SPECULATION WAS RIFE AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS YEAR’S FOOTBALL SEASON about what effect stricter rules on player behaviour would have on the number of red cards issued by refs. Discussions around the costs and benefits resulting from changes to policy are not exclusive to travel management.
Companies will have a number of policies, of which travel is only one. These are no more than a set of rules to enable business objectives to be met, and to which employees are expected to conform.
But all rules need to be reviewed – and sometimes changed. As Dan Raine, director of HRG Consulting, says: “Dusting off a travel policy and checking to see if it was still relevant used to be a case of something to do every two or three years.” But slicker technology and methods of data capture and data analysis mean that those reviews – and responses – can happen much more rapidly.
But as with any change process, every decision-maker has to weigh up the benefits – and the costs.
WHAT IS POLICY?
Policy may be only a set of rules but organisations can approach this quite differently. For example, many multinational companies have an overarching ‘umbrella’ policy complemented by local market versions, reflecting different cultures and travel programmes.
Some companies will spell out the preferred processes and suppliers within a policy; others will do so more generically.
There are often very good practical reasons for this. Carol Randall, founder and managing director of Sage Travel Consulting, explains that in some European countries travel policies have to go through unions and workers’ councils before final approval and adoption.
She adds that in some European organisations, “policy can be put together by committee so there will be negotiations between HR and legal and workers’ council representatives”.
Despite potential obstacles such as this, she absolutely thinks that “travel policy should be a living document”. However, she says, “there are still many organisations out there that think travel policies should be reviewed only every two or three years. In this day and age that is very out of date. As far as I’m concerned any policy should be reviewed at least once a year at a minimum.”
Many experts feel policy should be dynamic but the reality for many corporates is quite different. The chart, right, shows how often a cross-section of European travel buyers review travel policy.
Size and location are only two factors affecting the attitude towards policy. Matthew Pancaldi is HRG’s global client management director. He stresses the importance of understanding customers’ internal objectives – be it talent retention or cost savings and efficiency, or good corporate governance – when advising companies on their travel policies. Policy is “typically driven by the environment in which companies operate”, he says. “If the market or business sector changes direction quickly, they will want to make changes to remain competitive.”
Dan Raine, Pancaldi’s colleague at HRG, points out the importance of clients requesting to see how their policy compares with that of their peer group. “We do a lot of work with clients wanting to know if we’re in the right ballpark – that benchmarking piece is really important,” he says.
Sage’s Randall adds: “Traveller welfare plays a bigger role in some organisations than in others, where it’s all about finance and savings.”
DATA ENABLES CHANGE
Without doubt increasing access to real-time rather than historical data means that companies are now able to respond in a timely manner to any changes in market conditions, behaviour or costs and, if appropriate, adjust policy.
Tony Pilcher, founder of consultants Pilcher Associates and formerly a long-time global travel manager of a financial institution, thinks proper data analytics will help managers to identify when a policy needs changing. “Better use of data on an ongoing basis will give information that, if you analyse it, you can see which areas of policy need to be reviewed,” he says.
He believes that analysing data is part of a travel manager’s daily role and that this regular analysis is necessary to travel policy decision-making. “Using data to review policy regularly is vital because then you will be able to distinguish if a deviation is an overall trend or whether it is certain individuals or departments that need to be brought back on track,” he says.
“If you don’t have that analysis, you don’t know if the policy is working,” he adds. “You’re not just gathering data to change policy but to see if it’s working and if it’s not working, is there a need to change it?”
Randall agrees: “Data is not just about supplier negotiations – it is critical for the measurement of compliance. What’s the sense of having a policy without the ability to measure compliance?”
She also believes that it is “critical that you run scenarios. If we were to change class of travel by number of hours of the journey, what would the savings be? You have to think about savings versus the welfare of your people.”
There’s consensus that managers need to look at key performance indicators and use data to measure the actual against the intended; but the challenge with travel is increasingly about how to access amalgamate and make use of the right data as so much of it now comes from sources other than the travel management company (TMC). However, a subject matter expert, such as a TMC, can be invaluable when data doesn’t sit all in one place but instead comes from many sources and needs to be consolidated. “It’s where their [TMCs’] experience is and their knowledge gleaned from looking at their wider client base,” says Pilcher.
“This should be part of a standard routine where you will be picking up live data according to the algorithm and intelligence you put into collecting that data. If you have set it up in the right way, it’s pushed to you rather than you having to search it out.”
Modern technology enables policy to be changed easily. Letting travellers know that a change has been introduced is no more onerous than a push notification.
Changing policy may cost little in monetary terms but it can cost a lot in the time it takes to consult and involve all other internal stakeholders, from HR to finance. It can also be costly in aggravation if the change is unlikely to be cheerfully accepted – for example, by making eligibility for a higher class of travel more difficult or mandating the use of an unpopular supplier.
Carol Randall advises managers to “pick your battles and choose the rules that have the most impact on savings for the organisation. There are many pros but the cons all come down to management considerations in updating – but you could change the rules under a policy such as a lowest-logical-fare policy so that it doesn’t become a weighty change management procedure.”
A kneejerk reaction of many to the idea of using more sophisticated data analytics to refine travel policy and programme maybe that it’s too expensive, and appropriate only for large or multinational organisations. But as Tony Pilcher puts it: “Whether you’re spending £100,000 or £100 million, it’s your responsibility to maximise value out of cost and look after your travellers.”
He adds: “Cost is down to how you want to use it. Do you want to push it out to your different agents or hold it centrally? There are different financial models for how you pay for services – shared savings rather than a straight transactional model, for example.”
And, of course, there is the ‘as a service’ solution which requires only a licence (see Dynamic pricing & policy, p66).
Matthew Pancaldi emphasises how policies have adapted and evolved dynamically since the advent of multimedia and data analytics. Mainstream travel management culture has shifted the user experience to the centre of travel programmes. This means investing in what policy looks like and keeping it relevant. For example, things that get introduced into travel programmes, such as sharing economy suppliers, increasingly reflect travellers’ taste.
Susan Hopley, founder and CEO of analytics company The Data Exchange, thinks that in the future we’ll see more of how technology affects how both travellers and travel bookers book travel. Online booking tools and mobile devices mean that corporates can narrow choices for travellers and create a great user experience. Like football, the object is always the same – to get a result.
A uniform policy for all, or personalisation?
PERSONALISATION INCREASINGLY LINKS BUYERS AND SUPPLIERS in other industries, but there is still some resistance to the practice among travel buyers.
Unlike The Data Exchange’s Susan Hopley (see Dynamic pricing & policy, p66), who believes that personalisation will appeal to a company’s travellers, HRG’s Matthew Pancaldi thinks that today’s younger and more tech-savvy travellers want more standardisation and a more egalitarian approach – that is, one-size-fits-all – rather than different policies for different sets of employees.
People might not generally want policies to vary by seniority, but many see a rationale for different policies for different trip needs.
According to Pilcher Associates’ Tony Pilcher: “There could be a different policy for someone going to a branch office from that for someone going straight in to do a deal. So look at the purpose of a trip. There can be flexibility for the reason for the trip rather than just duration.
“Policy should allow for the ability to take the individual traveller’s circumstances into consideration.”
Sage Travel Consulting’s Carol Randall agrees. “You can use data to make different policies for different circumstances,” she says. “You can have different policies for internal versus external meetings, by seniority, different objectives, or length of stay.”