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Accenture struggled for more than six years to garner enough support to develop and deploy an approach to managing meetings. But just six weeks after the consulting giant's global travel director Mary Bastrentaz suggested to her senior management that one solution for reducing sales, general and administrative expenses (SG&A) could be found in meetings, she had a new "full-time job," policy and executive level support.
While Accenture already had a "highly centralized, very mature travel program," the company did not have a meeting policy, strategy or even central point person. That all changed last year after Bastrentaz responded to an e-mail thread she received as part of a senior leadership discussion on "corporate strategic objectives looking out five years." Inserting herself into the conversation, Bastrentaz told senior management that if it could adopt a policy and leverage volume, it could achieve SG&A savings.
"That single discussion and e-mail turned me into an expert," said Bastrentaz, who spoke on two panels during the Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference in Miami last month. "They were looking for answers. From that moment on, it got me in front of our COO [and] our group COOs. I aligned it with our corporate strategic objectives and put it all in language that they understood."
Senior leadership expected it to take six weeks to not only develop and deploy the meeting management strategy, but begin to see results, Bastrentaz said. It took nearly that long just to agree on how to define a meeting. Accenture decided to manage meetings involving a contract and 10 or more people, she said.
During the past year, Bastrentaz "socialized" her plan, met with senior leaders to understand their pain points, formed a taskforce of meeting planning experts and conducted research as she developed support for her approach to meeting management. All the while, she continued to manage the company's global travel program. Accenture had not only deployed the meetings policy, but also the technology to track meeting spend and a procure-to-pay workflow from approval and sourcing to payment and reconciliation. Initially, Accenture paid for most meetings with invoices, but it now uses some procurement cards. It also is adopting a declining-balance corporate card that is linked into its meeting technology, provided by Arcaneo Metron. Once a meeting is registered into the system, budgeted and approved, cards are automatically generated for that meeting as part of an integrated process provided by Arcaneo and American Express, according to Arcaneo president and CEO Dale Beckles, also speaking during the ACTE conference.
Accenture estimated its annual meeting spend at $185 million, a figure that Bastrentaz said is conservative. "And this is on top of the $850 million in air, hotel and car spend. So, obviously, it's a very large program with dealing with," she said.
By strategically managing this spending, Bastrentaz said, " I committed to a 10 percent savings, or $20 million. For us, that's significant, so that got a lot of attention."
Delivering such savings requires good data, Bastrentaz said. To that end, she prompted Arcaneo to integrate with Accenture's human resources and accounting systems. Arcaneo receives a daily "people-table file of every one of their 150,000 employees so we can map it to the data that Mary receives," Beckles said. The technology firm also receives an export from Accenture's SAP deployment of more than 400,000 cost centers that also need to be mapped to track meetings.
One year and six weeks later, Bastrentaz is armed with reams of data about Accenture's meeting spend. Instead of just talking about the number of meetings, total spending or savings, Bastrentaz now shares a list of top meetings, dissects the cost of similar meetings and produces lists that show who is attending the most meetings. Some of that data revealed spending disparities in similar meeting patterns of three days and two nights, with one meeting at $1,500 per person and another at $5,000 per person. The key metrics allow managers to make better decisions, she said.
"I have focused so much on meetings about spend and savings," Bastrentaz said. "But it is our leadership that has taught me that it's about productivity. It's about our people, how we spend our time and how that investment in time is returned back into better value for the organization. And that's different than overall travel and how we spend our money on a trip."
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