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Sabre's GetThere this week revealed plans to evolve its online booking toolset to a Collaboration Suite--to be released in phases starting next month--to help corporations maximize the return on investment of travel and meetings. Beyond travel booking and management, the next generation of the 15-year-old tool would allow travelers to search and book internal and external virtual conferencing inventory, project the business value of an actual trip with a "return on invested collaboration calculator" and use social networking and meeting planning functionality, according to GetThere chief marketing officer and Sabre Travel Network corporate segment strategy and solutions vice president Suzanne Neufang.
At its European customer summit in London this week, GetThere detailed the "patent-pending collection of solutions" to more than 100 corporate travel and procurement professionals and travel management company product distributors. The new suite is to be multi-global distribution system and global, Sabre officials said. Rollout dates by geographic region are to be announced closer to product releases, a spokesman said, but Sabre said all components would be released within the next year. GetThere, currently deployed in 76 countries, generated about $10 billion in business travel bookings last year.
"2009 taught us that it is really about travel decision management," Neufang told The Transnational. "It's not just how you travel, but whether you travel." As more customers install videoconferencing suites, Neufang said GetThere increasingly has been asked "to be more of a collaboration/decision-management partner. It is all about establishing the ROI or ROIC (return on invested collaboration) of the various types of collaboration."
The new suite is "intended to be a CIO's logical choice for making sense of the various desktop, telecommunications and software-as-a-service-based employee workflow tools," according to a GetThere statement.
Measuring The Value Of Travel
The new ROI calculator will help companies weigh travel and alternate options, based on business value expectations. Neufang demonstrated an early version to summit participants, showing a sliding scale calculator that could reside on the travel portal. It included drop-down lists of various types of travel and meetings with corresponding factors to evaluate ROI. For example, for a sales call, an employee would estimate the potential revenue increase, revenue retention or cost savings of the client meeting, the number of meetings held with the client in the past year, individual potential influence on the client, face-to-face value and estimated trip cost. Based on responses and weights defined by each corporation, the calculator would recommend either travel or alternatives. In some instances, additional approvals could be necessary.
In the first phase of the calculator, due in 2010, criteria for each type of business travel or meeting would likely be the same, with generic wording, but "some of the weighting" could be configured by the corporation, Neufang said.
Sabre Research, the business unit that helped American Airlines create yield management, is helping GetThere define the "algorithmic technology" for each type of business travel. Sabre said it then would validate the data with clients as part of several rounds of usability testing. "We do have some homework to do on this," Neufang said.
As demonstrated in the prototype, travelers would click GetThere's booking options button to view the availability of flights and internal or external collaboration tools, as well as to access tutorials on how to use the virtual conferencing options.
Part of Sabre's plan, Neufang said, is to contract with videoconferencing providers--starting with the high-definition offerings of Cisco's TelePresence and Hewlett-Packard's Halo--as well as hotels that have invested in such technologies or others with inventory, such as workplace solutions provider Regus. "We do that pretty well with other types of supplier content," she said. "This is just matching what we really do already for airlines and hotels with other types of products."
Social Networking Built In
The Collaboration Suite also is to include cubeless, Sabre's enterprise community platform that also powers Sabre's AgentStream collaboration tools released to North American travel agents this month and in Europe and Latin America in 2010. Although Sabre has sold cubeless to both commercial and nonprofit organizations, this will be the first time it has packaged it with GetThere to allow customers "to tap into the collective intelligence of a workforce to facilitate knowledge sharing, networking via questions, answers and exploration tags, and destination advice." Corporations and their travelers also can "share itineraries" and facilitate the sharing of rides, meals or other activities. In 2010, GetThere plans to add traveler hotel reviews to the social media mix. Even those with multiple licenses of GetThere across different business units or geographic regions would be able to deploy cubeless across the entire global corporation, Neufang said.
Highlighting the value of collaboration in businesses today, Sabre pointed to a McKinsey & Co. global survey of 1,700 executives, released this month. Asked about the value recognized from the deployment of collaborative technologies within their organizations, "69 percent of respondents reported that their companies gained measurable business benefits, including more innovation products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business and higher revenues." For business, Sabre pointed to a recent poll of U.K. corporate travel managers who said emerging collaboration tools could reduce travel by up to 18 percent during the next decade.
By year-end 2009, the GetThere suite also is to include "integrated meetings capabilities" with GetThere's meeting technology partners. "In the midmarket, very likely we'll have prepackaged solutions to make it easier to deploy," Neufang said. Larger customers will be able to select one of GetThere's meeting technology partners, which include Cvent, StarCite and Worktopia.
Does Transaction-Model Change Too?
Sabre and GetThere officials began brainstorming the new functionality this year. "The team, all the way up to [Sabre Holdings CEO] Sam Gilliland has been talking about ROI in 2009. We've had some light-bulb moments; this is one from midsummer," Neufang said. "This is certainly a game changer to connecting the dots in the collaboration space within a company." Customers said the new toolset would be "even more important at a CFO level" and the CIO level where so many decisions on collaboration tools are made today.
But the new suite also could force GetThere to change its transaction-based financial model. "It's too early to tell" how Sabre will charge for the new functionality, which Neufang said is more of a workflow tool. "In all likelihood, this changes the game on the model," but officials plan to talk to "both finance and procurement leaders to get a better sense of how this plays into the value that they expect from us and the innovation that they expect to driving a program that is more and more optimized.
"The real story for us is that we learned in 2009 that we are really good at helping companies turn off travel," Neufang continued. "While that certainly was effective for the companies that wanted to save a boatload of money quickly, many of those same companies are realizing that the approach to turning off travel across the board didn't help their business growth at all."
Indeed, an Oxford Economics study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Associationand a separate study paid for by the National Business Travel Association and American Expresshighlighted the financial risks associated with cutting or eliminating business travel.
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