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Traveler Tracking System Users Advocate Data Diligence

January 16, 2013 - 03:50 PM ET

By David Jonas

Though the benefits of traveler tracking systems are clear to many multinational companies, effectively setting up and using such a system can be tricky. The devil is in the details, especially when companies first implement a tracking process in conjunction with their agencies, according to panelists speaking during a November webinar conducted by risk management firm International SOS and the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

Managers of multinational travel programs that use multiple service providers to support travelers in far-flung and often dangerous locations in particular should ensure those providers can handle the complexities of doing so, according to International SOS group executive vice president Tim Daniel.

"It's pretty rare that a company has one travel management company that does all of its travel bookings all around the world," Daniel explained. "The irony is that sometimes it's the smaller, less-centralized TMCs that are booking the trips that are more dangerous because they are in the outlying parts of the world."

Global engineering, construction and services company KBR uses more than 20 agencies to serve travelers visiting more than 140 countries, according to travel services director Darcy Taylor. "Our first step, whenever we go into a new location, is to go out for bid for the travel agency," Taylor said. "In our request for proposals we stipulate the technical capabilities they must have to be part of our organization. In those technical specs we identify how they are going to feed the data to us so we can get it to International SOS," which provides a traveler tracking system.

Once KBR chooses a travel agency for a particular location, it schedules a meeting with technical support groups from that agency and International SOS. From there, the latter "starts working directly with the travel agency to make sure the data is being received properly," Taylor said.

Energy company Hess Corp. also sends travelers to many remote places around the globe, but unlike KBR it uses one TMC worldwide, according to Hess global travel manager Nicki Leeds.

She said that while such a setup sidesteps some problems regarding data feeds, traveler tracking still is addressed contractually. "It's part of our service-level agreement in our contract that it has to be done," she said. "We were having challenges with some countries that weren't using HRG to come on board. When we say this is something that has to be done for traveler tracking, it really doesn't give them much space to argue.

"Our culture is that safety is first," Leeds continued, "so much so that our bonus structure depends on it, for everyone in the company."

Responding to RFPs with information on traveler tracking capabilities is standard  for Frosch Travel, a midmarket TMC that claims more than 1,000 clients and partners with International SOS. "It is something that we have become more involved in over the past 18 months or so," said Frosch corporate travel director Brett Leslie. "Ninety-eight percent of the RFPs we receive from potential clients have a section pertaining to travel security, risk management, etc. It is crucial to have processes and partnerships in place to make sure we can deliver solutions properly.

"For us, it's not so much having a box solution for the way data will be passed," Leslie continued. "It's working with each client to understand their data requirements. How do we need to queue things up in the PNR so that the information is properly sent over to International SOS, and can it be queued to individual travelers for alerts, etc.?"

He added that it's important to be sure "at the time of booking that the proper information is being tracked." That includes proactively building traveler profiles, and, for new employees, capturing "as much information as possible during the hiring process and working to set up back-office data feeds."

Ensuring the integrity and thoroughness of those data feeds is a critical, never-ending task, according to panelists. "It takes a lot of ongoing discipline and attention" and is "definitely a team effort," International SOS's Daniel said. He noted discrepancies between booked and ticketed transactions, and issues with airlines' online check-in processes, which are "not universally reflected in these [traveler tracking] systems."

Data feeds should be "checked daily," said KBR's Taylor. "You can't set it up initially and expect it to run on its own. There are so many moving parts, especially in a large organization. A very small thing can put up a hiccup in the data."

She suggested that travel managers run tests with their own information: "When you book a trip for yourself or someone on your team, follow the whole process through to make sure that it is coming out on the reports correctly."

That's what Leeds and her team at Hess does, in addition to auditing the International SOS traveler tracking system. "We can get into trouble with changes—segments entered manually by the agency," she said. "Do they go back into the queue where they need to be?"

Leeds acknowledged the challenges related to changes made by travelers at airports. "I wish I had a great answer; I am certainly searching for it," she said. "We try to educate the admins of those travelers to communicate that back to the TMC so the TMC can make the proper adjustment, but it certainly is not fail-proof."

Daniel added that training travelers to communicate changes themselves also is vital. "It's one thing to do all the back-end work, but at some point the traveler has to let us know," he said. "Just as we have a duty of care, they have a duty."

On the TMC side, the key components at Frosch, according to Leslie, are "an in-house automation team that can keep a constant eye on the processes, and also aligning yourself as a travel management company with a quality-control system in your mid-office that can be trusted to capture the data." When important information is missing, he said, the QC system must recognize that and trigger a process that kicks the booking back to an agent "before it goes over to International SOS."

Finding The Safety-Privacy 'Balance' 

The panelists also addressed thorny issues related to travelers' phone numbers and tracking via mobile devices.

"I want to mandate phone numbers in profiles but I run into privacy laws outside the United States," Taylor said. "There are countries that say you cannot, even if a company-purchased phone, require an employee to put the phone number in the profile. We have been working with legal to determine where is that balance. Changing culture takes patience and time. Once we implement something like that, it has to be a global policy."

Leeds also referenced that balance when discussing mobile phone tracking. "When people are not in trouble, they want their privacy. When they are in trouble, they want to know why we didn't figure out where they were and do more to help them," she said. "You have to figure out what that balance is within your culture. Hopefully we are moving toward making it a little bit easier to track folks."

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