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Business Travel Trends and Forecasts San Francisco
Hilton Chicago Hotel - November 20, 2019
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Departments from finance to HR to the C-suite all rely heavily on IT-managed systems. A company's managed travel department is no different, especially as tech-forward tools for corporate travel programs proliferate. Many require close integration with a company's IT systems. IT can serve as a crucial link between travel and other departments, as well. Meanwhile, the travel department is a valuable source of data and information that IT can leverage for the benefit of the entire company.
But to realize the potential of a symbiotic relationship between IT and travel, both must work closely and effectively together, establishing clear and open lines of communication on an ongoing basis and cooperating from the earliest phases of a given initiative to ensure a project meets the needs of both departments.
"Everything in the world today is technology dependent, and travel is no exception," said Lisa Stanley, director of global travel and card services for global financial services technology provider Fiserv.
Given the tech-centricity of travel, Fiserv's IT department "is constantly engaged" with the travel team," Stanley noted. The two departments have weekly meetings to discuss current and future projects, such as dashboards for travel managers, expansion to new markets and integration of acquired systems and third-party systems that touch the company's travel operations.
Bringing IT onboard early enables the two departments to develop "shared mutual goals," where "there is an investment and a desire for a successful outcome on both sides, ensuring all projects run smoothly and to scope," according to Stanley. For Fiserv's IT department, early involvement aids mid- and long-term planning, which is especially important given the complexity of the systems involved and the demand for IT services from other departments.
"Advance notice of big initiatives or changes is the most important information for us to have," noted Fiserv business analysis and technology services manager Grace Howard. "Knowing about strategic direction allows IT to develop an immediate solution that can be leveraged for future states, as well … and come up with the optimal solution instead of a patchwork fix."
EY IT project manager Suresh Prajapati echoed that sentiment. "We want to know the road map for what applications and technologies need to be implemented over the next two to three years to allow ample time to plan budgeting and resource allocation."
Prajapati also recommended IT be involved during the travel department's RFP process so it can guide travel on what solutions would best fit from a systems implementation and security standpoint, especially important as data breaches and other types of hacks loom. "Lots of organizations are getting impacted by cyberattacks, so we as IT want to make sure the infrastructure is secure enough to protect EY's data and systems," Prajapati said.
EY's own travel department works closely with IT to ensure that all vendors, including travel management companies, comply with information security and data privacy requirements prior to deployment, noted global travel, meetings and events innovation leader Ian Spearing. "They help us in identifying and remediating potential concern with implementation of technology solutions, which ensures compliance to our overall IT and data security requirements and keeps our systems and travelers' data secure." He said, "To date, EY's IT department has helped support the onboarding and sign-off for 24 [third-party servicers] and maintains the ongoing data feeds" to support those services. The IT department also provides user support once systems are in place, he added.
It's important to break down the barriers between the travel and IT departments and foster a unified team. Otherwise, the two silos work in parallel but not in concert, experts noted. A shared understanding of each departments' sensibilities, from high-level goals down to language, fuels partnership. "There is a certain lingo that we use to communicate with each other," said Stanley. "IT has learned our language, and we've learned theirs."
Ensuring IT teams understand topics that are important to travel departments also drives results, added Howard. Particularly useful to IT is education about travel-related concerns like value-added tax reclamation and data regulations like the EU's General Data Protection Regulation. "We can more effectively support travel when we know what is needed and why," said Howard.
Conversely, it helps for travel departments to understand IT concerns and keep them front of mind from the start of a new project, said Spearing. To streamline projects, the accounting giant has "developed an internal review process ahead of putting vendors in front of the IT department." Addressing IT concerns ahead of time can avoid wasted work should IT object to a project. "IT is often seen as a hindrance to deployments," Spearing noted, "but we believe that with a strong and open relationship sharing accountabilities against a robust plan, there is huge benefit to having IT as a key stakeholder in travel operations," he said. "It's about building strong relationships, sharing openly the strategy and what success looks like for the travel program and how the IT department can assist in the delivery with the objectives."
As the leader of both travel and IT for EAB, Steven Mandelbaum has a unique perspective on the touchpoints between the two and how information gleaned from one side can help the other. BTN named Mandelbaum, who said he "came to travel by way of technology," Travel Manager of the Year in 2014 for building custom T&E solutions for EAB while also overseeing outside travel management and booking integrations for the company. "Travel is usually an organization's second-largest expense [after payroll], so organizations should be very interested in travel data," he advised.
For companies willing to invest the time and effort, IT can build the plumbing to funnel T&E data directly to other departments. Accounting, budgeting and customer relationship management systems, for instance, can leverage booking, cost and other travel department data for greater insight into ROI and other useful benchmarking, Mandelbaum noted. HR could benefit from a direct travel data feed, as well. "It can also inform you about whether you have employee burnout, in cases where a person is always on the road, for instance," Mandelbaum said.
The benefits flow the other way too, Mandelbaum added. "IT encompasses a lot of organizational data that can be used for travel planning," such as customer lists and other CRM data, he said. But building the data-flow bridges between IT and travel requires work, he cautioned. "Creating links to that data is great, but the challenge is to make sure you have the right integration points and [are] sharing the right data. That has to be set up in a thoughtful and clever way if you want to have it all come together."
While interdepartmental data connectivity remains uncommon, companies using IT-built tools rather than third-party business intelligence services can tailor the solutions to their needs. One design consideration that often gets lost in the shuffle is how a new system fits into a corporation's larger IT infrastructure, Mandelbaum said. While a tech-based function or tool might be useful for the travel department, it might not fit within the company's overall IT architecture, underscoring the importance of early engagement with IT departments on prospective integrations. "The travel department—or any department—will want to get any change or new system in front of IT as early as they possibly can [so IT can] ask hard questions about how that new element fits into the rest of the business technology ecosystem for the company," Mandelbaum advised.
The reward for those who properly integrate IT and travel systems are powerful. Mandelbaum said EAB's own efforts on that front have been worth the work: "We use our travel data for planning, client servicing and a whole host of things, so we've seen great returns."