Russ Howell, EVP and Global Technology, BCD Travel
Cloud computing in Travel Industry
Cloud computing offers two primary advantages to businesses: convenience and savings. Convenience comes in numerous forms, from enabling more agile development and operations to supporting seamless integration between platforms and devices. The savings comes from a consolidation of IT infrastructure. In corporate travel, we must balance convenience and savings with data security, which is paramount. So we take advantage of the cloud’s benefits only when we can do so without compromising client data. We never move customer data or transaction data onto public cloud infrastructure.
Effective Use of Data Drives Business
Travel and entertainment remains one of the top three largest expenses for most companies, and the quality and level of detail of the trip data we provide clients rivals, and often surpasses what they can get from other sources, including from suppliers, expense platforms or the credit card industry. Our proprietary business intelligence platform, called DecisionSource, serves as our customers’ single point of entry for reporting, business intelligence and analytics. The platform provides our clients with updated information from the time a trip is booked through its completion. It lets them monitor their travelers, manage risk, promote policy compliance and track trends that affect their entire program.
Attracting Travelers through New Technologies
We think the relationship between the travel management company and travelers has never been more important as more buying decisions fall upon travelers. With mobile and social tools, we can engage travelers on the road at just the right moment to tell them exactly how to make better buying decisions. For example, we might send a text that reminds a traveler who just landed in London to take the Heathrow Express instead of a taxi from the airport to the hotel. One traveler can save thousands of dollars per year if given some basic information at the right time.
Contemporary Challenges of the Industry
The biggest technology challenge facing the corporate travel industry today is the growing number of self-service options available to travelers. Consumer mobile apps can provide significant value to corporate travelers. But when business travelers veer away from corporate travel policies, they undermine programs, often unwittingly, that rely on volume discounts. Moreover, the company can lose the opportunity to influence purchasing behavior and lose data, that’s the key to the reporting solutions we deliver. That’s why we decided to build our own mobile app that both travelers and travel managers will want to use. Travelers can share their itinerary, get driving directions and get notifications when a flight is delayed. And travel managers save money with realtime influence over travel purchases, get a better grip on hidden spend and reward travelers for behavior they want to encourage.
Tips for Fostering Growth
The best approach to growth is an agile one. In the next few years, B2C activities will rival traditional B2B services in importance. Mobile, analytics and multi-source data consolidation tools will emerge as the anchor of great travel programs. Demand for multinational core services—from multinational call centers, to fulfillment and processing platforms to global faring approaches to 24-hour emergency services—will accelerate. Companies will continue to put a premium on keeping their travelers and their information safe, making duty of care and data security vital.
Changing CIOs’ Role in Current Market Condition
The biggest change in my role as CIO is the increasing amount of time I spend on information security. The protection of customer information has always been paramount in our business, but it’s risen to an even higher level of importance today. Part of the reason for the emphasis on security is that corporate travel management involves personal identification and payment.
“Our proprietary business intelligence platform, called DecisionSource, serves as our customers’ single point of entry for reporting, business intelligence and analytics”
Another, quite frankly, is public concern over risks and vulnerabilities laid bare in numerous reports of high profile hacks of name brand banks, retail outlets and even movie studios. Suffice it to say, we take security very seriously and go to great lengths to protect clients from breaches.
Lessons Learnt and a Word of Advice to Fellow CIOs
To begin with, I think that success for every CIO begins with personal enthusiasm and authenticity—both of which are augmented when the CIO has a deep understanding of her/his business. Leading global technology for a large, medium or small corporation is every bit as challenging and hand-wringing as you’d expect, but it’s also incredibly satisfying, exciting and dare I say it, fun. You must have the right team in place. Surround yourself with people who believe no problem is insurmountable. It rarely pays for a company to be at the bleeding edge with end-user computing. I would also say that maintaining a strong commitment for keeping your organization current and agile, in skills, infrastructure, architecture and general openness are keys.