
continued. "Frequently they'll check one or two times, and then they'll
stop checking. We have taken the approach of, 'go ahead and check.' Our average
traveler is younger, very interested in using apps and consistently challenging
what they're seeing. It's a lot of work to face them one at a time, but it
enables an interaction, and it's good to establish that relationship.
Generally, every time they find something, our program still has a better airfare,
so we're almost proving the point one by one."
The company has a number of internal blogs and lots of
transparency. "It can get a little scary because that openness can create
what I call the tornado effect: as one piece of misinformation goes out and
spirals, other people climb on to it," said Kaden. "You have to get
to shutting it down quickly, and with time differences and global mobility,
sometimes it can be 10 hours before you sign on your email and see what's going
on. But it's not something we discourage at all—this is what we do.
"I'm a huge believer that communications in all
directions, from travelers to suppliers and back through me, is the key to
compliance," Kaden said. A daily report on new air, car and hotel bookings
and the number of travelers on particular flights helps with that. "It
allows us to be ahead of situations," she said. "We can look at a
hotel and say, 'We have eight people on a project checking in,' and we'll call
the hotel rep and let them know that Cognizant is coming to town." On that
or air bookings, she might reach out to the sales contact and request an
upgrade, Kaden said.
Cognizant, which on a monthly basis relocates 300 employees
and their families, about nine months ago formed a cross-functional team
focused on global mobility, with a goal of creating a more transparent and
seamless process by integrating visas, travel and relocation needs. The team
has created integration between what was traditionally administrative support
and travel, "so when Indian agents make domestic reservations, it sends
the info downline and triggers a guest house and car service booking in a
seamless process. When a person raises a request to travel internationally, it
triggers info being sent to the immigration department so they know this person
may need a visa and can contact the traveler." The integration includes
real-time feeds between the company's admin group and American Express Business
Travel, Cognizant's TMC in India.
Cognizant consolidated in the United States with BCD Travel and
in India with Amex. Five more countries will join the program during the next
six months, Kaden said. A global travel policy also is in the works.
Corporate booking tools in certain markets like Australia,
Canada and the United States are delivering adoption rates north of 70 percent.
Kaden actually has had to dissuade tech-savvy employees from attempting to book
complicated, multi-city trips through the tool.
originally was published in the May 14, 2012, issue of Business Travel News.