By Kevin Duckworth, founder and owner of the Travel Hub Consultancy
The corporate travel manager (CTM) has the responsibility and accountability to deliver organisational value for what is often a significant procurement cost, the travel and expense budget.
It is no longer a passive role or simply a conduit between the corporate and their travel management company (TMC). These days the CTM has a key strategic responsibility for managing millions of pounds of overhead expense and delivering organisational value.
It is a responsible role and effective CTM’s need to be both strategically and operationally competent, culturally sensitive in multinational organisations and commercially astute negotiators.
They must be proactive, innovative and have strong planning, organisation, project management and communication skills and competent in data analysis and be technically savvy.
The key current priorities of many corporate travel managers include:
• Integrating travel and expenses
• Data consolidation
• Convenience of booking across multiple platforms
Digital technology is the common theme in unlocking the full potential of these requirements.
Traditionally the CTM prioritised booking systems, for example GDS and more recently embracing online and mobile booking tools however, many of these solutions focus on the convenience benefits to the traveller however, the CTM is now responsible for much more.
Technology in travel has been around for years and is used as the key driver to leverage change and unlock opportunities in both convenience and value but in this new digital world where the pace and speed of change is accelerating, new challenges and opportunities are emerging right across the organisational eco system.
Data in itself is just facts and details, it is only when it is structured and organised in a way that sense can be made of it that it becomes information which in turn leads to knowledge
By considering the wider eco system and identifying, developing and implementing solutions that seamlessly integrate and automate legacy and often disparate business functions and processes, new opportunities emerge that can add even greater convenience, productivity, efficiency and value across the organisation.
As part of their core role and responsibility the CTM needs to consider how digital could be used to better manage the travel and expense account across key internal functions such as Finance, Operations, and HR including where appropriate external suppliers.
Bill Gates described this digital interconnectivity in his 1999 book ‘Business @ the Speed of Thought’ as being similar to the human nervous system. Humans take input from many sources, we then digest that data to make informed decisions, Gates argues that corporate organisations of the future need to be digitally structured to operate and think in the same way.
Digital solutions can be implemented to add value right across the organisational eco system and not just the integration of both travel and expenses. The more you synergise, integrate and automate the greater the productivity and efficiency gains.
This is especially true if this leads to the consolidation of quality actionable data. It is worth remembering that data in itself is just facts and details, it is only when it is structured and organised in a way that sense can be made of it that it becomes information which in turn leads to knowledge. So quality information, not just data, can improve insights and the potential identification of useful trends.
For the CTM it can lead to improved effectiveness in compliance and control over the travel policy, improved supplier commercial negotiations and provide tools for predictive analysis. The old adage is true, if you can measure it you can manage it.
It is true that the pace of technological change is accelerating but it is also true that in many cases the capital costs of acquiring and managing some of the new technologies is falling in real terms and as part of their role the CMT should be examining these emerging opportunities to increase efficiency.
For example cloud based solutions are widely available, they are reliable and the costs of maintaining these outsourced networks is much more affordable providing advanced, proven technology without the need for high cost in-house IT support.
The role and the expectations of the CTM has changed. They are now required to be more strategic, proactive and innovative
Other examples to embrace digital opportunities that could significantly reduce overall travel and expense procurement costs include;
• Virtual collaboration. Using tools such as Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp and Soma to reduce the need for physical travel in certain circumstances. These are low-cost solutions and in many cases available on users personal mobile handsets and could be used for example in initial interview screening and to facilitate training sessions plus much more.
• It is now economically viable for corporates to own their own propriety integrated travel booking systems and there are many global providers of these solutions. This would provide independence from the TMC and GDS and significantly improve the CTM’s negotiation position leading to a significant reduction in transaction costs and improved preferred supplier terms.
The key message here is that the role and the expectations of the CTM has changed. They are now required to be more strategic, proactive and innovative. They are pivotal in managing and controlling a significant organisational expense and a priority focus should be using available digital technologies to improve the service offering to the traveller at the same time implementing strategies to significantly improve the ROI on the overall travel and expense budget.
Underpinning the above process is access to actionable data. Instead of having data from disparate and unconnected sources often creating paralysis by analysis, the CTM must identify areas to synchronise and integrate work flow processes electronically.
The result will be an improvement in the quality and accuracy of data insights including the ability to identify trends and test various business case hypotheses.
The outcome should be better decision making, more effective monitoring and control of the companies travel policy, providing stronger supplier negotiation positions achieving significant travel and expense overhead savings and ultimately improving organisational value which is the purpose of the CTM role?