Multinational conglomerate Siemens in June began deploying in the United States an end-to-end meetings management platform that integrates its meetings payment system with automated planning and booking processes in order to consolidate meetings spending data, gain full visibility into actual meeting costs and tie the data into its budgeting and financial modules. The platform also enables meetings space deposit payments and the combination of meetings data with transient travel data through the company's reporting tools.
While Corporate Travel 100
stalwart Siemens is not the first corporation to use the American Express and StarCite Meetings360 platform, it is one of the largest, with a 2008 U.S. T&E expenditure of $550 million and 430,000 employees, 97,600 of whom are in the Americas.
By the Sept. 30 end of Siemens' fiscal year, director of Siemens event management services Bobby Badalamenti expects to have most corporate divisions on the tool, including Siemens' central planning group, which began training in June and now is processing meetings through the system. Siemens is using different training modules for the tool to meet the needs of its different types of users.
"There is no shortage of willing users. We are going to go after the low-hanging fruit first," said director of travel and event management services Steven Schoen.
The implementation will allow Siemens to develop a more concrete idea of its combined travel and meetings volumes—a feat relatively unattainable before the implementation of the end-to-end platform.
The company plans to take its technology integration even further on Nov. 1, when its version of Meetings360 is set to integrate with its new Rearden Commerce online booking tool. Siemens will transition to Rearden in the United States after years of using Amadeus E-Travel Management as its preferred self-booking tool.
The implementation of Meetings360 is part of an initiative that began in March 2008 and involved garnering buy-in from the highest levels of senior leadership, tweaking the expense systems, customizing the tools to fit Siemens' business processes and policies and developing training modules to prepare various Siemens employees to procure and plan a meeting.
What developed from the year-plus-long construction is a hybrid full-service and do-it-yourself meetings management system called Siemens Event Management Services On Demand, designed for use by Siemens meeting planners and administrators and third-party agencies. Such a hybrid model offers an easy-to-use process that can deliver greater compliance with more complete data and cost savings.
"If you are outsourcing to a third party who is using this platform and we're doing all of the hard work on the front end, that minimizes the work you would give to a third party, and you could do it yourself," according to Badalamenti.
Siemens focused heavily on the do-it-yourself and ease-of-use system aspects during four months of internal pilots. "We learned from a compliance and a branding perspective that you can preload the tool with a Siemens-branded template, so that we could take what we have and just give it to them," she said. "The more we used it, the more we realized we cannot think the supplier knows everything about Siemens' internal capabilities."
The project team also had to bring the expense systems on board with Meetings360. To do that, they had to work with the finance and accounting business lines within Siemens' shared services operations to correctly code the meetings card payment processes so such charges could be identified on the back end as separate from individual corporate and purchasing cards.
When travel and meetings previously operated separately, such travel expenses as airfare and lodging went to an individual's corporate card and would not be recognized as part of a meeting expenditure. Combining that was a key tenet the mobility services team used to gain buy-in for the project.
"That has been our mantra," said Schoen. "We're able to point out to our associates and internal customers that to a great degree they don't really track the full cost of a meeting. They only track what is centrally billed and comes out of their budget. A director could plan a meeting and think he is able to lock it up for $10,000, but he doesn't know that when all is said and done with the travel costs, he actually spent $20,000."
"Historically, when you do a meeting and you talk about what a meeting costs, you are focusing on what your central budget is paying for versus what really are the components you are paying for," according to Badalamenti.
The internal lobbying efforts proved successful, as the project was approved by the strategic governance board as part of a larger supply chain management initiative in North America.
Senior management buy-in was key in moving the program forward, and the project team implemented a consistent communications and branding effort to bring the rest of the employees on board. With the help of StarCite, the company built its own portal with access to the booking tool, industry information, policies, internal and virtual meeting options and libraries of forms and templates. Meetings360 also will live as a portal on the Rearden online procurement platform, where profiles from the meetings tool will be linked into both systems.
The consistency not only helps internally, but also helps suppliers align with Siemens processes.
"There is a campaign associated with the branding, the initiatives, its objectives and how they want us to achieve those objectives," said StarCite director of strategic accounts Allan Brown. "That branding carries its way through the system and the messaging is baked into the configuration."
That branding initiative is of high importance at a company like Siemens, which is made up of five operating units with their own management, business processes and cultures. With that in mind, Siemens had StarCite further customize the tool so it fit with each unit's ways of doing business.
The customization included building in various control functions so reports and data could be designated to the appropriate people and hierarchies across departments, including the central planning group, procurement or the CFO's office.
"The way it is built is for compliance and to mitigate risk," Badalamenti said. "The way you do that is by giving control to the operating company or division as it conforms to their policies."