Guest Post: The future of travel management is an open platform approach

Guest Post: The future of travel management is an open platform approach

Axita Bhalsod, vice president of analytics and data science of Amex GBT explains why now is the time for it

Expectations of a hyper-personalised experience have transferred into the corporate world, and business travellers are no different - they want the same personalised experiences that everyday consumers are receiving. In the midst of all these changes, travel programs may be missing a trick by not adopting an open platform approach to managing their data.

As we know, managed travel has always been complex - getting a traveller from A to B involves multiple processes, applications, and stakeholders. Like many other sectors, this means TMCs face multiple steps in the journey to offering a data-driven, intelligent platform to consumers. Historically, travel managers used to suffer from a lack of data on their travel program, with difficulties understanding and tracking which employees were travelling, where they were going, and for how long. As a result, they lacked the ability to fully control their travel program and to make informed changes to optimize it.

With the introduction of the enterprise data warehouse, TMCs have moved past the problem of not capturing data on a client’s travel problem and now face a new challenge – information overload. Perhaps no challenge is bigger for the travel manager than the extreme volume of data that they receive from the multiple applications they may use for expenses, reporting, and managing approvals. Because they lack a way to integrate these various applications into one holistic suite, they are fighting issues in isolation. This ultimately slows the travel manager down, whilst adding to their administrative load.

In contrast to private interfaces, an open platform approach is about offering true integration, and therefore flexibility, between all these applications. It’s a programming interface that provides developers with access to all the backend data, which they can then use to enhance any applications their organisation needs. For travel managers, this approach offers a one-stop-shop experience and has many benefits.

New problems call for new solutions

Travel managers must account for a multitude of factors in a time where digital transformation, sustainability, and different working models are all changing our industry.

One of the main changes they must account for is hybrid working. As the new normal for many, hybrid working is changing the way business travelers travel, and the policies that organizations need to have in place. Another is the increasing pressure on organizations to reduce their carbon footprint, which heavily impacts their business travel policies. Deploying an open platform approach means travel managers can assemble their own ‘dream team’ of applications based on the needs of their specific travel program. Whether that be curating new journey patterns derived from hybrid working, keeping in line with complex carbon disclosure regulations, or expense management to the end user. It offers them ultimate flexibility, no matter the ask.

As Sabah Kahoul, a former Microsoft Travel Manager, points out, there is a big downside to this wealth of considerations that travel managers must account for: “there is a lot of information, perhaps too much information.” Sifting through this data to uncover actionable insights can be a full-time job in its own right and is simply not realistic alongside all the other necessary responsibilities of the travel manager. At some point, information overload can lead to the same result. Finding the 1% of data that contains the actionable insights can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, making it near impossible to make informed choices in order to optimize a travel program.

Data needs a location

Open platform means travel managers can integrate all this data into one platform that can allow them to make informed business decisions backed by more powerful, and aggregated data.

This is where the next stage of the data maturity journey begins – personalized and automated recommendations. The key for TMCs today is to focus on not just providing TMs with the data they need to deep-dive into their travel program. Offering advanced analytics and AI to deep-dive into the data on the clients’ behalf will automatically push personalized and relevant recommendations to the TM based on the results. Where opportunities are identified, the TM should then be able to edit their settings in a single click to decide whether they would like the recommended changes to be implemented automatically, or whether they would like to be notified and make a decision on whether to implement the change themselves.

For example, if a company’s core business travel takes place between London and Paris and employees are typically choosing to fly, advanced analytics can be used to notify the TM that there is an opportunity to shift the employee’s travel to rail and provide estimates of the expected reduction this would have on the company’s CO2 emissions and impact on the travel program cost. Equally, a TM could opt in to have the policy for that route automatically updated to encourage rail travel in a single click. This is the future of business travel, and one which is quickly becoming a reality at Egencia.

Handle the now and prepare for the future with open platform

The open platform approach is no longer a choice - it’s a must. With business travel’s gradual return, this is an appropriate time for travel managers to look at implementing an open platform approach to their travel programme.

In this new world, TMCs will find that they no longer suffer from data overload, and instead can rely on timely, personalized recommendations delivered to them via their preferred channel to empower them to optimize their travel program, in the way that works best for both them and their company. Particularly as we accelerate towards 2030 sustainability targets, travel managers’ jobs aren’t set to get any easier. Open platform provides the best means of managing the demands of business travel whilst at the same time increasing the accessibility and security of data.