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Business Travel Trends and Forecasts San Francisco
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About three years ago, UBS's travel program did something drastic. The group stopped sending reports to stakeholders. For two months, zero reports. Of the business unit managers and the executives who had been on the recipient list, "only about 30 percent came back and said, ‘Where's my report?'" noted global travel head Mark Cuschieri. "It spoke volumes. We're sending all of these reports. We think that's driving value, but actually, no one's looking at them."
Buried in that statement is the key to stakeholder relationships: "value." Siemens director of mobility services for the Americas Steven Schoen framed the concept using a sales and marketing foundational principle: what's in it for me? Or WIIFM. It's a simple idea but one worth the reminder as busy travel teams get lost in patterned processes and rote report-running on travel spend. Simply put, if the report isn't helping the recipient achieve his or her goals, why would he or she look at it? And why would you send it?
UBS' exercise in silence "really got us to understand that what we're providing doesn't meet the business needs, and therefore, it's about value," Cuschieri said. "What does the business need? Do they really need it? Challenging [ourselves]: Why do we provide something? What value does it provide?"
Data at the Foundation
The UBS travel program's strategy rests on three pillars. First is data. "We were very reliant on static reporting previously, heavily reliant on our travel management data," Cuschieri said. He wanted a more holistic view and went to market for a global data warehouse and data reporting platform, eventually selecting PredictX. "We didn't want to select just a travel management company to do that for us. We were looking more for expertise in data than we were in subject matter. We have a team with deep subject matter expertise; they can interpret data. The slicing and dicing in a very intuitive way is what we wanted." PredictX takes in multiple data sources: global distribution system data, travel agency-booked data, supplier data, card data, expense data and some general ledger data.
Sometimes we think we're delivering reports that are meaningful for the business, but you have to consider the recipients. ... Who are you sending it to? What do they need to know? What's in it for them? What are you trying to drive? What action are you trying to deliver?"
At the same time, UBS has been standardizing 80 percent of its processes globally. That's come with pain and compromise, Cuschieri said, but it means that the company can plug and play systems and tools more quickly and effectively. UBS also has consolidated to a single global booking tool, and following a global competitive tender is consolidating all 56 markets to a global TMC. Those consolidations will further streamline the data coming into its reporting platform.
What Data Stakeholders Want
The UBS travel team's second pillar is demand: What data will most help a given stakeholder. UBS and its stakeholders are focused on cost savings. With a single repository for multiple sources of data, "we can now provide global, holistic T&E data which measures the cost and can also measure behavior and the demand—and at real time," Cuschieri said. "Our stakeholders were asking: ‘Well, it's good to know what we've done. That's great, but what I really want to know is: What am I doing now and what is it I'm going to be doing in the future and how can I change that if I'm going off plan?" Rather than reporting travel spend post-trip, UBS now provides T&E spend on a close-to-real-time basis.
Previously, standard reporting toward the end of the third quarter showed which units were on pace to go over their T&E budgets. "By the time you've received that communication, by the time you've disseminated that across the business, it's already December," Cuschieri said. "It's too late to do anything. Now, how about if I aim for my business managers and budget holders [to hear] in April, let's say, that you're going off plan. If I tell someone that in April, they have time to change direction. They have time to implement specific tactical or strategic measures to bring them back in line."
You've got a lot of businesses out there right now who are struggling to fill open positions for skilled people. There is real competition to attract and retain talent. ... A person in that C-suite ... might be more focused on ‘Do what we need to get talent in here."
Siemens' Schoen, meanwhile, finds that the information stakeholders find valuable narrows moving up the hierarchy. The C-suite wants to preserve assets. That means financial assets but also, in terms of the travel program, human assets, i.e., the safety of travelers. "Everything fell into those very defined buckets" of duty of care and demand or cost management: simple data on how much the company is spending on travel, the spending trends, what it's being spent on, the waste and the opportunity.
Any other noise—the C-suite wants that stripped away. Travelers, meanwhile, want good choices available at prices that create value for their companies. Thus, stakeholders between travelers and the C-suite—departments like HR and procurement—need a little of both arrays, Schoen said.
Sharing the Data
BCD Travel research director Miriam Moscovici traces the history of where travel managers have lived. First, it was the CEO's office, then HR, then operations and more recently procurement, as cost-savings became a travel management priority. Now, all of those former hosts are stakeholders, she said.
To boot, travel manager responsibilities are disbursing to other departments, creating even more stakeholders. Duty of care often belongs to the safety and security department, DigiTravel managing partner Susan Lichtenstein said, though increasing adoption of technology that can capture off-channel bookings is automating the traveler tracking piece. Such open booking also enables travelers to take advantage of the cheapest fares wherever they find them, a boon to the procurement stakeholder. Evolving payment technology, meanwhile, is reducing the need for expense reporting, reconciliation and reporting, and travel teams can work with finance departments on such projects to the benefit of finance staffers and travelers.
IT and engineers, meanwhile, handle digitization and integrations, from off-channel booking capture tools to expense systems to price assurance tools and beyond. "Travel managers will now be able to build an [end-to-end] digital process with their internal IT teams and focus on the behavior and experiences of the travelers," said Lichtenstein. "This will uplift their programs to their CPO and CFO."
Travel managers also can support IT's own mission, to serve employees, Moscovici said, by voicing travelers' unique needs. Travel managers are best positioned to communicate with IT about getting larger laptop batteries for road warriors, for example. And IT and risk departments no doubt would like to hear to which countries travelers are taking the companies' laptops.
The Stakeholder of the Moment
At the moment, HR is the stakeholder best positioned to reflect travel management's value back to the company, Lichtenstein noted. Corporations are competing to hire and retain talent, and travel is a big influencer on the employee experience. Moscovici noted that travel also can inform other HR concerns, such as sexual harassment—for example, suggesting a meetings venue sourcing policy against hotels with hot tubs. Travel managers also can liaise between HR and suppliers to advance HR priorities. Hotel choices, for example, can have a big impact on wellness, she pointed out.
Dreams of the Future
Hogan Lovells global travel manager David McDonald also sees travel managers as the link between supplier and internal stakeholders. He thinks of the travel manager more as a gatekeeper, though, who can present supplier options upstream to the internal stakeholders who have budgetary approval. But what if travel managers could steer rather than block, he wonders. He envisions a steering committee in which the travel manager is the bus driver and suppliers and their internal counterparts, the travel team's stakeholders, share seats behind them. After CEOs shake hands on a deal, they often leave their lawyers together to work out the details. What if, similarly, a supplier's engineers sat at the same table as the client's IT team, if the supplier's marketing team worked side by side with the company's marketers, if sales from each side were present? McDonald knows it's a fantasy, but he likes to dream of the obstacles that would fall away and the innovative ideas and functional road maps that would result from gathering likeminded people who share the same language together.
Moscovici, meanwhile, envisions travel managers elevated to the level of strategic partner for the C-suite and for business unit managers. Travel managers not only can help cut costs and boost the company's ability to hire and retain talent, she said, but also help salespeople close deals.
Third in the UBS travel program's strategy is distribution: disseminating the reporting to each stakeholder in the way that will most impact that stakeholder. The Siemens C-suite's narrowly defined focus makes Schoen's twice-a-year reporting meetings with those executives easy. "I can get through one of those meetings, believe it or not—for travel, fleet, meetings, events and payment solutions—in 45 minutes." If the C-suite wants to know, "What's in it for the company?" stakeholders elsewhere in the company are more likely to ask, "What's in it for me?" These stakeholders ask the travel team more questions. "As you go farther down the food chain, it's really more about facilitating" in order to get travelers where they need to go when they need to get there and doing so cost-effectively and safely.
That's why UBS gives those stakeholders self-serve power: It provides dashboard access to between 250 and 300 stakeholders who can dig into all those standard stats the travel team used to send around. That frees up time for the travel team to develop quarterly summaries of regional spend and behavior for executives. That Travel Insights report goes out quarterly and tells a story, leaning on graphics and using PredictX's natural language processing for the minimal text required. "We try to keep it short and simple and striking," Cuschieri said. "That's really important. It's the only way to engage people." In addition to charts, UBS also employs color-coded risk levels. Amber might mean a division is at risk of going over its budget, for example, while red indicates it certainly will overstep.
The UBS travel team also meets with each business unit quarterly in what Cuschieri calls Category Councils to review costs, strategy, sourcing and upcoming initiatives. UBS monitors standard traveler behavior key performance indicators, such as requirements to book travel a certain amount of time before the trip, and can call out those travelers who aren't meeting the requirement. "Where we've put a measurement in place, we proactively report on those measurements," Cuschieri said. However, each business division also has different needs, he noted.
"Do they want to really just scrutinize their top travelers and what they're spending? Do they want to see travel and expense? Do they want to see all of it? Do they just want to concentrate on behavior?" The UBS travel team's air leader, hotel leader and—yes—travel data analytics leader attend the Category Councils, and all of them can dig into discussions on the data.
So you've figured out what all your stakeholders want to know, and you're providing reporting in a way that best serves each stakeholder. The job, however, is not done. What works this year may not work next year.
UBS's regular Category Council meetings clue the company's travel team into changes within a business unit that might affect that unit's priorities and thus its reporting needs. Schoen's team similarly went through listening exercises with stakeholders to identify gaps in the reporting. "You've got to keep looking at it through their lens because people might not realize their needs have changed," he said.
More recently, Cuschieri said, UBS has been bringing all the division managers together for its Category Councils. "In the T&E space, getting everyone together is much, much more informative. It sparks debate, best practices, as well. One division may be improving in certain metrics rather than another. It's about idea generation, as well."
Before Siemens began an ongoing reorganization, the travel team had been reporting trip purposes and spend ratios, the percentage of revenue going toward T&E. For years, Schoen said, the C-suite would say, "This is really interesting. Thank you very much," and put the metrics aside. Schoen might show that spend for internal meetings was higher than the industry average, for example, but the company would reply that its business was different. Fine, Schoen thought. He'd done his job by providing trusted and actionable data. But then, last year, Siemens' CEO and CFO launched an initiative to reduce T&E 25 percent, primarily by reducing travel for internal meetings.
All of a sudden, the rest of the C-Suite was "devouring" those stats, he said. "I was sending metrics to them every month instead of twice a year because they wanted it. No different than the data I sent them the year before. No different, but they didn't really have a reason to focus on it. ... It wasn't as much of a priority as when they got a directive to cut back on meetings for internal travel."
But not every business' priority is cost. "It really depends upon what the focus is at the time," Schoen said. "You've got a lot of businesses out there right now who are struggling to fill open positions for skilled people. There is real competition to attract and retain talent. ... A person in that C-suite ... might be more focused on ‘Do what we need to get talent in here.'"
Not only can stakeholders' needs change, but the data the travel team can provide is evolving. Cuschieri is looking at what else the UBS team can bring to the table through data. Having transformed UBS' reporting from post-trip to real time, he intends to use predictive analytics to forecast spend and behavior, as well. He also hopes to bring in other data sources, such as airlines' on-time performances, to drive traveler behavior on flight choices. Or, capitalizing on the single global booking tool, deliver policy when it is relevant at time of booking to drive the right behavior throughout the traveler journey and use machine learning to provide traveler recommendations and steer right behavior.
It used to be hard to corral data from multiple sources for use together, he said. Now, "whenever we work with a new partner, what we always look at is: ‘OK, now how can we impart that data source into our platform?'"
Ultimately, engaging stakeholders fruitfully makes change management far easier, Cuschieri said. With reporting that anticipates what each stakeholder wants to know, "we are seen by the business as a trusted business advisor," he said. The transparency and visibility have enabled UBS business units to lower their costs without implementing more restrictive measures. Cuschieri said T&E is down year over year by a double-digit percentage.
"We now have data at our fingertips that allows us to really inform the business when things are going in a wrong direction and when things are going in the right direction," he said. "We provide the right information at the right time so people make the right decisions. We are focusing much more on pretrip reporting, less on post-trip. The recent introduction of predictive analytics around forecasting is all about the pursuit for continuous improvement. It has really helped people to change behavior, and it's made a significant contribution to reducing the cost of travel."
Schoen similarly noted, "You've got to build their respect, got to build credibility. You can have the best data in the world, and if they don't trust you, it doesn't matter."