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Management information is now established as a vital part of effective travel programmes, says Martin Cowen – but what is the best way to make use of it?
The phrase “Management information” (MI) has entered the business vernacular over the past decade or so. It can mean different things to different organisations, operating in different markets. As a result, MI – and its collection mechanisms, management information systems (MIS) – can be a difficult concept to pin down.
Stakeholders in the corporate travel world talk a lot about MI, and arguably travel generates more business-critical information than other corporate activities – travel management companies (TMCs), corporates and agents provide and require a lot of information, varying from where your travellers are to how much your deputy sales director is claiming for room service.
IN THE RAW
Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) director Nigel Turner sees MI as three separate but related fields. “First of all there is the raw transactional data, which is fairly straightforward, although we do include traveller tracking in this,” he says. CWT thinks the quickest way to find out where a traveller is at the time of an incident is to refer to their itinerary to get an idea of where they are supposed to be before more location-specific tools kick in.
Second, he says, a lot of MI and the systems around it are about how well the TMC is doing, and this is shared with the client. “So this could include our response times, how well we are doing in terms of the pre-defined KPIs [key performance indicators], if we are doing better than last year, adoption rates and so on,” he says.
The last data set is the most interesting, described by Turner as the “‘what ifs’ – this is really MI that we process ourselves to see where we can improve our own performance, if there are any additional savings we find, or if there are ways in which we can add value to the relationship”.
The global reach of the big four TMCs – Amex, HRG, CWT and BCD – and the blue-chip multinational nature of the clients they serve, often means the medium-sized players are often overlooked. But, in terms of ambition and reach, firms such as FCm Travel Solutions are not far behind.
Greg Fieldgate, head of account management at FCm, says MI is a way of competing with the bigger boys. “MIis one of the main reasons why clients change TMC,” he says. “They no longer want a TMC who is merely making bookings and saving on costs. The majority of FCm’s recent tenders have been won because of our MI capabilities, particularly our ability to provide clean, consolidated data globally.”
With so much data flowing around TMC and corporate systems, it took an industry organisation to lead the field when it comes to trying to use MI from outside the corporate travel world as part of the picture. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives released the first phase of its ACTE Index at last October’s global education conference in Paris.
Ron DiLeo is ACTE’s executive director. He knows a thing or two about business travel, having held senior positions at Rosenbluth International and American Express before joining ACTE in 2010. The index, he explained, was launched in order to address “the rear-view mirror approach to business travel data. The data around business travel hasn’t really changed much over the past 20 years, although technology means that more data can be captured. But essentially it’s always been retrospective, looking back and analysing what has happened. We feel the ACTE Index addresses the need to take the travel data, add other benchmarks and make it predictive.”
At its launch, the index covered macro-economic data such as GDP and inflation, benchmarked against business-travel data and broken down by region, with 100 corporations inputting information. Now, says DiLeo, there are around 1,000 companies providing anonymous data for the index, “and by the end of 2012, we hope there will be more detailed macro-data, plus more regions, including China. The end result is that the index will become predictive, and corporations and TMCs can use it to plan their travel policy accordingly.”
In April, DiLeo says, the index will provide a commentary on the data, and the regional breakdown will be upgraded with specific country information. The key improvement will be the ability to break down the stats further by sector, he says, “so a pharma- or entertainment-sector company can pull up data specific to its market in a region and think ahead in terms of how the macro environment will pan out, and what its travel plans should be”.
While almost any data captured about the traveller could be used somewhere in an organisation, what MI is currently top of the most-wanted by corporations list?
Turner and Fieldgate both acknowledge that people-tracking is important, but it has been for some time and is now a prerequisite for any pitch – the new kid on the MI-block is advanced bookings.
Turner says it is one thing that CWT is looking at closely, with the cost differential to the corporate between peak- and off-peak as an area of interest. Fieldgate says that FCm is also active here: “We are increasingly seeing small- to medium-sized clients asking for enhanced data – they particularly want to know how far in advance bookings are being made, and about ticket types and type of travel.”
The new Carbon
CO2 was the big thing a few years ago. CWT’s Turner suggests the demand for carbon tracking has “come back hugely” over the past 12 months, as corporates once again feel the need to “properly manage sustainability”. He adds that carbon could also be seen in cost-saving terms, such as providing a detailed comparison between air and train journeys on the same route.
Over at FCm, Fieldgate suggests duty of care is still more important. “Carbon reporting is still off the agenda and traveller tracking is currently taking precedence,” he says.
Looking ahead, DiLeo hints that ACTE is working on a new data-based tool related to the meetings industry. Unable to give many details, he implies the tool is based around the current and unsatisfactory state of play “where meetings are jammed into travel – they are different. Travel is logistics, meetings more emotional”.
Too much information?
Data overload is a problem in the MI space. Turner and Fieldgate agree there is a role for TMCs to help clients interpret the data and take business decisions based on what the spreadsheets reveal. Pulling out the relevant information from the spreadsheets is part of what TMCs are expected to do.
Presentation of the data is another way that TMCs can differentiate. Turner says CWT provides a micro-management approach through its “traffic light”-based interface, which is available to clients 24-7. “If a traveller or department is falling behind the policy requirement, it is flagged up so that issues can be addressed in real-time.” This can red-light anything from the deputy sales manager’s suspicious number of club sandwiches to the IT department using the company iPads to book outside policy.
Meanwhile, Fieldgate talks up FCm’s ability “to consolidate data globally across multinational accounts” and present it in ways that is helping the firm win clients.
DiLeo is no stranger to the concept of data overload and inadequate presentation. “Here’s a great story,” he says. “When I was at Rosenbluth we used to send out monthly hard-copy reports to clients, and often I’d be visiting a site and would see the reports hidden under piles of paperwork – you know, shoved on to a filing cabinet. So I thought: what would happen if I didn’t send these reports out? What happened was that not one of our clients phoned up to ask where there report was – we were spending a lot of money producing reports that nobody was reading. It made me reassess what was the point of data and how we could make it relevant.”
MI and MIS are part and parcel of the corporate travel world. The next step is what DiLeo describes as “turning the information into intelligence”.
With so much data available, the collection, presentation and interpretation of MI will becomeincreasingly important, and the phrase: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, makes even moresense during the current economic turmoil.
COST SAVINGS ARE a vital part of what MIS can deliver to corporates, through better use of policy and suppliers, and in ensuring the TMC earns its crust. But some MIS can go one step further and alert finance departments to something else – money that’s being wasted.
Travelport’s search, transaction processing and airline systems vice-president, Reginald Warlop, explains that its eTracker product is helping corporates and agents to chase up unused bookings made through its Galileo and Apollo systems. “Research shows around 4 per cent of e-tickets are not used,” he says. While this might include cheaper, non-refundable tickets, many business travel tickets have a price premium factored in to allow the cost of unused tickets to be claimed back. “Many corporate deals also allow credits from unused tickets to part-pay for the replacement,” Warlop adds.
The eTracker tool provides “near real-time intelligence” with Travelport constantly checking for the coupon status direct with the airlines, rather than just pulling details from a database, and also avoids the needs for corporates to manage manually the use of e-tickets.
The return on investment for looking at this issue manually is much lower than having it automated. With penny-pinching so prevalent, the idea that some corporates are not going after small but significant revenues sounds very much like the good old days – but the greater the volumes of unused tickets, the greater the incentive and value to chase them up.
"There are still many organisations who do not know how much revenue is being lost by not tracking whether tickets are actually used by the traveller,” says Warlop.