ONLINE booking tools are rarely 'plug and play' – you can’t just switch one on and hope for the best. They are often connected to many disparate systems, often from different providers, and making them work together in harmony needs to be well planned.
It is vital that key stakeholders are involved as early as possible in the process of implementation. The technology department needs to be involved to make sure your tool can actually work properly within corporate IT networks, and this is a particular challenge with many people now working from home or hybrid working. An OBT that is perfect but can’t get past the corporate firewall is next to useless.
The IT division may also be involved in how the OBT is integrated into the corporate workspace – this could be through something like Microsoft Modern Workplace or Google’s G Suite. Other companies may instead have their employees log in through an intranet – something that the digital marketing team often manage, meaning they need to be involved in implementation.
The interface with corporate HR systems needs to be considered too. Traveller profiles are often based on employee profiles managed by the HR department. HR may have its own systems that an online booking tool will need to interface with.
The finance department will also need a seat at the table when it comes to implementation, both in terms of payment mechanisms and expense management.
“Companies in this day and age are rarely looking at just the booking component,” said independent consultant Chris Pouney. “They are looking at budgeting cycles, approvals, expense reimbursement and security. It is rarely just one person and finance is increasingly at the head of the table.”
Corporates also increasingly have data analytics tools to help them understand every aspect of what they do. To make your OBT work properly, it will need to integrate with travel, expense, payment, data analytics software, finance systems and maybe an enterprise resourcing planning platform such as SAP.
“We always talk with organisations and buyers about how this tool is going to fit in with their other providers and tools,” says Festive Road’s Katie Virtue. “Broadly, you need to figure out where the tool fits in your landscape.”
If you are one of the leading-edge corporations thinking about building your own online booking tool, considering these different connections is crucial.
“Some corporations are getting to the point where they say they just want their own raw data to put into their own tools and dashboards and integrate it into a broader ecosystem,” says Virtue. “You are just starting to get that exploration with IT departments of what could be built.”
Configuring a new tool to digest a corporate travel policy comes next. All modern online booking tools can be configured to reflect your organisation’s policy, whether it is a simple one-sheet list of rules such as flight duration and class and star ratings against employee seniority or something more complex and nuanced. Tuning your tool to make it work properly at this stage can make all the difference between success and failure.
It is also worthwhile at this stage involving some of your key travellers and bookers as part of a pilot group to help iron out any problems that may have been overlooked. It is worth spending some time making sure this group is representative of the company as a whole and to include both frequent travellers and occasional users as well as people with simple bookings and more complex requests to ensure that it works for everyone. Having a group of users already onboard before the tool is rolled out can really help – they can act as advocates to encourage other users and help implementation succeed.
Any change to existing corporate systems will always be met with some resistance, no matter if the process or tool is ultimately better for the individual, the company or, preferably, both.
Explaining to key stakeholders why the change is happening is paramount to make sure that the implementation is not doomed from the start. Looking back to your bid document can be useful here as it will elaborate on why the company is changing its provider in the first place. Is it because travellers need a wider range of content, a better experience or a tool to help the company reduce carbon emissions? Your strategy should be clear from this document and communicating that should help smooth the transition. Users need to know what is in it for them.
Getting senior management buy-in to the reasons for the change is also important. Get the CEO or business unit leader to record a video explaining what is about to change for employees and why.
Your TMC account manager or consultant who has helped bring the project to fruition may also be able to help you with communication. It is highly likely they will have been in the same situation before and may have templates or case studies of successful communication plans that they can share with you.
PLAN TO TRAIN
It is at this point you need to think about training your users. This could take the form of written documentation, walk-through videos or hands-on training. In some cases, you can train superusers who can then train others. Your OBT provider or TMC may have dedicated teams to help you with this.
Making sure users have everything available when they are invited to use the online booking tool for the first time can also help with adoption of the new tool. This could mean having support on hand in the early stages to walk users through a booking or setting up a dedicated email for OBT support. Many OBT providers have useful resources, such as videos to help users with the more common tasks, like making an air booking or sharing an itinerary with a team member.
Good levels of adoption and low leakage are clearly good indicators of successful implementation but there are others.
“There are some interesting behavioural KPIs too, for example how many people actually booked on the system compared to just looked or how much time travellers are spending in the search,” says Festive Road’s Virtue.
The implementation may be over but online booking tools are living beasts. Their use should be audited to ensure travellers are still engaged, and corporates should be ready to address user problems and assess whether lack of content is making them drift away to other booking channels.