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Starting with localized travel management and scant coordination between various, country-specific operations, Deere & Company in 2006 began an effort to globalize. Two years on, the multinational agricultural supply company recognized for its John Deere brand achieved many of the hallmarks associated with a consolidated travel management program, but opted not to standardize every element.
"We had to find solutions to realize a global travel program with limited resources," said Markus Bender, Deere European supply base manager for indirect material and services. An industrial engineer by training, Bender had little experience in travel before he was charged with it in 2004.
Speaking here last week at an Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference, Bender said each of Deere's 140 global locations before 2006 "did what they felt best" in terms of travel management. That created disparate processes, policies and traveler profile databases, redundant supplier contracts, insufficient traveler tracking and a general lack of usable data. "We had to rely on suppliers for data, or we didn't have data at all," he explained.
To remedy those problems, Deere in 2006 developed a global travel project plan and established a global travel team. By 2007, the company had begun installing a global travel management company, Carlson Wagonlit Travel. According to John Deere's travel Web site, implementations were scheduled for Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway and Uruguay.
In 2007, the company also started collecting travel data, using "real-time traveler location reporting" synchronized with the booking process, communicating new systems and processes to 52,000 employees in 30 countries, and realizing initial savings. It also began deploying a global travel policy. "There are some exceptions," Bender said. "We have a global framework, with a lot of local specifics. We are still working on it."
This year, Deere completed "the biggest part" of its global travel program rollout by integrating "most of our locations," Bender said. According to the company's travel site, 2008 implementations occurred in Australia, China, Finland, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. [Global headquarters is in Moline, Ill.]
The company this year also linked travel profiles to central SAP human resources systems, leveraged its globally consolidated travel data and negotiated global vendor contracts. According to Bender's presentation, providers include two preferred airline alliances, 600 preferred hotels and one preferred car rental company. In all cases, he said, Deere maintains relationships with other vendors because "in many cases, we still need them to be open and bookable."
For 2009, Deere is eyeing the "perfect state," in which the company can seek process improvements, best practices and more uses for its data. It then would tackle the meetings, events, incentive and exhibitions area during 2010.
Despite these undertakings toward a globalized program, the company decided not to go as far as other multinationals. For example, while many companies use regional centers to handle travel for multiple countries, "We decided that each country should be serviced by its own travel agency service center" with country-specific terms and service level agreements, Bender said. He added that Deere uses "regional or, in some cases, national self-booking tools because we didn't find any tool that could serve all the countries in the best way."
Bender also noted that the company did not align with a single global distribution system. "We were not that brave to take that step," he said.
Throughout its overall global travel project, Deere leaned on CWT and now uses several of the TMC's tools, including the reporting system, Web portal, Harp preferred hotel database and traveler profile synchronization system. "With not many resources on our end, it was important to have a reliable travel agency to project-manage in an efficient way," Bender explained.
Other key success factors for Deere included creation of the global travel team, benchmarking with at least 20 comparable companies, active support from senior management, identifiable benefits for all stakeholders (including, for example, the administrative assistant who oftentimes book on executives' behalf) and a focus on traveler safety. When financial savings are difficult to pin down or achieve in a timely manner, Bender said, employee well-being is "an argument that cannot be doubted."
He also shared some lessons learned, such as: "the project intention is often more global than the supplier structures," and online tools cannot always replicate offline processes, especially for certain employees. Bender also concluded that "even the most mature systems and providers on the market will have unexpected gaps as your individual configuration of interfaces always is unique."
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